Supreme Court Refuses to Refer Ayodhya Dispute-Related Case to Constitution Bench

Though the court held that the 1994 Ismail Faruqui judgment – which said namaz could be offered anywhere and that a mosque was not necessary for this – is valid, it said the context of that finding was limited and had no relevance to the Babri dispute.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to refer to a five-judge bench a 24-year-old judgment which had held that the offering of prayers in a mosque is not an “essential feature” of Islam.

But in declaring that the 1994 Ismail Faruqui judgment need not be revisited, the majority judgment by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Ashok Bhushan also said that those observations about the place of a mosque in Islam were limited to the context at hand in the case, namely the acquisition of land by the government, and had no bearing on the title suit in the Ayodhya matter.

The Muslim litigants in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmaboomi dispute had sought a reopening of the Faruqui judgment because they felt it might have an adverse bearing on their claim to the land in question. This is because the Hindutva camp has consistently taken the view that the Babri Masjid holds no special relevance for Muslims.

In the 1994 case, the apex court had held that namaz could be offered anywhere and that a mosque was not necessary for this. It had also ruled that the government could, therefore, acquire the land that a mosque is built on.

In Thursday’s majority verdict of 2:1, the apex court said the civil suit has to be decided on the basis of evidence on the question of title and that the previous verdict has no relevance to it.

The verdict was delivered by a three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer. Justice Bhushan gave one judgment on behalf of himself and CJI Misra, while Justice Nazeer wrote another, dissenting one.

The apex court said that the civil suit on the Ayodhya land dispute will be heard by a newly constituted three-judge bench on October 29.

The composition of the bench is not known. CJI Misra may take a call on this or leave it to his successor, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who will be master of the roster from October 2.

Justice Bhushan said: “We have to find the context in which five judges delivered 1994 verdict in Ismail Farooqi case that mosque is not integral to Islam” adding that the judgment was in the context of acquisition of the mosque and made with respect to the facts of that case.

“The use of “particular significance” in Ismail Faruqui judgment is only in the context of immunity from acquisition.”

Disagreeing with the majority verdict, Justice Nazeer said whether a mosque is integral to Islam has to be decided considering the belief of religion and it requires detailed consideration. He referred to the recent Supreme Court order on female genital mutilation and said the present matter should be heard by a larger bench.

The issue of whether a mosque is integral to Islam had cropped up when the three-judge bench headed by CJI Misra was hearing the batch of appeals filed against the Allahabad high court’s 2010 verdict by which the disputed land on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid area was divided in three parts, two parts given to proponents of plan to build a Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid stood for 450 years before being demolished by Hindutva mobs on December 6, 1992.

Ismail Faruqui judgment

In 1994, a five-judge bench of the apex court while hearing the M. Ismail Faruqui vs Union of India case had held that a mosque was not an “essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam” and that namaz could be offered anywhere and hence, “its acquisition (by the state) is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India”.

In the case, the petitioner, Ismail Faruqui, had challenged the validity of the Acquisition of Certain Area At Ayodhya Act, 1993, under which 67.703 acres were acquired in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex in Ayodhya.

The apex court, upholding the government’s acquisition, had held “any step taken to arrest escalation of communal tension… can, by no stretch of argumentation, be termed non-secular… or against the concept of secularism — a creed of the Indian people embedded in the ethos.”

Declaring that namaz could be offered anywhere, the Supreme Court had said in 1994:

“(Mosque) is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open. Accordingly, its acquisition is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India”.

The case was referenced in 2010 in the Allahabad high court during a hearing in the Ayodhya land dispute case, when the court apportioned one-third of the land to Hindus, one-third to Muslims and one-third to Lord Ram, the deity.

According to the Muslim litigants, this verdict had played a significant role in the disputed land being divided into three parts by the Allahabad high court. Justice Nazeer said that questionable observations in Ismail Faruqui had permeated the 2010 verdict.

(With PTI inputs)