The Supreme Court order refusing to accord any sort of legal sanction to Sharia (Islamic) courts and 'fatwas' (edicts) issued by 'muftis' has drawn a sharp reaction from Muslim clerics who are virtually unanimous that the right to follow their faith and conduct life according to Muslim personal law is guaranteed under the Constitution.
"We are not running a parallel judicial system. We have never held that orders passed by a Qazi are binding. Our only objective is to resolve matters with the consent of the two parties involved in accordance with the Sharia (Islamic law)," said Zafaryab Jilani, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).
He said the system of 'Darul Qaza' (office or court of the Qazi) and 'Darul Ifta' (office which issues 'fatwa') are not against the Constitution. "The work done by them is well within our Constitutional rights, which is why the Supreme Court has not commented against the system," he added.
Prominent Muslim cleric Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali said that under the Constitution, Muslims have the right to work and act according to Muslim personal law. "Indian Constitution has given us the right to act and work according to our Muslim personal law and no one can take that away from us," he asserted. "You must remember that both parties involved in these cases settled in Sharia courts are Muslims. So there is no conflict. We are not imposing our religious practices on anyone. So why is this being made an issue?"
He pointed out that as per the Shariat Application Act, 1937, in cases where both parties are Muslim and the matter relates to nikaah (marriage), talaaq (husband seeking divorce from wife), zihar, lian (allegation on wife), khula (wife seeking divorce from husband) mubaraat (period between talaaqs when the man returns to the wife), the decisions would be taken in the light of the Muslim personal law.
Khalid explained that the concept was largely misunderstood. "The 'Darul Qaza' is not a court. It's a Qazi's office. The 'fatwa' is an opinion given by a 'mufti' in response to a query. In both cases, the parties (only Muslims) come voluntarily and in both, the advice given is not binding," he explained.
Maulana Mohammad Sajid Rashidi, President of Kul Hind Imam Association, said the plea filed in the apex court itself is wrong since "the law does not infringe upon religious matters". He said: "If a person is practicing a religion, he/she has to follow its preachings. A Muslim who does not follow the Sharia is not a true Muslim."
Maulana Muqarram, Shahi Imam of the famous Fatehpuri mosque in Delhi, said: "The Qazis in Sharia courts settle disputes like the panch does in a 'panchayat'. This is as per our Constitutional rights and also helps reduce the burden on courts."