In terms of religious significance and Islamic jurisprudence, fatwa is a legal ruling given by Muslim scholars based on religious evidence. Therefore, fatwas are primarily based on the four main sources of Islamic law namely, the Quran (which is the holy book of Islam), the sunnah (which incorporates anything the Prophet said, did or approved of), the consensus of Islamic scholars and in cases where there is no concrete evidence to rely on, these scholars formulate opinions based on inductive or deductive reasoning and the corpus of such opinions is known as ijtihaad. The Supreme Court’s stand on the fatwa can be analyzed through its decision in the Public Interest Litigation filed by advocate VishwaLochan Madan.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board has appointed certain people who are called Ulemas. They are legal scholars who apply the principles of Shariat law and deliver rulings. The petitioner challenged the validity of the Dar-al-Qazas and Dar-ul-Ulooms. He further claimed that the Dar-al-Qazas sought to set up a parallel jurisprudential system, and pleaded to the Apex Court to declare such institutions illegal on the basis that religious clerics did not have the authority to impose such rulings that no one could oppose and thereby curtail fundamental rights.
He further called upon the Supreme Court to disband all Shariat Courts, restrain the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Dar-ul-Ulooms and Dar-al-Qazas from training any muftis and lastly, prayed to the Court to restrain them from adjudicating marital disputes amongst Muslims. The stand of the principal respondent, the Union of India, was that fatwas are primarily advisory in nature. While the Dar-al-Qazas are accorded with the powers to issue fatwas by Shariat sources, they still cannot enforce the fatwas have no legal value.
The Supreme Court, upon hearing the arguments from both sides, adjudicated that the Dar-al-Qazas have firstly not been created by laws enacted by competent legislatures, and neither have they legal authority to enforce their rulings. By this logic, the fatwas issued by them cannot be questioned or challenged in any court of law.
The court howevermade it clear that the religious background of fatwas cannot be used as tool to coerce people into abiding by it. One has to understand the subtle differences between declaring fatwas illegal (which the Court did not do) and preventing fatwas from infringing on individual’s fundamental rights.
The bench, headed by Justice CK Prasad, staunchly put forth its stand that no religious institution could impose rulings that curtailed the fundamental freedoms of individuals, and ordered that Dar-al-Qazas could not issue fatwas pertaining to rights of persons who did not seek the fatwa or having direct interest in its issuance. Furthermore, it declared that when a fatwa was issued against the wishes of any person, then he or she could bring an action against its issuance in a Court of law.