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SUPREME COURT SET TO RULE ON EQUALITY IN MUSLIM WOMEN’S SUCCESSION RIGHTS

Malla Greeshma

Sri Padmavati Mahila Viswavidyalaym

Department Of Law

SUPREME COURT SET TO RULE ON EQUALITY IN MUSLIM WOMEN’S SUCCESSION RIGHTS

The Supreme Court is diving into a crucial legal matter concerning the rights of Muslim women in inheritance cases. This issue comes against the backdrop of the government’s push for a Uniform Civil Code and a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2017 that declared the practice of triple talaq invalid.

Justices C T Ravikumar and Rajesh Bindal are examining whether individuals governed by Islamic law, known as Mohammedan Law, have the right to leave their entire estate according to their wishes. They're also questioning whether a person under Mohammedan Law can leave up to one-third of their estate to specific legal heirs without the consent of others.

The bench acknowledged the complexity of the matter and emphasized the need for deeper consideration, given its significant implications. They highlighted the absence of a direct judgment by the court on this issue, indicating the importance of clarifying legal principles in this area.

Furthermore, the court is exploring whether Muslim women have the right to claim equality in succession, considering the constitutional provisions of equality and non-discrimination. This aspect gains significance in light of the state’s efforts to establish a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens.

The court appointed senior advocate V Giri to provide expert advice and set the next hearing for July 25. They’re also considering previous judgments and how they apply to the current situation, recognizing that times have changed since those decisions were made. This case could have significant implications for how inheritance laws are applied to Muslim women in India.

In a related development, the court is also examining the need for a secular law on wills and legacies for Muslims. Currently, Muslims are governed by their personal law, specifically the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, in matters of inheritance and succession.

Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, along with Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, highlighted the complexities of Section 58 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925, which excludes Muslims from its application. They issued notices to the Centre and the Kerala government in response to a petition arguing that Muslims should have the option to be governed by the Indian Succession Act instead of Muslim Personal Law, especially those who renounce their faith.

The petitioner, Safiya PM, a resident of Kerala and the president of an organization for former Muslims, argues that rather than being subject to Muslim Personal Law for inheritance purposes, she should be regulated by the 1925 Act.

Responding to the petition, CJI Chandrachud referred to the complexities introduced by Section 58 of the Indian Succession Act, which explicitly excludes Muslims, and Section 3 of the Shariat Act, which requires a specific declaration to opt-out.This creates a scenario where people such as Safiya find themselves in a legal gray area because they are governed by a legal framework that conflicts with their personal beliefs.

Under the current system, people born as Muslims who later renounce their faith or become non-believers are still governed by Shariat law unless they formally declare they want to opt out, according to Section 3 of the Shariat Act. However, even if they opt out, Section 58 of the Indian Succession Act prevents them from using the general inheritance laws. There is another petition challenging Section 58 of the Indian Succession Act that is also pending before the Supreme Court. This case could set a precedent regarding how religious law applies to those who have consciously distanced themselves from the faith they were born into, raising fundamental questions about freedom and balancing the principles of equality and freedom of belief with existing legal frameworks.

 To further understand the context, it’s essential to look at the evolving landscape of inheritance laws in India. Various high courts have interpreted Mohammedan Law differently, with some holding that a Muslim cannot discriminate in distributing their estate among legal heirs without their consent, while others allowing for the bequeathing of up to one-third to third parties.

For instance, a judgment from the Karnataka High Court in Narunnisa vs Shek Abdul Hamid (1987) ruled that if a Mohammedan leaves behind a son and a daughter, and the daughter does not consent to giving 3/4th of the property to the son, she can claim 1/3rd of the property as her share of inheritance.

However, times have changed since these judgments were made, especially in light of recent Supreme Court rulings, such as Prakash and others vs Phulavati and others (2016) and Shayara Bano vs Union of India and others (2017), which invalidated triple talaq.

The court's exploration of Islamic legal texts, such as “The Hedaya – Commentary on the Islamic Laws” and “Mohammedan Law by Syed Ameer Ali,” highlights the need for a contemporary understanding of these laws in the context of modern society.

In addition to these legal matters, scholars and experts have weighed in on the issue. Dr. Salahuddin Sultan, a scholar, writer, and teacher at Jamia Islamia, America, noted that there are situations in Islamic law where women receive an equal or greater share than men. He emphasized that perceptions of inequality stem from a lack of understanding of the responsibilities and duties assigned to men and women in Islamic law.

The Supreme Court's decision on these cases, expected on July 25, could have far-reaching implications for the interpretation of inheritance laws in India. It highlights the ongoing debate around the need for a Uniform Civil Code and the balance between religious laws and constitutional rights.

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