SC demands action against 'Sharia courts' in TN mosques

In a ruling likely to have nationwide ramifications, the Madras High Court on Monday said authorities must stop the activities of illegal 'Sharia courts' functioning from various mosques across Tamil Nadu within a month.

"If a place of worship - whether it be temple, mosque or church - is used for purposes other than prayers, and more specifically to create extra-constitutional forums, certainly the authorities are duty-bound to take action against them," said a bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice M Sundar on Monday.

The bench was irked by the fact that people behind these 'Sharia courts' had endeavoured to give a colour of judicial forum to the entities, which in fact were outside court jurisdictions.

The bench was passing orders on a Public Interest Litigation filed by a non-resident Indian who wanted the court to direct authorities to close the functioning of 'Makka Masjid Shariat Council' on the Anna Salai in Chennai and similar organisations in Tamil Nadu, since they had been acting as dispute adjudicating bodies, especially in relation to matrimonial disputes.

Abdul Rahman, who lives in the United Kingdom, said he had initially believed in the council and approached it to be reunited with his wife. But instead the 'Sharia council' made him sign a 'letter of talaq' and got him separated from his wife. He then rushed approached the high court with a PIL.

A Sirajudeen, his senior counsel, told the bench that a kangaroo court was being conducted from mosque premises, and several hundred valid marriages were being annulled without religious or legal sanction. The council deceptively dissolves marriages and deals with the property disputes by creating religious fear in the minds of Muslims for any disobedience, he said.

The bench had directed authorities to inquire into the matter and file a report by Monday.

The bench on Monday went through the report filed by the authorities and said it did not approve of the officials' claim that they were unable to take action against such councils because they functioned from mosque premises.

"We are unable to accept the submission of authorities that merely because these activities are going inside a particular mosque, they are finding it difficult to stop such activities," it said.

As for the functioning of 'Makka councils', the bench said, "A perusal of documents shows that proceedings are in the form of allegedly 'Shariat decision' given by the Makka council. It mentions the office-bearers, including advocates. It refers to case numbers, file numbers, description of parties as plaintiffs and defendants, and the date of the decision is given. This is preceded by summons being issued allegedly regarding family disputes."

A colour of a judicial forum is sought to be given to the council, the bench said, directing authorities to take action and report steps taken to stop these activities, within four weeks.