ARE FATWAS LEGALLY BINDING IN INDIA ?

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Islam, a fatwa is “an authoritative legal opinion given by a legal scholar (Mufti) in response to a question posed by an individual or a court of law”. Initially, fatwas were independent of the judicial system, later during colonial rule, Islamic colleges (Madrasas) took over the role of religious guides and established special institutions to issue fatwas. In the present day, Muslim states have attempted to control fatwas through official advisory organizations within religious ministries. A fatwa is neither binding nor legally enforceable.Recently, the High Court of Delhi in the case of Mohd Ashraf & Ors. v. Abdul Wahid Siddique (2020) ruled that no legality is attached to a fatwa in respect of ownership of immovable property and it is not binding on any third party. In the above case, the plaintiffs claimed to be owners of a suit property, and the defendant was a tenant of that property. The plaintiffs purchased the suit property through a registered sale deed, pursuant to which notice demanding arrears of rent and vacation of premises were issued to the defendant. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant is merely a tenant and has no right over the suit property. A fatwa was issued by a Mufti, as per the plaintiff’s, and it vested rights of the suit property in the person whose son transferred the property to the plaintiffs through the sale deed. The defendant challenged the ownership of the plaintiffs on various grounds leading to the filing of the suit for possession. The defense was of the opinion that the original owner had made a declaration, transferring ownership in favour of the tenants. Based on these facts the High Court of Delhi stated-“While a fatwa can be the basis of an amicable settlement of disputes between parties who submit to such a settlement process, binding the same on a third party would be contrary to law”. Hence, the Court laid down the verdict in favour of the defendants. This ruling can be further backed up with a precedent laid down by the Supreme Court of India in Vishwa Lochan Madan v. UOI & others (2014) where it pronounced that a fatwa does not satisfy the requirements of a legally binding document and it does not trace its origin to a validly made law, making it clear that a fatwa cannot be imposed on a third party. The Supreme Court has made this decision with the reasoning that a fatwa lacks legal sanction since it must be either created or sanctioned by any law made by the legislature or passed by the judiciary. A fatwa does not fulfil these requirements, therefore, a Mufti who issues a fatwa has no authority or powers to impose his opinion and enforce the fatwa on anyone by any coercive method. These cases have made it clear and have established that a fatwa although can be abided by parties in their individual capacity, it cannot be legally enforceable against a third party in a Court of Law.

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