Reacting to the Supreme Court verdict on Shariat courts, Muslim organisations Monday said the very basis of the petition questioning their legality lies in misconception over the institution. The SC, they said, has only said what was never in dispute within the community — that these courts do not have legal sanctity. They are forums for arbitration whose verdict can be challenged by any of the appellants in any court of law.
“The problem is that people do not understand that there are two different institutions — a Darul Iftaa which issues a fatwa which is merely opinion based on interpretation of the Quran or the Hadith and a Darul Qaza which is commonly called a Shariat court. A fatwa is not a judgment, it is an opinion that is binding on nobody. A qaza is in a sense a judgment, provided it is acceptable to the appellants. It is a form of arbitration which is very much legal under Indian laws. Panchayats do the same. There is no question of it being a parellel court,” said Manzoor Alam, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). He added that the board had never claimed that either a Darul Qaza or the board itself has any powers to implement the verdict of the religious court.
There are no authentic estimates of how many Darul Qazas may be functioning in the country as a Darul Qaza may be set up whenever a group of religious teachers or Maulanas come together and start adjudicating on issues and their verdicts are accepted by the community. It is similar to a panchayat but unlike a panchayat there are no elections.
A Darul Iftaa, on the other hand, is often attached to a religious seminary — Darul uloom Deoband has one of the most revered Darul Iftaas — though an individual may also give an opinion based on his interpretation of Islamic laws. A fatwa does not usually go into the specifics or rights and wrongs of a case.
“The SC verdict is actually in our favour because it turns down an appeal to ban Shariat courts. I have always held that fatwas should not be issue based on questions asked by a third party because it is then used to malign the institution. The Darul Qaza is a supporting institution to courts not a parallel one,” says Maulana Mahmood Madani, general secretary of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind.
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The fact that Shariat courts never claimed immunity from the law of the land, say Muslim religious leaders, is clear from the fact that even now many verdicts from these courts are challenged in a court of law and many of them are upheld too. In fact, says Maulana Nizamuddin, head of the Patna-based Imarat-e-Shariah that claims to adjudicate on an average of 1,000 cases annually, “just one or two” of the 20,000 cases it has so far delivered verdict on have been referred back to it by the courts for reconsideration.
“There is no question of a qaza infringing on the rights of an individual. Verdicts are strictly within the confines of the Constitution and even then there is nothing in the religion to foist it on an individual who does not want to accept it,” says Maulana Jalaluddin Umri, president of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.