Tahir Mahmood

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Tahir Mahmood is an Indian legal scholar and author of a large number of books frequently cited in the judgments of the Supreme Court of India and numerous High Courts. He had his higher legal education in Aligarh and London and has over fifty years of academic experience. Currently he is with Amity University where his designation is "Distinguished Jurist Chair, Professor of Eminence & Chairman, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies."


  • The way certain chosen passages arbitrarily picked up from the Holy Quran are being used to demonise the Muslim religion is bound to create feelings of ill-will in the society against the second largest section of citizens and thereby disturb social tranquility in the country. What is being overlooked is the fact that the message and spirit of some religious texts can be appreciated only by those who have a certain degree of respect, if not reverence, for them -- those reading such texts with irreverence or hostility can never be at ease with their teachings. And it is indeed true of all religions. Well known is the fact that some of the ancient religious texts of the great Hindu religion are replete with apparently very cruel words and harsh injunctions for the “lower castes”.
  • Religious polemics are bitter relics of the past. We cannot afford to revive them in the 21st century India rightly proud of its scientific advancement and technological excellence. If we go on searching each other’s religious texts to find isolated passages which may not appear prima facie palatable to us, it is not going to lead us anywhere. Such passages are things of the past. No one is acting on these now; no one indeed needs to. There is a lot more in all religious texts which can bring us together. We have to concentrate on those refreshingly humane texts and try to come closer – bring all our people closer.
  • The Holy Quran – the same Quran in which ignorant critics find a verse which according to their understanding asks Muslims to kill kafirs – after declaring that "Mankind is one single community" [II:213, X:19] pronounces in no uncertain terms: "If anyone kills one person it is like he has slain the whole mankind; and if anyone saves one life it is like he has saved the whole mankind" [V: 32]. And, as regards the much-talked about and misunderstood term "kafir", it is the same Quran proclaiming unequivocally that "For every community God has appointed religious rituals, they must not quarrel in respect of these rituals. [XII: 67].
  • What is indeed more reassuring and thought-provoking in respect of inter-religious harmony is the fact that numerous injunctions in the Holy Quran and the Sacred Vedas are more or less identical in their meaning and message – all teaching their respective followers the same lessons in devotion to the Creator of Universe and mutual love and respect among mankind. "All mankind belongs to God, He rewards all those who are virtuous and punishes all evil-doers" proclaim both the Rigveda [I: 80.11] and the Quran [LIII:31]. Rigveda’s injunction "Pray to God as you wish but with humility and quietness; He does not like those who cross limits" [VI: 16.46 ] finds its exact parallel in the Quran [VII 54-55]. The ancient Indian philosophy of "vasudhev kutumbukam" compares with Islam’s injunction al-khalqu ‘ayalillah [mankind is God’s family]. It is these common teachings of the Hindu and Islamic scriptures, as also the other countless pearls of wisdom found in each of these, that need the attention of members of both the communities – not those which may even be remotely interpreted to be annoying for one community or the other.
  • ‘The existence of so many schools of Muslim law in India and, more than that, the insistence by the followers of each of these schools to stick exclusively to the doctrines of their own school, lead to the conclusion that what is applicable in India under the banner of “Muslim personal law” cannot be equated with the revealed or inspired tenets of the Islamic religion. Its major portions are rather based on the verdicts and opinions of particular Muslim jurists, who lived in different periods of history and in different social conditions.’
    • quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)
  • ‘It is palpably inconceivable that none of these traditional legal principles has lost even an iota of its original rationale and utility, even after the expiry of tens of centuries. Also the possibility of some of these principles having unconsciously deviated from their revealed base, if any, cannot itself be ruled out. The fact is that certain aspects of the presently prevailing Muslim personal law in India have outlived their utility and do need a reconsideration.’ Giving several examples, he asked, ‘Which of the following features of the Muslim personal law can be claimed to be based on the intention of the Almighty Law-giver or considered superb in the context of the present social conditions?’
    • quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)
  • ‘It is unwise for the Muslims of India,’... ‘to shut their eyes to the tremendous progress in the fields of personal law and succession made in a major part of the world of Islam. A unified, codified and modernized law of personal status is now the order of the day in a large number of countries where Muslims constitute overwhelming majorities. In India, the Muslims have to live in the company of a dominant non-Muslim majority and other co-minorities, all of whom are now governed by largely modernized and codified personal laws. How can they afford to insist on an absolutely undisturbed continuance of their classical and uncodified personal law? And if they do so it would be to their own sheer detriment.’
    • quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)
  • ‘To insist that the Muslim personal law prevailing in India should be preserved as it is amounts to insisting on the retention of certain legal rigidities, social inequalities, uncalled for discrepancies and undesirable hardships,’... ‘Do these features, one may ask, behove the followers of that great religion that was Islam?’
    • quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)
  • ‘It is claimed that Islam was the emancipator of women,’.... ‘It liberated Eve from man’s oppression and gave her a legal status which was denied by most of the pre-Islamic civilizations. The personal law of Islam conferred on women right to hold and dispose of property, right to inheritance, right to make free marital choice and right to seek divorce. By virtue of these unprecedented features, the religion of Muslims claimed to be the pioneer of feminism. Now, after Islam has completed a life of over thirteen centuries, further progress in the fields of women’s rights and equality of sexes has been made in all parts of the globe. And this course of progress has been joined, to varying extent, also by what represents a major portion of the Muslim world. Why are, then, the Muslims of India lagging behind?’
    • quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)
  • ‘Equating the Muslim personal law, in its present local state, to the Quran and Hadith, describing it as a wholly revealed or inspired law, and declaring that not an iota of the existing principles can be changed, only exposes the ignorance of Islamic values, Islamic religion and Islamic jurisprudence. Attempting to distort facts about the recent reform of personal law in the Muslim countries cannot do any good. Throwing mud on those who have progressive tendencies and talk of reform of the Muslim personal law, or making contemptuous remarks about their sincerity and wisdom, cannot help either. Instead of trying to conceal the realities, the Muslims must face them. If after having been practised in India in an uncontrolled way for tens of centuries, the Muslim personal law is found being misused and misapplied and consequently lagging behind the social progress in the country, there is nothing in it to be ashamed of. Instead of being stubborn or obstinate about it, the situation has to be duly appreciated, and made good... It is no sensible argument that any reform of the Muslim personal law would amount to interference in religious freedom and affect the cultural identity of Muslims. If the Muslim personal law is codified and reformed—men are restrained from pronouncing a divorce arbitrarily, women’s rights in family life are enlarged, and orphaned grandchildren of a deceased Muslim are allowed to share the latter’s heritage along with other heirs—how is the religious freedom or cultural identity of Muslims going to be affected?... It is irrelevant for cultural identity whether a Muslim can torture his first wife by contracting a bigamous marriage against her wishes and without necessity, or a wife can tease her husband throughout his life by exploiting his inability to pay dower. These and the other drawbacks in the existing personal law cannot be considered essential ingredients of the Muslim culture...’
    • quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins)

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