The old pummeling bag is out again. It only took the apex court’s stating the obvious to bring it out for a free-for-all. When the apex court ruled on Monday that Shariah courts and fatwas have no legal binding, news channels took it for an opportunity to bash the Islamic canonical laws. In their enthusiasm, fueled by a deadly mix of ignorance and prejudice the debaters led an assault on Muslim law itself, something the Supreme Court ruling never intended. In fact, the apex court was enunciating what is already an accepted fact – that the fatwas or rulings by Islamic jurists or Shariah court are not legally binding but are mere opinions based on existing religious laws and interpolations thereof. While half-baked intellectuals led the assault what they conveniently chose to overlook is the fact that the Islamic faith comes with that all important caveat about there being no coercion in religion – an established rule that no mullah, howsoever rabid, can change.
Whether you agree with the canonical laws of a religion or not, the fact remains that these laws are a vast body of knowledge and interpretation that has come about through centuries of painstaking scholarship. That said, the callow arguments offered by panelists were pathetic, to say the least. Like there was this prominent lady journalist and anchor who actually asked the question whether it was right for a Qazi to be poking his nose in matters pertaining to nikah, or Muslim marriage. The lady panelist to whom this question was put looked quite amused as she explained that as a matter of fact it was! You see, if a marriage is being contracted in the Islamic tradition it is only logical that it will follow the laws laid down by Islam with regard to the terms and conditions of marriage. There is no binding on an individual to follow a particular religion but if he does want it that way he has to play by the rules.
Even a game of cricket or football has its given set of rules. The goal-keeper is there to prevent the ball from entering the goal posts and nobody calls him a tyrant for interfering with the striker’s efforts to send the ball flying in. Even nondescript country clubs have their set of rules – which may at times border on the ridiculous – but then that is the way it is. You take it or you just don’t, but you don’t berate the rules. One can appreciate as to how important rules are for any organized religion especially – and that, in fact, is what religion is basically all about – if the religion is not about a set of mere abstract beliefs but about a particular way of life. Focusing on a few unique instances and making blithe statements without having a sure footing in even the most basic terms about the issues concerned makes the attacks rather quixotic. Besides, of course, exposing the prejudice behind it all.
Indeed, there are instances when existing laws come across a particularly difficult situation which, because of its unique nature, defies a simple solution. Such quandaries are not restricted to religious laws only. So-called secular laws also come up against situations that stretch them to extremes and sometimes yield interpretations that not only seem unacceptable but appear shocking as well. Two such instances of ‘secular’ law leading to bizarre judgments especially in case of the fair gender – which is where religious laws especially come in for criticism – are quoted here. One of the main offenders in the ‘Nirbhaya’ rape – a case that triggered off vehement reaction throughout India – the one who was blamed for the most brutal role in the crime, was virtually let off because he was six months short of being classified as an adult offender. The fact that age and maturity have a subjective co-relation rather than an exactly quantified one was not given any consideration. As a result the brutal offender got off with a pretty lenient sentence.
And then the case of Aruna Shanbaug, a 25-year-old nurse who was brutally assaulted by a sweeper in her hospital in Bombay in 1973. The sweeper used a dog chain to suffocate her as he assaulted her sexually resulting in disruption of blood supply to her brain as a result of which the nurse went into a vegetative state and continues to be in a coma-like condition even today, 41 years after the attack. Since the nurse was menstruating at the time, the sweeper sodomized her which technically did not constitute rape. So the perpetrator of this horrendous act was let off with a very light sentence while an innocent life is condemned to a tragic vegetative existence even today.
Nobody talks of scrapping the whole corpus of laws in light of these two very evident instances of miscarriage of justice. Instead, even the most vocal of activists throws up his arms in surrender before the supremacy of the Law! But then, when it comes to Islamic law, prejudice takes precedence over all objectivity.