NEW DELHI — Islamic courts have no legal authority in India, the country’s Supreme Court ruled Monday, saying Muslims cannot be legally subject to a parallel religious authority.
Individuals may abide by Sharia court rulings if they wish but cannot be legally forced to do so, Judge C. K. Prasad said.
‘‘No religion is allowed to curb anyone’s fundamental rights,’’ he told the court, giving the decision of a two-judge bench. Indian law does not recognize Sharia court rulings, he said.
The court was responding to a petition filed in 2005 by a lawyer who said the Sharia courts should be disbanded for running a parallel judicial system in a country with 150 million Muslims among its 1.2 billion population.
Islamic courts wielded considerable influence in Muslim-dominated areas, and people often felt powerless to oppose their rulings, the petitioner Vishwa Lochan Madan argued.
The Supreme Court rejected Madan’s request to disband the Sharia courts, saying there was no point if their ‘‘fatwas’’ — or edicts — had no legal sanction. People were still free, however, to voluntarily consult an Islamic court for arbitration in personal matters.
Muslim leaders denounced the ruling and encouraged India’s Muslims to continue to consult the Sharia courts on issues such as marriage, divorce, or inheritance.
India has a judicial system inherited from British colonial rulers but has long allowed different religious communities leeway in handling their personal issues and disputes.
Madan’s petition had cited as an example a case in which a Muslim woman was raped by her father-in-law. A Sharia court ordered her marriage annulled and demanded she live with her father-in-law. The case caused outrage in India after the court ordered the mother of five children to leave her husband.