This article envisages Ten Landmark cases on Muslim Law, evolved and interpreted over time by the Supreme Court of India. Some cases deal with the rights of women and clarify their position in society.

This article envisages Ten Landmark cases on Muslim Law, which evolved and was interpreted over time by the Supreme Court of India. Some cases deal with the rights of women and clarify their position in society.

Ten Landmark Cases on Muslim Law

1. Mohammed Ahmed v. Shah Bano and Anr. [1]

The facts of the case revolve around the concept of maintenance and dower. After the divorce of the respondent by way of 'triple talaq'. The issue arose when she demanded maintenance from her husband.

In Muslim customs, a woman is entitled to a Mehr or dower, which is given to the woman as a mark of respect and the purpose is for the woman to utilize it after the marriage or if her husband passes away.

Issue: The Issues involved in Shah Bano Case are as follows:

  • Whether 'wife' as given in section 125 of CrPC includes a muslim woman?
  • Whether Section 125 is to be given preference over personal laws?
  • Whether a Muslim husband is under the obligation to provide maintenance to his divorced wife creates a conflict between Muslim Personal law and Section 125 of CrPC?

Held: The judgment given by the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano Case was indeed quite sound and fair. The judges did not fail to recognize that there persists no conflict between the concerned section of the CrPC and the Personal Laws. It can be inferred that the concerned section of the CrPC does not discriminate. Rather, irrespective of religion, a woman could seek maintenance under this particular section. The court rightly recognized that a Muslim man's duty to pay maintenance could go beyond the iddat period. It was also rightly stated by the Hon'ble court that paying Mehr cannot exempt a Muslim man from paying maintenance to his wife.

The issue of the inclusion of Muslim wives within the meaning of wife (Section 125 of CrPC) would be valid. The section does not limit itself to wives belonging to a particular religion but is enshrined with a wider definition so as to inculcate all wives. The Hon'ble Supreme Court did not shy away from stating that in case of conflict, section 125 of the CrPC would override the personal laws. The court rightly held that where the Muslim wife was unable to provide for herself, the Muslim woman may seek recourse of law under section 125 of CrPC. In this present case, Shah Bano was clearly unable to maintain herself, therefore, the husband ought to have provided her maintenance.

The Supreme Court realized the need for a Uniform Civil Code. The Hon'ble Court when on to state that having a UCC would considerably ease issues of conflicting laws and the legal problems that arise from the same. The UCC would also help in integrating the country by eradicating conflicting ideologies. A UCC would be a secular law and the State would have the responsibility of ensuring the enactment of such a code. Moreover, Article 44 of the Indian Constitution provides for the enactment of a UCC. The suggestions of the Hon'ble court were extremely clear and advised for the enactment of a UCC.

2. Shayara Bano v. Union of India and others[2]

Facts of the case revolve around a resident of Uttarakhand who represented the plight of several Muslim women. She had an ugly marriage and she was divorced by her husband by way of triple talaq (Talaq-ul-biddat).

Issue: Whether this practice of triple talaq is unconstitutional because it violates Article 14,19,21 of the Constitution.

Held: The Supreme Court decided that this practice is violative of Article 14 because it is only the man in the marriage who can practice it and the woman cannot hence the principle of equality is violated. By virtue of Article 19, the woman should have the choice during the divorce. Article 21 ensures the right to life with personal liberty.

Shayara Bano v. Union of India, better known as the 'Triple Talaq Case', gave India a historical judgment that declared the practice of Triple Talaq to be unconstitutional. The Triple Talaq judgment is widely regarded throughout the jurisdictions as a safeguard against social evils. Because of the astute and justified reasoning provided by the majority bench of the Supreme Court, India finally abolished the regressive and immoral practice of instantaneous Triple Talaq.

3. Danial Latifi and another v. Union of India [3]

The facts of this case were the aftermath of the Shah Bano case, where the petitioner filed the petition before the court challenging the Act of the parliament. The Act was passed in the aftermath of the Shah Bano judgment. Muslim Woman Protection of Rights on Divorce Act,1986 was passed which envisaged that the husband in the marriage shall be liable to pay the amount of dower and the maintenance on during the period of 'Iddat' as embedded in the Muslim personal laws after which the husband shall not be liable or responsible to maintain his wife under any circumstances unless he would prefer it.

Issue: The issue brought before the court was to challenge the said provision enacted which was Section 3 of the Act as unconstitutional and violates Section 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

Held: Supreme Court upholding the validity of the act, decided as follows:-

Muslim Husband is liable to pay maintenance which might be extended beyond the Iddat Period in terms of Sec 3(1)(a) and also make reasonable and fair provisions for a divorced wife for her future.

If divorced Muslim women who have not remarried and who are not able to maintain themselves after the Iddat period can proceed under Sec. 4 of the act which says that she should be maintained by relatives in the proportion of her property that her relatives inherit after her death.

If relatives are not able to maintain her, the Magistrate may direct the State Wakf Board to stabilize under the act to pay for such maintenance.

Article 14,15 and 21 of the Constitution of India is not offended by the provision of the act.

4. Shamim Ara v. State of U.P. [4]

The facts of this case

  • Shamim Ara the appellant and Abrar Ahmed were married in 1968 under Muslim Shariyat Law. Four sons were born out of wedlock.
  • The appellant on 12.4.1979 applied under Section 125 CrPC on behalf of herself and her two minor children complaining of desertion and cruelty on the part of her husband.
  • The husband submitted a written statement of him divorcing the appellant on 11.7.1987.
  • The presiding judge of the family court at Allahabad refused to grant any maintenance to the appellant because the respondent already divorced her on 11.7.1987. The maintenance of Rs.150 was allowed only to one of her children as he was still a minor.
  • The appellant denied having been divorced and preferred a revision before the High Court.
  • The High Court of Allahabad held that the alleged divorce was completed only in 1990 when the respondent submitted a written statement to her appeal. Therefore, the appellant was entitled to claim maintenance from 1988 to 1990.
  • The figure for maintenance allowed by the High Court was Rs.200. The appellant filed a special leave before the Supreme Court.

Issue: Whether the appellant can be said to have been divorced by the respondent and the said divorce has been communicated and become effective 5.12.1990, the day when the respondent submitted the written statement in these proceedings?

Ratio Decidendi:

The Honorable Judges present to hear these cases were Justice R C Lahoti and Justice Venkatarama Reddi. The Judges were of the opinion that:

  • The written statement of divorce submitted by the respondent lacked evidence since the details of talaq were not pleaded.
  • The circumstances under which and the persons under whose presence the talaq was pronounced on 11.7.1987 were also not mentioned.
  • There were no reasons given in justification of talaq and no proof that the effort of reconciliation was made which has to precede the talaq.
  • For the talaq to be effective, it has to be pronounced. The word "pronounce" means to proclaim, to utter formally, to utter rhetorically, to articulate, and to declare. There is no proof of talaq being taken place on 11.7.1987.
  • The high court upheld the written statement as talaq and its copy given to the wife was the communication. The Judges of the Supreme Court held that a mere plea taken in the written statement as divorce having been pronounced in the past cannot be treated as effectuating talaq.
  • A plea of the previous divorce taken as a written statement cannot be treated as a pronouncement of talaq by the husband to wife on the date of filing of the written statement followed by delivery of the copy to the wife.
  • The respondent failed to produce evidence for the talaq to be effective.


The Bench held that for the foregoing reasons the appeal is allowed. Neither does it dissolve the marriage between the parties on 5.12.1990 nor does the liability of the respondent to pay the maintenance comes to an end on 5.12.1990.

Therefore, the respondent shall remain liable to pay maintenance until the obligation ends under law.

5. Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India[5]

Facts: There were two petitions clubbed by the Supreme court. The basic facts in both these petitions were that the husband flees from the first marriage which was solemnized under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Further, the husband fled and converted to Islam only for the purpose of remarrying thereby by-passing Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code that prohibits remarriage while the subsistence of one marriage.

Issues: There were two issues before the court

  • Whether the second marriage after converting from Hindu to Islam shall be valid.
  • Whether the man shall be liable by the virtue of Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code.

Held: The apex court held that the man is trying to invade the first marriage and leave the wife stranded. Thereby, held that according to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, a man under its provisions cannot have two marriages at a time. It was held by the court that the second marriage shall be void in nature since the first marriage is not dissolved and the conversion which has taken place only to commit fraud and to marry two women at the same time shall hold no good. The conversion shall not be affected but the second marriage shall be void.

6. Chand Patel v. Bismillah Begum[6]

The facts of the case include the petitioner Chand Begum who filed an application for maintenance before the Magistrate for herself and her minor daughter on the ground that the respondent-husband married her sister and after which she has been neglected and not maintained.

Issues: Whether a marriage performed by a Muslim man with his wife's sister during the lifetime of his wife will constitute a valid marriage or irregular marriage and its implication on the provision of maintenance?

Held: The Supreme Court held that the marriage of a man with two sisters shall not be void. It stated that this marriage shall merely be irregular in nature. And further discussed that the child of such marriage shall be entitled to inheritance from his father.

It was further discussed that a marriage in which the wife is Hindu and the child born out of such marriage shall also have the right over the inheritance. It stated that marriages that have taken place without any witnesses or marriage during the 'iddat' period of the former wife only are circumstances under which the marriage between the parties can be held to be invalid.

The court concluded that unlawful conjunction leads to an irregular marriage and is not void. Hanafi Law in relation to Muslims in India is concerned, that an irregular marriage continues to exist until a competent authority declares it void.

Till then, it entitled the wife and children to maintenance, and the court instructed the appellant to provide maintenance to both the respondents.

7. Ahmedabad Women Action Group (AWAG) v. Union of India

Facts: This case has been filed by a voluntary organization working for women's empowerment as a Public Interest Litigation. It shook the entire nation. The petitioners, in this case, challenged several traditional practices under the Muslim personal law as unconstitutional.

First, the practice of polygamy was alleged to be violative of Articles 14 and 15. Second, the practice of the system of unilateral talaq by Muslim husbands is violative of Articles 14 and 15. Third, to hold that remarriage during the existence of a marriage by a Muslim husband shall amount to cruelty itself. Last, to hold that the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 is unconstitutional for violation of Articles 14 and 15.

Held: The court observed that this practice can only be followed by the Muslim husband in the marriage and not the woman. Hence, it was also stated that this causes agony and can be a form of cruelty to the wife. The practice of triple talaq which is a mere saying of the word Talaq causes the dissolution of marriage without giving the woman any resort in court or any other place. Leaving her high and dry when the man decides that he does not want the marriage.

This tradition also can only be practised by the husband and not by the wife. The laws of inheritance are discriminatory since it does not apply to the females of the family. And she has no right whatsoever upon the property of her own family and hence, violates Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution.

8. Imambandi v. Mutsaddi[8]

Facts: The property belonged to Ismail Ali Khan, a resident of Siwan in the Saran District. The plaintiffs allege that on his death, he left surviving three widows and several children and that from one of these widows, named Enayet-uz-Zohra, acting for her and for her two minor children; they purchased the share in a suit for the possession of which they brought the present case.

The claim was made by Enayet-uz-Zohra and her children that they were equally entitled to the other heirs of Ismail Ali Khan as co-sharers in the estate by right of inheritance, the allegation being that Zohra was one of his lawfully wedded wives and that her children were his legitimate issue.

Zohra's counsel claims a decree in favour of the plaintiffs for possession of the shares covered by the deed of sale.

The defendants denied, that Zohra was one of Ismail Ali Khan's married wives or that her children were his legitimate issue, and they further contended that the shares the plaintiffs claimed to recover did not pass under the sale.

The petitioner claimed that she was the mother of the child and hence, the legal guardian and thus, was entitled to the share of the property belonging to the child.

Issue involved: As per the Muhammadan law how far a mother's dealings with her minor children's property are binding on the minors?

Obiter dicta: It was held by the court that "the mother had no power to transfer the property for she wasn't the legal guardian.

Guardianship means the position of being legally responsible for the care of someone who is unable to manage their own affairs. Father or in his absence, the paternal grandfather, being the natural guardian, is in charge of the minor.

Although the mother is not the natural guardian of the child under Muslim law, she has a right to custody of the child, until the child attains a specific age. But the father or the paternal grandfather has control over the minor throughout his minority."


  1. The Lordship decided on the grounds of Muhammadan law "a person who has charge of the person or property of a minor without being his legal guardian, and who may, therefore, be conveniently called a "de facto guardian," and has no authority to convey any other right or interest on the immovable property which the transferee can enforce against the infant."
  2. "As observed that in the absence of the father under Sunni law the custody vests in his executor. If the father dies without appointing an executor, the custody of his minor child devolves to their grandfather. In De-jure guardians, judges as representative sovereigns have the duty of appointing guardianship to protect and preserve the infant's property. No person has the right or power to interfere with the minor's property except for some specified purpose, nature which is clearly defined."

Judgment: The court rejected the claim and dismissed the case of the petitioner.

Conclusion: The case deals with the guardianship and division of property which is based on guardianship.

9. Gohar Begum Nazma Begum[9]

The facts of this case deal with the guardianship of the father in the case of an illegitimate child. The petitioner is the mother of an illegitimate child who has filed an application under Section 491 of CrPC to transfer custody of the child from her husband to her. The illegitimacy of a child is a major issue in Mohammedan law and leads to several legal questions as in this case.

Issues: The issue here which the court dealt with is whether the husband or the father holds the natural guardianship of the minor illegitimate child under the Mohammedan law.

Held: Here the court affirmed, that the woman or the wife can be a natural guardian only to the illegitimate child. It affirmed that in the case of an illegitimate child, the circumstances are different from the legitimate child, here even the woman or the wife can be a natural guardian to the illegitimate child, and non-transfer of custody of such child will certainly amount to illegal detention of the child under Section 491 CrPC.

10. Noor Sabha Khatoon v. Md. Quasim [10]

Facts: This case specifically deals with the concept of maintenance of the child born out of the marriage after the divorce between the man and the woman. Md. Quasim was married to Noor Saba and had three children from the marriage.

The respondent left the appellant with her three children without divorce and remarried to another woman. Later the wife filed an application under Section 125 CrPC for maintenance of herself and her three children which was allowed. The respondent divorced her and approached the High Court claiming that since he has divorced her, the Muslim Women Protection Act, 1986 shall apply according to which he does not need to maintain his wife and children after two years of their birth.

Issue: Whether the children out the Muslim marriage shall be entitled to maintenance under the CrPC after the divorce of the couple.

Held: The court held that the child shall be entitled to demand maintenance under 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and also from the Muslim Woman (protection of rights on divorce) Act. The father shall be liable to pay maintenance to the son until he attains the age of majority stabilises himself and provides for himself. Further, the father shall be liable to maintain his daughter till the time she is married.


Hence, these are the judgments passed by the Supreme Court of India, which have changed and evolved over time and this is the current position of the Muslim Personal laws in India.

Originally Published on: Feb 21, 2020

[1] 1985 SCR (3) 844

[2] 1985 (2) SCC 556

[3] (2001) 7 SCC 740

[4] (MANU/SC/0850/2002)

[5] 1995 AIR 1531

[6] (2008) 4 SCC 774

[7] (AIR (1997) 3 SCC 573

[8] (1918) 20 Bom. L. R 1022.

[9] (1960) 1 SCR 597

[10] AIR 1997 SC 3280

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Updated On 11 May 2024 10:00 AM GMT
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