Recently the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) decided to set-up Shariat or Islamic religious law courts throughout India to settle the civil litigations bypassing the already over-burdened courts and many Muslim clerics and Islamist politicians started garnering support for such a move by presenting Dar-ul Qaza, i.e. Muslim Personal Courts ruled according to Shariat, as a very democratic and welcome move for the community.
Thanks to the Islamophobic corporate media’s hype, the issue got a slot in prime time and newspaper editions, even when the organisation that’s behind this move, the AIMPLB, has questionable credentials and Hindutva agents in its leadership.
The decision by the AIMPLB to start Shariat Courts in a democratic and secular country is shown by the media as a demand that’s endorsed by the majority of Muslims, including Muslim women. We would analyse in the following paragraphs that whether this demand for Dar-ul Qaza can be justified in modern India and whether Muslims are supporting this move.
Why is the demand for Shariat Court or Dar-ul Qaza raised?
AIMPLB expressed displeasure over the functioning of the Indian judiciary and the constantly increasing tally of pending court cases, especially the civil cases, which keep dragging for years and thereby cause inconvenience to those who have filed a suit.
According to AIMPLB, already 60 Dar-ul Qaza are operating in India across all states. Now the organisation wants to open such Shariat-based courts throughout the country with the help of local Muslims and then bring the Muslim personal law-related and civil cases under the purview of such courts. The organisation claims that the move is perfectly legal and has no contradiction with the Indian Constitution and judicial system.
Zafaryab Jilani, the secretary of AIMPLB, said that the Shariat courts will judge the civil matters and if anyone is not happy with the decisions of the Qazi, then they can approach a civil court. Each Dar-ul Qaza will deal with marital disputes, property inheritance, religious matters and other civil cases.
Soon after the AIMPLB made public its decision to open more such Shariat courts, many Wahhabis and Salafists started rolling out propaganda videos and content through different social networking sites and the messengers like WhatsApp showing how a Dar-ul Qaza will be beneficial for the Indian Muslims and save their time and money.
The propaganda immediately won support from a section of tech-savvy Muslims inspired by Salafism, while a large section of the Muslims, including the majority of Muslim women, dismissed the call as another attempt to isolate the Muslim community in a much-vitiated environment. However, a large section of the liberal democrats, especially those with a jaundiced understanding of “secularism”, threw their weight behind the decision to portray themselves as pro-Muslims in Modi-fied India.
What is wrong with the demand of Shariat court or Dar-ul Qaza in India?
A country like India, where the modern judiciary system has its roots entrenched in a reactionary colonial past, whose notorious legacy and supremacy is still carried by the institution, which wants to rule by spreading the fear of the wand and not the love for the law, justice is mostly denied to those who are poor or those who come from a marginal background in a caste-class and religion-wise divided India. This situation doesn’t change if the class and caste character of the courts aren’t changed and they are run according to religious views of the medieval times.
All courts in India have a huge pile of unsettled cases and they prolong the process of disbursing justice, and thus, justice is denied to those who seek it, especially in civil disputes, where cases are dragged for generations and such delays always spread frustration and demoralise the petitioners. One example of such a long-drawn case is that of the Babri Masjid dispute, which gave rise to the Ram Mandir movement of the BJP in the 1980s, followed by the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and subsequent riots throughout the country. One such case has actually brought the Narendra Modi dispensation to power and many such cases are pending in several courts.
Due to the lack of a people-friendly, pro-poor, independent and progressive judicial system, the Indian judicial system is unable to garner love and support of the people. Thus, the crooked parliamentary politicians of the country, who mostly work as agents of big foreign monopoly capital, Indian comprador capitalists and feudal landlords, utilise the pent-up anger among the masses against the judicial system and thereby promote mob lynchings, establishment of kangaroo courts like Khap Panchayats, etc. to consolidate their own power, rule and domination over the people who have been subjected to harsh economic exploitation and social oppression.
Today, when the judiciary is unable to deliver criminal and civil justice on a scale that’s required from it in a country like India and when its reputation is at the nadir, then most of the reactionary politicians and their puppets are blaming the system and asking for the religious laws to play a supreme role in the country. They are actually attempting to turn the justice system into a mob-trial session and use such an opportunity to consolidate their own power. So the Vishwa Hindu Parishad can be found declaring with impunity that the Supreme Court has no right to interfere in the domain of faith, while filing cases against Muslims and their way of life every now and then. The growth of communal fascism and fundamentalism has resurrected the dead organs like religious courts as most of the politically-backward people fall prey to the propaganda by the Modi regime.
The demand for Shariat courts or Dar-ul Qaza arises from the same grounds of delay in justice delivery by a colonial-era judiciary. The reactionary system of one order is giving rise to reactionary demands of another order. In both cases, it will be the poor and the exploited sections of the society who will be victims of denial of justice.
Shariat or Dar-ul Qaza is an attempt to undermine the people’s struggle to establish a modern, progressive, secular and democratic justice system in place of the communally biased and colonial legacy-bearing justice system prevailing in the country. At a time when the working class and the peasantry are fighting for justice and to build up a judiciary that’s answerable to the people – the supreme being in a republic, pushing an exploited and oppressed section towards a regressive mechanism by using religious clout is only going to help the ruling classes of the country.
Whatever justifications the Muslim clerics and Islamist apologists may place to portray the Dar-ul Qaza as a very progressive and easy-to-maintain system for the Muslim personal laws, it’s indeed a reactionary institution that is founded on religious codes, which are biased, misogynist and utmost anti-democratic in nature. It won’t take long for the Shariat court or the Dar-ul Qaza to reach the proportion of the Kangaroo courts like Khap Panchayats, which terrorise people with their utmost misogynist judgements, often resulting into the killing of inter-caste or inter-faith couples.
Why the common Muslims won’t benefit from the Dar-ul Qaza or Shariat courts?
The challenge for the common Muslims in India is to fight against the biased system and win their right to live equally and receive equal benefits like other communities. In such a scenario, a Dar-ul Qaza court is a 1400 years old idea that can’t match or cater to the needs of the Muslims of the 21st century. It will rather confine the Muslim community within the boundary of medieval laws and fuel regression in the society by spreading reactionary ideas.
A Qazi-ruled court will always be a male-dominated court, where women will have to remain subjugated to the patriarchal dominance and they can’t demand their equal rights, as the religious codes and ethics will deny them that. The callousness showed by the present Dar-ul Qazas to women, especially those facing marital discord or inheritance issues, stirs up progressive and democratic forces throughout India.
Shariat laws are mostly Arabic tribal laws that have no basic respect to the modern democratic thoughts, aspirations and practices because they were codified long before the modern democratic ideologies and the fierce class struggle aiming at a radical transformation of the society started. The laws are hard to interpret for many and it’s only someone with a strong command of Arabic can translate and explain important Shariat features.
Heavily tilting towards men, the Dar-ul Qaza decisions can’t benefit women parties and they will have to again reach a civilian court and fight within the ambit of reactionary personal laws to get their rights. This will prolong the pain and agony of women who are going through marital disputes or property inheritance issues.
As the entire system of Dar-ul Qaza is dependent on the alms of the rich Muslims, it’s unlikely that the Shariat courts will ever take any decision that could irk its donors. Thus, the poor and the exploited will be cheated in such Kangaroo courts.
Are the Muslims demanding Shariat Courts in India?
The AIMPLB has cited a demand for Shariat courts from the Muslims as a reason behind its decision to set-up more such private courts. The organisation has though provided no evidence as to which Muslims are demanding the Shariat courts and from where exactly the demand is strong. There is no substantial evidence that the Muslim community of India, which isn’t a homogeneous community as the Hindutva thugs would project it, is demanding Shariat law for Muslim personal law-related issues. The AIMPLB, as a private body, can’t take a decision on behalf of a diverse Muslim population, divided along multiple sects.
Throughout India, the Muslims are facing an existential crisis due to the incessant onslaught on them and their way of life by the RSS-led Hindutva fascist camp. The majority of the Muslims, i.e. the poor and downtrodden one, have no demand for legal dispute settlement, rather a demand for sustainable income source and safety to their lives. They continue to face discrimination in trade and commerce, in living standards and in all institutions of the government. Never did the AIMPLB or any other hyper-active Muslim rights body pick up these burning issues and fought vehemently for the Muslim poor.
The Muslim women, who are trapped between the bestiality of the Hindutva thugs on one hand and the tyranny of Muslim fundamentalists, on the other hand, have lost their voice due to their extreme socio-economic backwardness. Their decisions, like their Hindu counterparts, doesn’t matter for the community’s hawks, who are all men and would love to draw conclusions on behalf of women without even asking them. So, the claim by many Shariat-apologists that the demand for the formation of such Kangaroo courts has the support of the Muslim women at large is a blatant lie.
Only the rich, the elites and the fundamentalist clergy of the community will reap benefits from the Dar-ul Qaza or Shariat courts. The poor will continue to bear the burden of injustice, despite such courts being funded on higher moral grounds by the clergy.
The importance of organising the Muslims under the progressive banner
The Muslim community in India is a severely persecuted and exploited community and at present, when the Hindutva fascist camp is continuously spreading vitriol against the community and targeting it violently to build up mass polarisation on religious lines before the Lok Sabha election in 2019, it’s important for the democratic and progressive forces to politically arouse the Muslims, especially broad masses of poor and downtrodden Muslims so that they can actively participate in the greater struggle for secularism, modernism and democracy in India.
With their vested interests, the Muslim politicians of the mainstream parliamentary parties, the Muslim clerics and the communal bread bakers like the AIMPLB have always connived with the Indian ruling classes and have helped the Hindutva fascist camp by constantly providing it with political fodder through stupendous religious demands and reactionary movements.
It was the AIMPLB, which sternly opposed the eradication of the Triple Talaq system and took an extremely reactionary misogynist standpoint on the question. The AIMPLB, the AIMIM, the Popular Front of India and other such organisations that claim to represent the interests of the Muslim community of India, have always advocated the most reactionary policies for the community.
They want the Muslims to remain aloof from progress, especially democratic remoulding of the community; these organisations especially vouch for the enslavement of women and absolute command of religious doctrine over the lives of the people rather than that of a democratic and progressive constitution.
These organisations have always used their clout on the Muslim community to bargain deals with the Indian ruling classes and traded Muslim support in lieu of benefits. The undercurrent of political hobnobbing has not left even the most “apolitical” social organisations of the Muslim community unstained.
Their collective efforts have hindered the poor and downtrodden Muslims, who are often targeted by the murderous feral mob of the ruling clique, from seeking a political liberation from the yoke of exploitation through people’s democratic struggle. Rather these Muslim organisations have created a rift between the poor Muslims and the poor Hindus.
Working in tandem with the Hindutva fascist camp, as its Muslim lieutenant, these organisations, especially the AIMPLB, have always stood in favour of a greater communal division in the society and pushed the poor and backward Muslims far away from the major democratic struggles against tyranny of Hindutva fascism and the plundering of the country by big foreign monopoly and finance capital.
The Muslim question in the 2019 general election
It’s no wonder that the decision of the AIMPLB to establish more Dar-ul Qaza or Shariat courts throughout India came just when the Modi government is in a political-economic quagmire and the country’s economy is sinking deeper into an unprecedented turmoil.
Narendra Modi has no escape from this crisis and the BJP under him and Amit Shah has to face a huge tide of anti-incumbency throughout the country during the 2019 general election.
The RSS has no option left for it to provide excuses on behalf of Narendra Modi’s development plank, which now has disappeared and the overwhelming masses of the poor are rebuking the regime for its disastrous policies.
At this hour, it’s only a severe blitzkrieg of Islamophobia, carried out through incessant propaganda against the purported “Islamist threat” to India will help the saffron camp to polarise their voter base and also wean away the politically backward masses of poor Hindus. All they need is cannon fodder for their campaign against the Indian Muslims.
AIMPLB and other Muslim organisations will come to the rescue of the RSS and the BJP by offering them issues like Dar-ul Qaza or the Shariat court, which will help the saffron camp to portray the Muslims as a community that doesn’t trust Indian laws and thereby spread the most venomous vitriol to brainwash the majority Hindu community.
With Islamophobia at its peak, a decision to establish the Dar-ul Qaza will certainly help the BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to sail the rough sea of the 2019 general election with utmost ease. The Islamophobia will not remain confined within propaganda itself, rather, with the active interventions by the RSS cadre, the blood of Muslims will be spilt throughout India to pave the way for Narendra Modi to ascend to India’s top seat. This will surely be the last nail to the coffin of the rickety “secular” shell of the Indian state.
The urgent task of uniting the poor and the exploited Muslims
For the democratic and the progressive camp, wasting a moment or delaying the work of organising the poor and the oppressed under the banner of anti-fascism will be perilous. There is an urgent need to free the Muslims, especially the poor Muslims, from the bondage of Islamist parties and organisations that misguide and keep them tied to the interests of the ruling classes.
The poor and the downtrodden Muslims form the majority of the community and they are suffering the most due to their socio-economic position in Modi-fied India. They are vulnerable to lynching, thrashing or rape by the Hindutva fascist army and thus it’s imperative to organise and politically equip them for a broader struggle against the Hindutva fascist rule.
Arousing the Muslims against injustice and exploitation and making them demand their own socio-economic salvation through political struggle will itself purge the rule of the reactionary Muslim fundamentalists over the community. This what the democratic forces must aim at and they will betray their cause if they lose their focus and cheer for the Dar-ul Qaza or the Shariat courts by becoming a victim of the Salafist propaganda just for the sake of supporting “secularism” that don’t exist.
Nabeel Anwer is a Delhi-based journalist who writes on issues related to the minority communities and marginalised people. His harsh criticism of the system got Facebook to censor him repeatedly.