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The Supreme Court of India has ruled that no institution can pass fatwas or orders that violate an individual’s rights. Stating that such decrees are bereft of any legal status, the court held that they cannot be enforced using coercive methods.
Disposing of the petition filed by advocate Vishwa Lochan Madan (Petitioner), Justices CK Prasad and Pinaki Chandra Ghose also ruled that Shariat courts have no legal sanction and no one is bound to accept a fatwa or diktat pronounced by them.
Madan had contended that the parallel courts run by institutions such as the Darul Qaza and Darul-Iftaa functioned in places with sizeable Muslim population. He had submitted that the fatwas issued by these institutions could not be contested thereby interfering with the life and liberty of the citizens.
He had, therefore, prayed for a declaration to the effect that the activities pursued by the Muslim Personal Law Board and other similar organisations for the establishment of Muslim judicial system and Muslim courts and Shariat courts are illegal and unconstitutional. He had also sought a declaration that the judgments and fatwas pronounced by such authorities are void ab initio.
The Muslim Personal Law Board, represented by Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran, had argued that citizens were free to approach the Court if their fundamental rights were violated. The government had also taken the stand that it will not interfere with Muslim personal law unless it infringed the fundamental rights.
On the issue of legal sanctity of Shariat courts, the Supreme Court held that,
“The object of establishment of such a court may be laudable but we have no doubt in our mind that it has no legal status. It is bereft of any legal pedigree and has no sanction in laws of the land. They are not part of the corpus juris of the State.”
On the validity of fatwas, the court ruled that,
“It is not a decree, not binding on the court or the State or the individual. It is not sanctioned under our constitutional scheme. But this does not mean that existence of Dar-ul-Qaza or for that matter practice of issuing Fatwas are themselves illegal. It is informal justice delivery system with an objective of bringing about amicable settlement between the parties. It is within the discretion of the persons concerned either to accept, ignore or reject it.”
The Court refused to issue directions to the effect that Shariat courts and fatwas are illegal. It, however, held that,
“No Dar-ul-Qazas or for that matter, any body or institution by any name, shall give verdict or issue Fatwa touching upon the rights, status and obligation, of an individual unless such an individual has asked for it. In the case of incapacity of such an individual, any person interested in the welfare of such person may be permitted to represent the cause of concerned individual. In any event, the decision or the Fatwa issued by whatever body being not emanating from any judicial system recognised by law, it is not binding on anyone including the person, who had asked for it. Further, such an adjudication or Fatwa does not have a force of law and, therefore, cannot be enforced by any process using coercive method. Any person trying to enforce that by any method shall be illegal and has to be dealt with in accordance with law.”
In a judgment pronounced last week, the same Bench of the Supreme Court had issued directions to counter abuse of Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code.
Read the full judgment below.