12/20/2016, 09.50
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Chennai high court shuts down illegal Islamic courts

In Tamil Nadu numerous mosques function as veritable courts of sharia. improvised judges decide on marriage, divorce and personal property. The issue opens a hot debate on the marriage law and the harmonization of the civil code throughout the country.


Chennai (AsiaNews) - The Chennai High Court has banned mosques that act as unauthorized Islamic courts. The ruling was issued yesterday and ends a very common practice in Tamil Nadu, where a number of Islamic places of worship are makeshift sharia courts and decide in matters of marriage and divorce.

The issue takes on even more importance considering that India is in the midst of a debate on the so-called Islamic "quick divorce" (triple talaq), between - on the one hand - the supporters of religious matrimonial law and – on the other - the proponents of a standardization of the civil code and the defenders of Muslim women, exploited and at the mercy of the whims of their husbands.
The Court, led by its president Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Judge M Sundar, granted mosques one month to adapt. Its judgment reads: "If a place of worship - be it temple, mosque or 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 raised by a complaint lodged by a British national. He filed a lawsuit against the "Makka Masjid Shariat Council" in the Anna Salai neighborhood 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 a 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 canceled 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" (ie guidelines, not mandatory norms) 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 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.

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