Chennai, Dec 20: The Madras High Court has banned mosques that act as unauthorised Islamic courts. The ruling was issued on Monday ending a very common practice in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where a number of Islamic places of worship are converted into makeshift Sharia courts to decide the matters of marriage and divorce.
This decision of the Madras High Court comes close to the Allahabad High Court decision on Triple talaq and Muslim Personal Law Board’s constitutional validity. The country is debating the issue of common civil law and triple talaq in the light of Indian constitution.
The Madras High Court granted mosques one month to adapt. Its judgment reads: “If a place of worship - be it a temple, mosque or a church - is used for purposes other than that of prayer, and more particularly to create extra-judicial tribunals, certainly it is the duty of the authorities to take action against it”.
The attention of the judges was attracted by a complaint lodged by a British national. He filed a lawsuit against the “Makka Masjid Shariat Council” in the Anna Salai court in the neighbourhood of Chennai, which doubles as a real judicial office in spousal and personal disputes. Having asked the opinion of the Council to help in bringing about reconciliation with his wife, the impromptu court has made the man sign a letter of divorce, with which he repudiated his wife.
Investigations revealed that the mosque is also a full-court: the trials take place in the lobby and each year hundreds of valid marriages are cancelled without the permission of the competent authorities. According to an adviser, Makka Masjid is also involved in asset disputes and creates “a sense of religious awe in the minds of Muslims for every act of disobedience”.
The marriage law in India is very complex and governed by different rules. The Constitution provides for the existence of different civil codes, so as to better protect the various religious communities in the country. Article 44 of the Constitution is mentioned among the “guiding principles” and urges the implementation of a uniform civil code, but then leaves ample freedom of self-determination among the communities.
Recently the amendment of Article 44 and rights for the greater protection of Muslim women has sparked heated debate. The Islamic marriage law is governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937, a law passed under British colonial rule. Signed with a view to ensuring compliance of the Islamic cultural tradition, over the years the law has been exploited to ‘justify’ discriminatory practices. Women have denounced a real abuse of verbal divorce, which is often implemented even ‘remotely’ by sending messages on the phone or by mail.