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Tue. Oct 4th, 2022
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NEW DELHI: In an abrupt switch of gears, the Muslim side on Monday said the Supreme Court, not being sufficiently proficient in Arabic, is ill-equipped to interpret the Quran. It argued that instead of determining the essentiality of hijab to Islam by attempting to interprete the holy book, the court should view hijab as an individual woman’s right to choose a piece of cloth to protect her privacy, dignity and identity.
The fresh of argument by the side that had earlier contended that hijab was essential to Islam, advanced in different forms by senior advocates Yusuf H Muchhala and Salaman Khurshid. The last hearing in the court had seen a bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia, relying upon the Muslim side’s argument on non-mandatory nature of five tenets of Islam — Nama, Riza, Zakat, Hajj and Imaan — to ask how hijab, ranked lower in the hierarchy, could then be termed compulsory in Islam.
As the court was hearing the Karnataka hijab ban case, the Muslim side’s change of track was palpable as Muchhala, counted among veteran experts on Muslim personal law, said, “Privacy means autonomy of body and mind. Right to conscience and the right to religion are complimentary. So when a Muslim women wants to wear hijab, it is her choice of cloth to feel empowered as well as protect her dignity and privacy.”
He said the ‘amritdhari’ Sikh women also wear turban and their right to wear it to educational institution should also be protected as much as Muslim women’s right to sport headscarves. “We are concerned with individual rights. Whether hijab is essential to Islam is not a question in these batch of petitions,” Muchhala said, not wanting the court to examine the essentiality of hijab to Islam.
The bench sought a clarification from Muchhala on his contradictory stands. It said, “First, you asserted that wearing hijab is a religious right. Now, you are arguing that the court should not get into interpreting Quran to determine whether hijab is essential to religion. And then, you are arguing that the matter should be referred to a nine-judge bench to determine whether this practice is essential to religion.”
The bench said, “Even if this matter is referred to a nine-judge bench (which would hear issues relating to entry of Hindu women of all age-groups into Sabarimala temple, Muslim women into mosques and Parsi women into agiyari), you could argue before the nine-judge bench that it too cannot interpret Quran and adjudicate on essentiality of hijab to Islam.”
Khurshid argued that wearing hijab by a Muslim women could be because of her religious belief, a conscience call, a cultural necessity or a personal choice to maintain identity, dignity and privacy. “Cultural practices needs to be respected in a country of vast cultural diversity like India. The Muslim women do not want to defy the rule requiring them to wear uniform. They want to wear an additional cloth, in the nature of a headscarf, to honour their cultural requirement as well as personal choice.”
The arguments would continue on Wednesday.

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