The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it cannot interfere with 'fatwas' or religious decrees issued by Muslim clerics, though it held back its final decree on a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging such decrees.
"These are political-religious issues. We can't decide them. In this country some people believe Gangajal can cure all ailments. It is a matter of belief," the top court said while reserving verdict on a petition against Shariat courts and their fatwas.
The Public Interest Litigation or PIL has been filed by a Delhi-based advocate, Vishwa Lochan Madan, challenging ''parallel courts'' run by institutions like the Darul Qaza and Darul-Iftaa.
Holding that it's a matter of choice for the people whether to accept fatwa or not, the apex court said it is a religious issue and the courts should interfere only when someone's rights are violated by their decision.
"We can protect people who are subjected to suffering due to this. When a pujari (Hindu priest) gives a date for Dushera, he cannot force someone to celebrate the festival on that day. If somebody forces them on you, then we can protect you," a bench headed by Justice C K Prasad commented on the petitioner's plea that a fatwa issued by clerics is unconstitutional.
In his petition, Madan cited the case of a Muslim girl who had leave her husband and live with her father-in-law who had allegedly raped her because a fatwa directed her to do so.
The petitioner also told the court that the Darul Qaza and Darul-Iftaa function in 52 to 60 districts which have a sizeable Muslim population. He said Muslims cannot contest these decrees or fatwas, which interfere with the life and liberty of citizens.
"Don't be overdramatic," the court told the petitioner, adding, "We will come to her rescue. You are assuming all fatwas are irrational. Some fatwa may be wise and may be for the general good also. People in this country are wise enough. If two Muslims agree to mediation, who can stay it? It is a blend of arbitration and mediation."
Opposing the petition, the Muslim Personal Law Board argued that if fatwas affect fundamental rights, the person can always approach the court.
"We could make a national policy that issues relating to personal matters in family courts should be decided by people of the same religion. But it might divide the country again," India's apex court observed.