The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a Shariat court has no legal sanction and no one is bound to accept a fatwa or diktat pronounced by it.
"The fatwa has no legal status in our Constitution... A fatwa is an opinion, only an expert is expected to give. It is not a decree, not binding on the court or the State or the individual. It is not sanctioned under our constitutional scheme," the bench headed by CK Prasad ruled.
The bench, however, rejected the plea to declare the Dar-ul-Qaza (muslim courts) illegal. "But this does not mean that existence of Dar-ul-Qaza or for that matter practice of issuing fatwas are themselves illegal."
Making it clear that it is an informal justice delivery system aimed at bringing about an amicable settlement between warring parties, the court said: "It is within the discretion of the persons concerned either to accept, ignore, or reject it."
The court was hearing a petition by a Delhi-based advocate who challenged parallel religious courts run by institutions like the Dar-ul-Qaza and Dar-ul-Iftaa. It also said that there is nothing wrong in issuing fatwas as long as it does not infringe on the rights of individuals guaranteed under law.
"We observe that no Dar-ul-Qazas or for that matter, anybody 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 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.
Observing that forceful implementation of the fatwa is illegal, the bench said: "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."
"We welcome the judgment... we will react after going through it," Dr SQR Ilyasi, member, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.