On women’s right to pray at mosques, Supreme Court issues notices

The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notices to the Centre and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) on a petition filed by a Muslim couple seeking the right for women to pray in mosques. However, the court added that it wasn’t entirely convinced by their argument because the right to equality could only be demanded from the state and it wasn’t clear whether a place of worship could be equated with a state.

A bench of justices SA Bobde and SA Nazeer said it was entertaining the public interest litigation (PIL) only because of the Sabarimala verdict delivered last year that allowed women of all ages, including those of childbearing age, to pray at the hilltop shrine in Kerala.Women of childbearing age had been barred from entering Sabarimala on grounds that the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, was celibate.

“We are not convinced with your argument. We are only hearing you because of the Sabarimala judgement. The provision for Right to Equality under the Constitution can only be invoked against the state and not against an individual who is inside a mosque,” the court added.

The petition, filed by the Muslim couple, Yasmin Zuber Ahmad Peerzade and Zuber Ahmad Nazir Ahmad Peerzade, refers to the Sabarimala verdict to say that women have the right to worship in Mosques. The couple has said that there are no Muslim laws barring women from entering mosques and offering prayers.

In reality, women are discouraged from entering mosques. And those mosques that do allow them, confine them to an enclosed area where prayers can be read. At the start of the hearing the bench asked the lawyer about the SC order in the Haji Ali Dargah matter. The top court had nudged the Haji Ali Dargah Trust to concede in October 2016 to allow women to enter the sanctum sanctorum. Women’s entry was stopped inside the dargah in 2011-12.

On being asked, the petitioner’s counsel said women were allowed to offer prayers inside Mecca. Justice Nazeer, however, doubted his assertion and said there was no common congregation there too.

The petition, filed under Article 32 (on protection of fundamental rights) , quoted from the Sabarimala judgment saying, “religion cannot be used as cover to deny rights or worship to women and a prohibition on women to offer prayers is against human dignity.”

Giving their own example, the petitioners said, they had requested the Jama Masjid in Pune to let the wife enter the mosque. In response, the couple was told that women were not permitted to offer prayers in the mosque in Pune and other areas. The Imam, however, said he would write to higher authorities to consider the petitioners’ request and seek directions.

“Islam imposes no restriction on the entry of anyone into the mosque, least of all women. The couple, which has moved the petition, might be having a local problem,” said Iqtedar Farooqui, a retired scientist, who has authored several books on Islam. He, however, added that men and women cannot offer prayer standing side-by-side. “There has to be a separate enclosure for men and women,” he said.

Rejecting the basis of the PIL,

Maulana Khalid Rashid Farangi Mahali, a member of AIMPLB, said: “Only a person who is ignorant or has no knowledge of Islam would make such a baseless charge.” He added that “several working Muslim women” offers prayers in mosques across Lucknow.

First Published:
Apr 17, 2019 02:22 IST

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