NEW DELHI: After demolishing gender discrimination at Sabarimala temple by allowing entry of women of all age groups into the Kerala shrine, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to examine whether it could pass a similar direction to pave the way for the entry of women into mosques to offer prayers.
A bench of Justices S A Bobde and S Abdul Nazeer issued notices to Centre, All India Muslim Personal Law Board and National Commission for Women seeking their response on whether women could be allowed to enter mosques.
Although the bench initially expressed its reservation on entertaining the petition filed by a Pune-based couple who alleged that women’s fundamental right to equality is being violated by denying them entry into mosques and raised the question how could fundamental rights be invoked against “non-state actors” like a mosque. It, however, agreed to adjudicate the issue in the light of apex court’s verdict on Sabarimala temple.
“Can you demand fundamental rights against another human being? Does it apply to an individual? You can invoke it against the state but can it be invoked against non-state actors. You are reading Article 14 (equality before law) that we have not read … Where is the state involved in it,” the bench asked the petitioner.
The petitioner’s lawyer, however, said religious places get grants from the governments and fundamental rights could be involved against them. He said that entry of women was allowed in Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai on the intervention of apex court and pleaded the bench to examine the issue.
The court thereafter issued a notice of the petition and said, “We are hearing you just because of Sabarimala judgment”.
In a path-breaking verdict to ensure gender equality at religious places, the Supreme Court had in September last year opened the door of Sabarimala temple in Kerala to women devotees of all age groups and bulldozed centuries-old gender barrier of not allowing women in the age group of 10-50 inside the temple to worship Lord Ayyappa.
The couple — Yasmeen and Zuber Ahmad Peerzade — pleaded the court to declare the present practice of prohibiting entry of women in mosques as illegal and unconstitutional for being violative of their fundamental rights. They filed a petition in the apex court after heads of various mosques refused their plea to permit women to offer their prayers.
“Like men, women also have the constitutional rights to offer prayers according to their belief. At present, women are allowed to offer prayers at mosques under Jamaat-e-Islami and Mujahid denominations, while they are barred from entering mosques under the predominant Sunni faction. It is submitted that even in the mosques where women are allowed, there are separate entrances and enclosures for worship for men and women. There should not be any gender discrimination. It is submitted that there is no such gender discrimination to offer worship in Mecca, the holy city,” the petition said.
“The Quran does not differentiate between man and woman. It speaks only about the faithful. But Islam has become a religion in which women are being oppressed. Women were allowed to enter mosques even during the time of the Prophet. Muslim women are being discriminated against as they are not allowed to enter and pray in the main prayer hall of mosques,” the petition said.