India: Mullahs' propose setting up of Shari'a Courts

South Asia Citizen's Wire
AIMPLB's recently-held eighteenth national conference included the controversial revival of talk of establishing a separate system of 'Islamic courts' in the country but this has not received the attention it deserves.
At its recently-held eighteenth national conference in Bhopal, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) reiterated its long-standing demand that Muslims, particularly the 'ulama and heads of various Muslim community organizations, must work towards establishing a 'vast network' of dar ul qazas or shariah courts covering the entire length and breadth of the country.
Such courts, it insisted, were 'an Islamic necessity' and a principle means to combat what it saw as a 'conspiracy' to destroy the separate religious identity of the country's Muslims.

Right since its inception in 1973, the Board has been consistently demanding the setting up of dar ul qazas in order to administer what it describes as 'Islamic justice'. This effort has gained considerable momentum in recent years. The Board's ambitious project is outlined in its recently published two-part Urdu booklet, 'Nizam-e Qaza Ka Qayyam' ('The Establishment for a System of Islamic Justice'), which lays out a grand plan of establishing a separate system of 'Islamic courts' in the country.

The booklet describes the need for such courts as an Islamic imperative, arguing that Muslims are bound to govern their lives in accordance with the laws of the shariah if they are to remain true to the dictates of their faith. True justice can be had only by following God's laws, which the booklet equates with the traditional understanding of the shariah upheld by the 'ulama. Not to follow these laws is described as a 'great crime', which the Qur'an is said to condemn as 'infidelity' (kufr) and 'oppression' (zulm).

Although for the 'ulama, such as those associated with the Board, ideally the whole gamut of Islamic laws, including criminal and civil laws, should be enforced, they are realistic enough to make concessions for Muslims living as minorities in non-Islamic states such as India. Hence, the booklet restricts its advocacy of shariah laws to the personal sphere covering family matters, such as marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Indian Constitution recognizes Muslim Personal Law and Indian courts are empowered to deal with cases under this law, the booklet demands that Muslims should set up their own courts headed by trained 'ulama to solve their own disputes instead of taking them to the state courts. It insists that to do so is an 'Islamic duty' and claims that willingly abiding by the decisions of these courts is a means to 'win Allah's pleasure as well as welfare in the Hereafter'. It also argues that parallel dar ul qazas would be a quicker and easier form of justice than secular courts, and that these would be particularly beneficial for 'oppressed groups, including women'.

The rationale for establishing separate shariah courts is elaborated upon at considerable length in the second booklet, whose sub-title describes this effort as 'The Religious and Communitarian Duty [of the Muslims] and the Only Solution to Social Problems in Accordance With the Shariah'. It consists of an essay penned several decades ago by the rector of the Deoband madrasa, the late Qari Muhammad Tayyeb, who served as the first president of the AIMPLB from its inception in 1973 till his death a decade later.

Tayyeb begins his essay by claiming that the 'Islamic justice system' is an important and indispensable pillar of the shariah. Setting up separate dar ul qazas, headed by trained 'ulama, is thus 'a religious duty', not something that Muslims can choose to ignore. The establishment of dar ul qazas is 'the biggest issue' confronting Muslims today, Tayyeb claims.

By Yoginder Sikand and originally published on 26 May 2005 in