//Muslim board to oppose petition challenging Shariat courts

Muslim board to oppose petition challenging Shariat courts

Bangalore | March 09, 2006 7:15:06 PM IST

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has decided to oppose a writ petition filed before the Supreme Court against Shariat courts and the fatwa system.

The decision to contest the writ petition, scheduled to come up for hearing March 27, was taken by the board at a meeting here late Wednesday, with a detailed reply in favour of the system of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) that is prevalent the world over.

"The Shariat court (Darul Khaza) operates within the Indian constitution and deals with cases pertaining to marriage, inheritance and succession. As an ADR mechanism, the Shariat law ensures speedy justice in hundreds of cases filed by ordinary people," board’s assistant general secretary Adbul Rahim Qureshi said here Thursday.

The petition before the apex court, filed by Vishwa Lochan Madan, has argued that Shariat courts were parallel courts functioning outside the purview of the constitution and hence should be nullified by the Muslim board.

Qureshi, however, said Shariat courts enabled members of the community to seek justice in a short time without incurring much expenditure.

The system has been dealing with thousands of cases over the last 300 years and giving verdicts to the satisfaction of hundreds of litigants, he said.

"For instance, at Bhatkal in coastal Karnataka, a Shariat court has been dispensing justice since the 18th century and has dealt with about 18,000 cases so far. There is no reason to dispute the system’s efficacy or doubt its delivery mechanism," Qureshi told IANS.

On the practice of issuing a fatwa or order, contended by the petitioner as a travesty of administrative justice, Qureshi said it was only an exposition of the mufti or chief in accordance with the provisions in the Shariat and did not amount to coercion.

"A fatwa is issued against only those who believe and pledge to follow the religious courts. There is no force or coercion in it. It also does not violate the constitutional provisions enjoyed by citizens, including Muslims," Qureshi asserted.

Board member Zafar Geelani said the AIMPLB would, however, abide by the decision of the apex court in the case.

"At the same time, we will make it clear that under Article 25 of the statute, every citizen, including a Muslim, is entitled to practice his/her religion.

"Any interference in the Muslim personal law will amount to a violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution," Geelani added.

On the contentious issue of talaq or divorce, the board has decided to amend the personal law for reducing its frequency to one time pronouncement from the existing three times.

"Talaq is the last measure resorted to when a husband and wife wish to part. Prior to enacting it, the couples are advised to approach elders or scholars for patching up. Failing which, they will be asked to pronounce talaq once, giving time for reconciliation."

To reduce the increasing number of divorces in the community, the board has agreed to amend the draft of the marriage deed and educate couples.

In a related development, the board has welcomed the apex court’s ruling Wednesday slapping a one-year jail sentence on Zahira Sheikh, a key witness in a case of massacre during the 2002 Gujarat sectarian violence for contempt of court.

She was found to be lying on oath as she changed her statements, allegedly under pressure, in the trial of the accused. A Mumbai court, however, convicted last month nine of the accused in the trial known as Best Bakery case.

"The judgements in the Zahira case and the Best Bakery case have restored the confidence of Muslims though justice was delayed," Qureshi said.

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