A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, asked the government to respond to the petition filed by Yasmeen Zuber Ahmad and Zuber Ahmad challenging the prohibition of entry of Muslim women into mosques as illegal, unconstitutional and a violation of their dignity. They asked the court to direct the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Central Waqf Council to open the mosques to Muslim women.
Several parties have been named as respondents, including the National Commission for Women.
In April, when the petition came up for hearing, the court said it was compelled to hear the couple in the background of the verdict in the Sabarimala temple case, in which a Constitution Bench had declared the ban on women of a certain age unconstitutional and discriminatory.
“There should not be any gender discrimination, and allow Muslim women to pray in all mosques, cutting across denominations. There is no such gender discrimination to offer worship in Mecca, the holy city. The faithful, both men and women, together circle the Kaaba,” the petition said.
At present, women are allowed to offer prayers at mosques under the Jamaat-e-Islami and Mujahid denominations. Women are barred from mosques by the predominant Sunni faction. Even in mosques where women are allowed, there are separate entrances and enclosures for worship for men and women.
The petition argued that such a bar was “violative of Article 44 of the Constitution of India, which encourages the state to secure a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens, by eliminating discrepancies between various personal laws currently in force...”
In April, however, the court expressed doubts about whether such a petition for right to equality could be filed against individuals and non-state actors like people who pray in and manage mosques. The fundamental right to equality under Article 14 is available only against the state. “Is a mosque a ‘state’? Is a church a ‘state’? Is a temple a ‘state’? We are not talking about the cement and mortar that make mosques but the people in them. Can the fundamental right of equality be imposed against another human being?” it asked.