Friday, 17 April 2009

The world of fatwas: how they solve religious issues

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: A man orally pronounces talaq and deserts his wife. A year later he files a suit in AP High Court seeking restitution of conjugal rights. The suit was dismissed. The wife wants to know her status in Islamic law: whether she continues to be his wife or not.
A rich Muslim woman died issueless leaving vast property. A woman approaches court claiming to be her brother's daughter. She wants the court to give her the right over the property left by the rich woman.
In both the cases, the matter is referred to Muftis, seeking their expert legal opinion in the light of Islamic Shariah. The Muftis issue their fatwas (religious decrees) and based on them the court decides the legal suits.
Fatwas are generally construed to be something that quite often rake up controversy. But the fact is they also play a crucial role in legal suits while deciding cases involving personal laws of the parties at dispute. In Hyderabad alone as many as 600 fatwas are issued every month by half a dozen Islamic institutions of higher learning. And of them at least 50 are referred to in courts of law. Jamia Nizamia, the 130-year-old premier Islamic Institute, gives about 300 fatwas every month and 30 of them are obtained by lawyers and parties at dispute.
The fatwas issued by local Islamic religious organisations with Darul Ifta (department of decrees) attached to them have been playing a decisive role in legal suits relating to marriage, divorce, property and inheritance, despite the presence of internationally acclaimed fatwa works like Fatwa-i-Alamgiri, Fatwa-i-Khazi Khan, Fatwa-i-Zainia, Fasul-i-Imadia and Radd-ul-Mukhtar.
"Fatwas have a wrong concept. It is true that some unscrupulous elements misrepresent facts to the mufti and obtain fatwas to suit their needs. Fatwas are often referred on rendering judgements. Fatwas are necessarily to be relied upon by civil and other courts while deciding controversy between two Muslims or Muslim against non-Muslim if the matter relates to right of the parties centered around personal laws," points out eminent legal expert and author Muhammad Usman Shaheed.
Prof Ahmadullah Khan, dean of the College of Law, Osmania University, says that in Indian law judges often seek expert opinion on important issues. Judges either refer to the most authentic books on the subject or seek opinion of persons, muftis in the case of Muslim personal law.
"During the British regime, every court had a pandit and a qazi attached to it. The judges used to refer issues relating to personal laws to them to seek their expert opinion. Muftis issues fatwas based on well-established Islamic principles. They do not give new or individual opinion," Prof Ahmadullah observes.
Muftis are quite often misled by disputing parties. They misrepresent or twist facts to obtain fatwas in their favour. Referring to the case of the wealthy woman who died issueless, Usman Shaheed says, the court gave the order in her favour. The opposite party approached court arguing that the woman had misled the mufti of Jamia Nizamia by not revealing the fact that wealthy woman's brother had predeceased her. They too obtained a fatwa from the mufti based on the new development. The court reversed its order and the woman was denied right in the property of the wealthy woman.
Mufti Khaleel Ahmad, vice-chancellor and grand mufti of Jamia Nizamia, points out that most of their fatwas are referred to in courts. "We do not have any record on the number of fatwas referred to in a court of law. Many lawyers approach us and we simply issue fatwas without seeking to know the purpose. But it is true that our fatwas are held in high esteem by courts in the State and elsewhere in the country," Mufti Khaleel told this correspondent.

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