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JUDICIAL INTERPRETATION v. RELIGIOUS MATTERS (SPECIAL REFERENCE TO WASEEM RIZVI CASE)

Author: Munis Nasir, III year of B.A L.L.B from Jamia Hamdard


Introduction

Indian Constitution is not a constitution but a whole living soul in itself. It gives powers and privileges in the form of fundamental rights and fundamental duties to citizens as well as non-citizens. Further Part 3 of the Indian Constitution denotes the part of fundamental rights. Similarly one of the fundamental rights granted to all people is the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion subject to public order, health and morality. In the recent era, various verdicts have been given about religious interpretations of different communities. The question which remains unanswered is how far judicial interference is permitted in religious matters?


Cases of Judicial Interference in religious matters

Some of the famous cases where the judiciary have intervened in religious matters are:

1. Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. v. The State of Kerala & Ors(AIR 2018 SC 1690)[1], In this case, the apex court by 4:1 lifted the ban from religious customs of Ayyappa Temple which restricted the women of age group between 10-50 to enter the temple premises.


2. Nikhil Soni v. Union of India(2015 Cri LJ 4951)[2], Rajasthan High Court declared the Jain Process of achieving salvation as illegal and considered it as equal to suicide. A Special Leave Petition was filed by the Jain Groups against the order of Rajasthan High Court in the Supreme Court of India. The apex court considered ‘Santara’ as under Article 25 or 29 of the Constitution, as it in no manner protects the freedom of religion. It held that persons professing Jain religion, do not have special status nor does the interest of minority permits taking life and gives a constitutional right.


Facts of the case

Waseem Rizvi, a former Shia Waqf Board Chairman filed a writ petition in the apex court under article 32 of the Indian Constitution for the removal of 26 verses from the Quran stating that they promote terrorism, hatred and negativity among the Muslim community. It was further stated by him that the wrong message is being conveyed through the name of Islam. He claimed that Islamic students are taught the Quranic surah’s in a manner that is disturbing their young brains. It was alleged that several Madrasa were involved in the promotion of terrorist activities. Thus for all this, the Petitioner filed the writ petition in Supreme Court for removal of such verses that is sending the wrong message.


Pleadings of the case

The writ petition submitted for the removal of 26 verses from the holy book according to the petitioner was used as a justification by Islamic Terrorist Groups for attacks on non-believers. The Petition contended that on account of verses of the Quran, the religion is Islam is diverting its focus on violent behaviour, militancy, fundamentalism and terrorism. The petition further added that dictates of religion are not in connection with the law of any nation or any country and even rules made by the United Nations shall have no power.

The Plea draws Court’s attention towards two sorts of verses in the Quran:

1. Messages of Allah which are positive and promotes peace, harmony (attached as Annexure P-3 to the petition)

2. Messages of Allah which are negative and promotes violence, hatred (attached as Annexure P-4 to the petition)


Does he mark why two different messages are in the Quran?

Islam is a religion that is based on the concept of forgiveness, equality, equity and peace. These 26 verses are contrary to the teachings in Islam. He alleged that after the demise of Prophet Muhammad, a dispute regarding the genuineness of heavenly messages was there and Caliphs made a mistake regarding the same.


The plea further states, “as per the provisions of Article 25 and 26 of Constitution of India, the freedom of conscience and religion as per clause 1 is subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion. Further, any religious custom/belief has to be in accordance or within the balance of Constitution of India and as the Law is already settled.”[3] The petitioner quoted Chandmal Chopra v. State of West Bengal(1988 CriLJ739)[4] case, wherein 1987 a petition had been filed in Calcutta High Court to show cause why a writ of mandamus should not be issued directing the respondent to declare that each copy of the Quran. It was contended that publication of Quran containing aforesaid offending portions section 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code. But the petition was dismissed by the Calcutta High court and it was held that it was too late to contend that the publication and propagation of the Quran would cause disharmony between communities and religions and also tenets of the Quran would constitute an insult to religions or communities.


Court’s viewpoint

The bench of the Supreme Court was headed by Hon’ble Justice Mr. Rohinton Fali Nariman and included Justices Mr. B.R. Gavai and Mr. Hrishikesh Roy. When the hearing started Nariman asked the Learned counsel whether he was seriously pressing the petition. The counsel on that replied that he was just confined to the prayer of the regulations of the Madrasa Education. He stated that literal interpretations of certain verses from the holy book are proclaiming violence against non-believers, therefore teaching them can lead to the indoctrination of children. He also stated that he wrote to the Central government but no action was action. Accordingly, he allegedly called the central government and madrasa board to discuss what steps will be required to be taken to avoid such literal teaching of the verses of the Quran.


Court’s judgment

The Supreme Court after hearing the counsel dismissed the petition for the deletion of verses from the Holy Quran calling it “Absolutely Frivolous” and imposed a fine of Rs.50,000 for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims by filing the petition[5].


Why should the Supreme Court not entertain such matters?

The apex court should not concern with religious matters as India is a country well versed with different religions and cultures. Giving verdicts on religious topics in one community would eventually incite expectations from the other community. It also remains undefined whether the community would happily accept the verdict by the apex court in their religious matters or will neglect it.

In the current matter, the apex court dismissed the petition of removal of 26 verses from the Holy Book thus saving and respecting the sentiments of billions of Muslims around the globe.


Conclusion

Waseem Rizvi should have taken this case to the place where it belongs i.e. to the Islamic scholars and not to the apex court of India for reinterpretation or deletion of the verses of the Quran. It needs to be noted that scriptures don’t change but their readers do. Even from past Islam’s doctor maximum, Ibn al Arabi said that “every time someone reads a Quranic verse and sees its meaning what he saw earlier, then he has not read it properly[6]”. With changing and evolving times different interpretations may come and in the end, the source must be maintained. Scriptures bring new intimations of the human interpretations but not the legislation for contemporary society. The scriptures are the final word from the Lord where a comma cannot be changed.

[1] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/163639357/

[2] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/173301527/

[3]https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/quran-petition-supreme-court-syed-wasim-rizvi-plea-seeking-26-verses-with-rs-50000-costs-172468#:~:text=The%20Supreme%20Court%20on%20Monday,preaching%20violence%20against%20non%2Dbelievers.&text=The%20Court%20has%20also%20imposed,petitioner%20for%20filing%20the%20petition.

[4] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1594975/

[5]https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/quran-petition-supreme-court-syed-wasim-rizvi-plea-seeking-26-verses-with-rs-50000-costs-172468#:~:text=The%20Supreme%20Court%20on%20Monday,preaching%20violence%20against%20non%2Dbelievers.&text=The%20Court%20has%20also%20imposed,petitioner%20for%20filing%20the%20petition.

[6] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ibn-arabi/