India rejects petition to ban Shariah courts

Supreme Court also rules that Shariah courts have no legal powers over Muslims

India’s Supreme Court has rejected a petition seeking to ban Shariah courts in the country, but ruled they have no legal powers over Muslims and their decisions can only be enforced if the parties agree.

India’s 150 million Muslims follow their own laws governing family life and other personal issues such as marriage and divorce, with Shariah courts used to rule on such matters and mediate in disagreements.

India’s top court said that Islamic judges, who interpret religious law, could only rule when individuals submitted voluntarily to them, and their decisions, or fatwas, were not legally binding, AFP reported.

Lawyer Vishwa Lochan Madan, who filed the petition in 2005, had claimed the Shariah courts were running a parallel judicial system in the country and should be disbanded.

His argument was supported by the case of a woman who was told by a Shariah court to leave her husband and children and live with her father-in-law, who had raped her.

“No religion is allowed to curb anyone’s fundamental rights,” the court said in its judgement, noting the case.

“Sharia courts are not sanctioned by law and there is no legality of fatwas in this country.”

In rejecting Madan’s petition to disband the Shariah courts, the judges said people could voluntarily approach an Islamic court when seeking arbitration in personal matters.

India has one of the most religiously diverse populations in the world and the different personal laws followed by religious minorities are a sensitive political issue.

The new Hindu nationalist government, which came to power in May, has said it is committed to bringing in a common legal code for all.

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