It is much ado about nothing. The apex court has merely reiterated what was widely known all along. The Sharia law has no sanction in the Constitution. But if a Muslim wants to obey the Sharia courts, he is welcome to do so. However, in case he has problems following the edicts of these religious courts, the doors of the courts are open to him to seek the enforcement of his fundamental rights like any other Indian. His being a Muslim does not in any way deny him the rights available to all other citizens. In short, the sanction behind the so-called fatwas, issued from time to time by various Maulvis and Mullahs and their collective bodies, is rooted in communitarian beliefs and lacks any legal underpinning. The Sharia courts can continue to offer inexpensive and quick justice in small cases so long as the disputants are ready to seek its intervention. Nothing more, nothing less. The Supreme Court in its order on Monday on a PIL challenging various anti-women fatwas issued by various Muslim organisations restated the earlier position that those unwilling to accept these had the legal remedy available to them. Frankly, those feeling aggrieved by the unilateralist orders of various khap panchayats in Haryana too could seek court intervention, but because the aggrieved parties are mostly non-Muslims, these did not cause confusion about the  enforceability of the orders of the khaps. In the case of Muslims, however, the matter needs clarifications since Muslims follow their own separate personal laws. Besides, some of the fatwas attract wide publicity due to their mere audacity, nay, absurdity. For instance, it is natural for ordinary Indians to feel outraged by edicts from the so-called high priests of Islam, asking young women to marry their fathers-in-law after they had been raped by them. Or for such self-styled protectors of Islam to order Sania Mirza to not wear short skirts. Or a fatwa against fast food and contraceptives. In November 2010, Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband, had ruled that a Muslim can divorce his wife by uttering talaq three times on his mobile phone, even if his wife had failed to hear him  due to bad audio. So there, you have the perfect reason why the self-appointed keepers of the faith bring it into disrepute by resorting to the most outlandish orders with no connection to prevailing societal norms, but only spuriously referenced to the canons of their religion without establishing even a  tenuous link with its holy book. Indeed, neither Sharia, a set of Islamic laws drawn from the Quran, nor the Haadith, the sayings from the Prophet’s life and times, would support a majority of fatwas issued by various Muslim religious bodies. At one level, followers of the Sikh gurus too are known to have submitted themselves to the diktats of their high priests in case they have allegedly violated the faith or have in anyway done something which is construed by the latter as not in keeping with the tenets of the religion. Here again, should a Sikh declared a ‘tankhaiya’, and ordered to undergo punishment, has the legal address available to him, but in case he chooses not to defy the keepers of his faith, it is due to social pressure and his abiding belief in his religion. Unfortunately, the Sharia courts have acted so arbitrary and illogical that they have virtually invited judicial reprimand and a popular backlash. Though the Sharia courts lack any legal sanction, due to endemic poverty and illiteracy of the community, their orders have often tormented it.

Meanwhile, Monday’s verdict does not in anyway move the country towards the adoption of a uniform civil code. That is a laudable objective, an integral part of the Directive Principles of the Constitution. Because the issue has acquired sharp political overtones, it is hard to see the government moving towards implementing the wish of the founding fathers. There are far more urgent issues requiring the attention of the new regime in New Delhi. Enforcing such a uniformity in personal laws may not be possible until the Muslim community is itself ready for embracing such a modernising influence. That might take a long time and must wait till the education and economic levels rise among Indian Muslims.

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