The Supreme Court on Tuesdays issued a notice to the central government, the Waqf Board and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Pune-based Muslim couple seeking to uphold the right of Muslim women to enter mosques freely and offer namaz.

The apex court, however, said it was hearing the plea only because of the Sabarimala verdict, which had been quoted in the PIL. The court said that it was not satisfied with the response given by the petitioner’s counsel to a query on whether an individual can assert his or her right to equality against another individual.

The petition was heard by a bench of Justices Sharad Arvind Bobde and S. Abdul Nazeer.

“We are only hearing you because of the Sabarimala judgement. But the provision for right to equality under the Constitution can only be invoked against the state and not against an individual who is inside a mosque," the court said.

The judges asked whether a mosque or temple or church is a state.

“Can you invoke Article 14 and claim equality of treatment from another citizen. Can it be invoked against non-state actors? We can understand that state has to ensure equality. State cannot deny it," the court observed.

The petitioners said that they had written to the authorities at Mohmdiya Jama Masjid in Pune seeking permission for women to enter and pray in the mosque. However, the permission was denied on the grounds that such a practice is not allowed, they said.

Mosques around the world do not have such laws that are prejudiced against women, contended Yasmeen Zuber Ahmad Peerzade, one of the petitioners. The Mecca does not discriminate on the basis of gender, nor do mosques in Canada and Saudi Arabia, the petition pointed out. The Quran does not differentiate between a man and a woman and there are no records stating that the Quran or Prophet Muhammad had opposed women entering mosques and offering prayers, the petition contended.

A ban on women entering mosques to offer prayers is also against the Constitution, the petitioners argued. It violates the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, 21, 25 and 29 of the Constitution, it states.

The petition states that “Religion cannot be used as cover to deny rights of worship to women and it is also against human dignity. Women are prohibited due to non-religious reasons and it is a grim shadow of discrimination going on for centuries, as held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the Sabarimala case."

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