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The curious case of Sharia

The curious case of Sharia

By Tanvi Sharma

 Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist

The Supreme Court’s verdict declaring that Islamic courts have “no legal or constitutional sanctity” while the practice of Sharia law itself has not been defined as illegal has been hailed by legal experts across the country. It has been termed as a “progressive” move in the right direction heading towards a uniform civil code. The court has declared that the fatwas are not constitutionally binding on any Muslim citizen of the country and to accept them or not is a matter of personal choice.

Sharia actually refers to a set of Islamic laws derived from the Quran and Hadith. These set of laws are used to settle personal matters among Muslims through fatwas or Islamic edicts issued by the Islamic court. The Sharia Law is in conflict with the Indian law. Article 44 of the Indian Constitution directs the state to introduce a uniform civil code for all communities; in an effort to achieve secularism. Our country embraces diverse religions but has room for only one law of the land respected by one and all. Religion should be relegated to one’s personal space whereas law has its place in the public sphere. This incessant conflict between religion and law in our secular country should be a thing of the past now. Hindu laws prohibiting widow remarriage and allowing sati have been amended. Similarly, the inhuman diktats of the Khap Panchayats should be rendered illegal status. It is high time that we decide to set free our constitutionally formed legal framework from the vice-like grip of the tyranny of religion.

Our country has a uniform criminal law as well as a uniform corporate law, then why not a uniform family law based upon the constitutional values of our nation? “Uniform law doesn’t mean Hindu law being applied to Muslims and vice-versa”, says Tahrir Mahmood, a former member of the Law Commission of India. Support for a uniform civil code has come from many quarters including Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Parsis. It has been observed time and again that religious laws are inherently gender biased and have traditionally resisted change. The society evolves, but the religious laws remain the same without any amendment whatsoever. At times, religious texts are misinterpreted and diktats are issued that interfere with the fundamental rights of the citizens guaranteed by the Indian constitution. In such a scenario, human rights and the constitutional principles of freedom, democracy and equality are challenged. The Shah Bano case is an example where the Rajiv Gandhi government bowed down to the diktats of Muslim leaders and reversed a progressive verdict of the Supreme Court that had ordered alimony for the mother of five after being divorced by her husband. Various Hindu laws also need amendment such as the law that disallows Hindu girls to inherit the property of their parents or ancestors. This law spells patriarchy in its brutal form.

It is agonising to see outmoded and archaic fatwas being issued in the name of Sharia law. Is our society headed towards the dark ages? Dar-ul-Uloom mufti’s fatwa sparked a storm in 2010 when he read “It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in institutions where men and women work together… without the veil.” Also, Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband had ruled in November 2010 that “Talaq” uttered thrice by a Muslim man on a mobile phone will be considered valid even if his wife is unable to hear it for any reason. Similarly, in 2005, a Kolkata based Islamic organization Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind issued a fatwa warning Sania Mirza to start wearing ‘proper clothes’. This edict was widely slammed by citizens across the country, both Hindus and Muslims alike. Religious restrictions on Christians, Parsis and Hindus should also be done away with.

The Supreme Court verdict is in line with the Uniform Civil Code and therefore is a welcome step. The acceptance of Sharia law should be left to the individual. A religious law should not be binding on any person and one must not be compelled to follow it. The SC clearly states “Religion cannot be allowed to be merciless…faith cannot be used as a dehumanising force.” It is high time that the State musters up the courage to bring to the fore the ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution.

Tanvi firmly believes in the power of words over weapons. She is here to change the way people look at things. An avid reader, a closet singer and an inveterate foodie who can live her entire life on the Internet.

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