Sharia Law in India: An Overview
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Sharia Law in India: An Overview

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Sharia law, derived from the divine and philosophical principles of Islam, is a body of laws that governs the lives of Muslims. In India, Sharia law primarily deals with matters such as marriage, succession, inheritance, and charitable works among the Muslim community. Administered through the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, Sharia law is based on the teachings of Prophet Muhammad and the holy book, the Quran. This article provides an in-depth understanding of Sharia law in India, exploring its history, sources, schools, and its interaction with the Indian legal system.

Sources and Schools of Sharia Law

The Quran, the sacred text of Islam, serves as the primary source of Sharia law. It is supplemented by the Sunnah, the deeds of Prophet Muhammad, and the Hadith, his sayings. However, there is no single law book or defined judicial procedure to determine Sharia law. Consequently, various interpretations of the Quran have given rise to different schools of thought within Sharia law. The major schools include:

  1. Hanbali School: Founded by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, the Hanbali school is the smallest and most stringent of all the schools. It relies heavily on the Quran and is predominantly followed in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
  2. Maliki School: Established by Malik Ibn Anas, the Maliki school is based on an independent interpretation of the Quran. It is prevalent in African regions such as West Africa, Sudan, and Kuwait.
  3. Shafi'i School: Founded by Muhammad Ibn Idris Ash-Shafi'i, the Shafi'i school is based on a consensus on the understanding of the Quran. It is followed in East Africa and Southeast Asia, including countries like Somalia, Eritrea, and Indonesia.
  4. Hanafi School: Abu Hanifa An-nu'man founded the Hanafi school, which is the earliest and most flexible version of Sharia law. It relies on both consensus and independent reasoning and has the largest number of followers worldwide. Countries like Turkey, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh follow the Hanafi school.
  5. Ja'fari School: The Ja'fari school, founded by Ja'far Ibn Muhammad Al-Sadiq, is classified under the Shia school of thought. It is solely practiced by Shia Muslims and is prevalent in Iran, Iraq, and a limited number of followers worldwide.

These schools of thought, established by male theologians and jurists, interpret and apply Sharia law based on their understanding of the Islamic scriptures.

History of Sharia Law in India

Sharia law in India has its roots in the early Muslim empire and dynasty. During the caliphate of the Umayyad dynasty, Islamic judges known as kadis were appointed to handle legal matters involving Muslims. These kadis were well-versed in the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Sharia law reached its peak during the Abbasid dynasty, with kadis presiding over religious, family, property, and commercial disputes. Over time, Sharia law was adapted to suit the changing lifestyles and issues of the Muslim community. Although Sharia law was not explicitly mentioned in Indian statutes, it influenced the legal system, particularly in matters of family, divorce, property, and criminal punishments.

With the advent of British rule in India, Hindu and Islamic laws were gradually overridden by common law. However, Muslim personal laws, including Sharia law, continued to be applied to the Muslim community. The legal system in India evolved from diverse legal traditions, incorporating principles from ancient texts such as the Arthashastra and Manusmriti. Sharia law, as a personal law for Muslims, coexists with the Indian legal system.

Indian Constitution on Sharia Law

The Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom to practice and profess any religion, including the freedom to follow personal laws based on religious beliefs. Article 25(1) of the Indian Constitution grants every individual the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate their religion. This ensures that Muslims have the freedom to follow Sharia law in matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. However, the Indian Constitution also imposes certain restrictions on religious practices in the interest of public order, decency, morality, health, and other state purposes.

Article 26 of the Indian Constitution further recognizes the right of religious denominations to manage their own affairs, including the administration of institutions for religious activities and charitable purposes. This provision allows Muslims to establish and maintain Sharia courts, also known as Darul Qaza, for the resolution of civil disputes within the Muslim community.

It is important to note that Sharia law is applicable only to Muslims in India and does not supersede the Indian legal system. The Indian Constitution ensures equality before the law for all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Interaction of Muslim Personal Law and Sharia Courts in India

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has advocated for the establishment of Sharia courts throughout India. These Sharia courts, known as Darul Qaza, are not conventional courts but rather counseling or arbitration centers. They provide accessible, informal, and voluntary means of resolving civil disputes within the Muslim community. Led by a Qazi, an Islamic law scholar who serves as a judge, these courts operate based on personal law and are governed by the AIMPLB.

Muslims in India have the option to seek remedies through the regular civil courts or approach the Sharia courts for dispute resolution. While the civil courts follow the Indian legal system, Sharia courts provide a quicker and more cost-effective alternative for Muslims seeking justice in matters such as marriage, divorce, property, and inheritance. The decisions of Sharia courts are not legally enforceable but are considered binding if all parties involved agree to abide by them.

Currently, there are approximately 70 Sharia courts or Darul Qaza in India, with the majority located in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. These courts have successfully resolved over 60,000 cases, predominantly related to divorce and marital issues. Women, in particular, find recourse in Sharia courts due to the simplified procedures and lower costs associated with seeking justice.

It is worth noting that the decisions of Sharia courts can be challenged in civil courts, although such challenges are rare. The existence of Sharia courts alongside the regular civil courts provides an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for the Muslim community, ensuring access to justice and preserving their personal laws.

Functions and Needs of Sharia Courts in India

Sharia courts play a crucial role in providing quick and affordable justice to the Muslim community in India. The Indian civil justice system can be time-consuming and expensive, often involving lengthy procedures. In contrast, Sharia courts offer a more accessible and informal means of dispute resolution.

These courts have well-established procedures for resolving issues, including systematic recording of testimony and delivering clear judgments. They have gained the trust of the Muslim community by addressing their specific needs and concerns. Women, in particular, benefit from the existence of Sharia courts, as they provide a supportive environment for seeking divorce and resolving other marital disputes.

While the decisions of Sharia courts do not carry legal enforceability, they serve as a means of conflict resolution within the Muslim community. The parties involved have the option to either accept or ignore the court's decision. The effectiveness of Sharia courts lies in their ability to provide timely and fair solutions, as well as their adherence to Quranic principles of justice.

It is important to note that Sharia courts do not handle criminal matters and have no authority to enforce their judgments. They focus solely on civil matters concerning family law, divorce, marriage, gifts, trusts, and charitable and religious endowments. The informal nature of these courts allows parties to present their cases without the need for legal representation, making them accessible to individuals from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

Triple Talaq and the Shayara Bano Case

Triple talaq, a form of divorce practiced in Sharia law, became a subject of controversy in India. Traditionally, a Muslim man could divorce his wife by simply uttering the word "talaq" three times, without the need for her consent or any specific reasons. This practice came under scrutiny for its potential to lead to the arbitrary and unilateral dissolution of marriages.

In the landmark case of Shayara Bano v. Union of India (2017), the Supreme Court of India declared triple talaq unconstitutional and illegal. The petitioner, Shayara Bano, had been divorced by her husband through triple talaq, and she challenged its validity, citing violations of her fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution.

The Supreme Court's judgment prohibited the practice of triple talaq, considering it to be against the principles of gender equality and justice. The court emphasized that Islamic countries had already abandoned triple talaq, and it was not an essential religious practice. In response to the court's ruling, the Indian government passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act in 2019, making triple talaq a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment and fines.

The Shayara Bano case marked a significant step towards gender justice and equality within the Muslim community in India. It recognized the need to protect the rights of Muslim women and ensure that divorce proceedings adhere to principles of fairness and mutual consent.


Sharia law in India plays a vital role in governing the lives of Muslims, particularly in matters of family, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. It is based on the teachings of Prophet Muhammad and the Quran, supplemented by interpretations from various schools of thought. While Sharia law coexists with the Indian legal system, it is applicable only to Muslims and does not supersede the Indian Constitution.

Sharia courts, or Darul Qaza, provide an alternative means of dispute resolution for the Muslim community, offering accessible and affordable justice. These courts focus on civil matters and operate based on personal laws, ensuring that the specific needs of the Muslim community are addressed. While their decisions are not legally enforceable, they provide a platform for conflict resolution within the Muslim community.

The Shayara Bano case highlighted the importance of gender justice and equality within the Muslim community, leading to the prohibition of triple talaq as an arbitrary and unilateral form of divorce. This landmark judgment aimed to protect the rights of Muslim women and ensure that divorce proceedings are fair and based on mutual consent.

Sharia law in India continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the Muslim community. It is essential to strike a balance between religious practices and constitutional rights, ensuring that personal laws do not infringe upon fundamental principles of justice, equality, and human rights.

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