A number of recent news stories in India have reported on Shari’a courts and fatwas.
The Indian Express of 19 August 2005 reported the case of a Hindu approaching an unofficial Shari’a Court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Puranbhai Shah, a Hindu businessman found it difficult to recover money from Zariful Hasan, a customer to whom Puranbhai had supplied marble.
At the suggestion of a friend, Shah then approached the Shari’a court on 4 August 2005. On August 8, as settled at the Shari’a court, he got a cheque for Rs 30,000 from Zariful Hasan. This swift ‘justice’ is rarely possible through the traditional courts in the Indian sub-continent and was welcomed by the petitioner. An indication that a failing system encourages alternative means that may ultimately weaken the system further. The ‘court’ was set up nearly a year ago by the unofficial All India Personal Law Board and is headed by Mufti Abdul Qayyum Jaipuri. Of the 128 cases referred to it so far, it has settled 46.
A Fatwa on Fatwas
On 16 August, 3 clerics from the Darul Uloom Deoband seminary in North India ruled that women should not contest elections, and that if they had to do it, they should do it under veil. This led to widespread protests from Human Rights activists and liberal circles in the country, including some Muslim clerics themselves. The seminary has now decided to impose a ban on issuing religious edicts or fatwas on political matters. “All muftis have been directed not to issue any fatwas and not to interact with the media,” Vice-Chancellor of the Islamic seminary Maulana Marghoobur Rehman said.
‘No Legal Sanctity’
In the light of these developments, India’s Union Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj clarified in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha – India’s Upper House of Parliament – that fatwas issued by Islamic institutions are not valid in the eye of the law. He clarified that the procedure to be followed by courts in criminal cases are set out in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and that fatwas issued by Islamic institutions do not have legal sanctity.
The Pioneer of 18 Nov 2005 reports that in Indore the police arrested Mohammad Rafiq Qasim, a mufti, for allegedly issuing a fatwa in a divorce decree by a court. The mufti’s fatwa was issued on the ground that the judge was a ‘non-muslim’, therefore, the judgement was not acceptable under the Islamic Shariat.
This follows a recent law suit in the Supreme Court of India seeking to restrain Muslim organizations from establishing a parallel Muslim judicial system. The petition sought an order from the court instructing the organizations to refrain from interfering with the marital status of Muslim citizens and passing any judgment, remark or fatwa as well as deciding matrimonial disputes among Muslims. The petition, filed by advocate Vishwa Lochan Madan, urges the court to decide whether Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guaranteeing religious freedom includes the right to administer justice based on faith.