New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to refer to a larger bench its 1994 judgement holding that a mosque was not integral to the practice of Islam, clearing the decks for the court to continue hearing the main case over the Ayodhya dispute next month.
Thursday’s verdict was delivered by a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer, and the main case will continue to be heard by a three-judge bench.
The issue arose from a 1994 judgement in the Ismail Faruqui versus Union of India case where the court considered the acquisition of a religious place and held that a mosque was not integral to the practice of Islam. Thursday’s verdict came in response to a challenge to the 1994 ruling by senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan, appearing for the Sunni Waqf Board, who sought that the case be reconsidered by a larger bench before starting final arguments.
Justice Bhushan held that the present case would be decided on the basis of its own facts and evidence. “The Ismail Faruqui judgement was confined to acquisition of land and will not have an impact on this case. It saying that a mosque is not essential part of religion must be treated as an observation and not a governing factor," he said.
The court’s 2:1 majority ruling on Thursday came on the limited aspect of whether the law laid down by it in its 1994 judgement should be revisited by a larger bench as the wider Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute was being heard by a three-judge bench.
Under the 1994 judgement, it was held that offering prayers at a particular location would not be an essential or integral part of religious practice, unless the place had a particular significance for that religion.
The court on Thursday was also hearing a total of 13 appeals filed against a 2010 judgement of the Allahabad high court in four civil suits challenging the high court verdict that ordered a three-way division of the disputed 2.77-acre site. On 7 February, the court said that the matter would be heard as a “pure land dispute".
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court had ruled in favour of partitioning the land equally among three parties—the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and ‘Ram Lalla’ (infant Lord Ram), represented by the Hindu Mahasabha.
A civil suit for deciding the title of the property on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished on 6 December 1992 had been filed before the high court. The apex court stayed the decision in 2011.
The Shia Central Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh told the Supreme Court in August that it was amenable to building a mosque in a Muslim-dominated area, at a reasonable distance from the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site.
Justice Nazeer disagreed with the two judges, saying whether or not a mosque is integral to Islam has to be decided on the basis of religious beliefs, which requires detailed consideration.
The main case will be heard next on 29 October.