The judgment has highlighted the significance of religious faith that continues to affect marital relations in Indian society

A far-reaching judgment delivered this weekend by the Delhi High Court on the status of marriage following renunciation of religious beliefs by a spouse has shifted the focus on marital ties of couples who resort to different tactics, including conversion, to enter wedlock. Many of these marriages end up in separation for a variety of reasons.

The judgment, recognising apostasy from Islam by the wife as a valid ground for ipso facto dissolution of marriage under the Muslim personal law, has highlighted the significance of religious faith that continues to affect marital relations in Indian society.

A Division Bench of the High Court, rejecting an appeal of one Munavvar-ul-Islam against a decree of a family court in Saket, has held that dissolution of his marriage with Rishu Arora, who first converted to Islam but later reconverted to her original religion, was valid under the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939.

“It is an admitted fact that the respondent (Rishu) was initially professing Hinduism and had embraced Islam prior to the marriage, and then reconverted to Hinduism...The trial court was right in specifying that the marriage stands dissolved from the date on which the respondent apostatised from Islam,” stated the Bench, comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Najmi Waziri, in its 30-page verdict delivered on Friday.

Munavvar and Rishu had married according to Islamic rites on July 15, 2010. Rishu embraced Islam and changed her name to Rukhsar before entering wedlock.

Differences arose between them after some time and they started living separately. Rishu first filed cases under the maintenance and domestic violence laws, but later withdrew them while stating that since she had apostatised, her marriage did not subsist any more. The family court granted a decree of divorce in the case. Munavvar contended in his appeal that abjuration of Islam per se does not result in dissolution of a marriage governed by the Muslim personal law.

The High Court cited several scholars of Muslim personal law while dealing with the questions if apostasy per se dissolves the marriage and whether the Act of 1939 had made any change to the general law.

Justice Waziri, writing the judgment for the Bench, held that the case was covered by the proviso to Section 4 of the Act, according to which the requirement for obtaining a decree for dissolution of marriage does not apply to a woman converted to Islam from some other faith, who re-embraces her former faith.

The Bench observed that Rishu’s case was governed by the pre-existing Muslim personal law which dissolves marriage ipso facto upon apostasy. The Court did not find any merit in the appeal and dismissed it.

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