ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) decree for compulsory teaching of the Arabic language up to secondary and high secondary school levels in the country.

A Shariat appellate bench of the apex court headed by Justice Mushir Alam had taken up an appeal filed by the Punjab government challenging the Oct 22, 2012 FSC verdict for being ineffective and without jurisdiction.

Representing the province, Additional Advocate General for Punjab Qasim Ali Nawaz Chohan argued that the FSC order was not a judgement in the eyes of the law rather a reproduction and compilation of many reports on the subject. The petition argued that the reports on the basis of which the verdict came also did not contain any evidence for the purpose of any notice or action under Article 203-D of the Constitution.

Punjab government had challenged the Federal Shariat Court verdict for being ineffective and without jurisdiction

The FSC had issued the verdict on a letter written by Dr Zahoor Ahmad Azhar on Dec 14, 2010 to its chief justice who converted the letter into a petition and fixed the case for hearing.

In his letter, Dr Azhar had requested the FSC to issue a directive for the federal and provincial governments to make arrangements for compulsory teaching of the Arabic language up to secondary and higher secondary levels.

The FSC had issued notices to the federal and provincial governments, but after conducting a single hearing it announced the judgement the same day, on Oct 22, 2012.

The petition filed by Punjab argued that the FSC order was against the constitutional provisions, without jurisdiction and not sustainable in law and hence needed to be set aside on the grounds that Dr Azhar had sought enforcement of the recommendation of the Islamic Ideological Council against Article 203-D of the Constitution. And FSC’s reliance on the principles of policy for issuing a mandamus was also irrational and unreasonable in view of the clear mandate of the Constitution, it emphasised.

Most importantly, the petition said, the omission of the concurrent list under the 18th Constitution Amendment was not taken into consideration by the FSC, adding that the subject of education that was previously contained as a legislative entry in the concurrent legislative list was not present in the Constitution any more.

The petition argued that Dr Azhar in his letter had not quoted any verses of the Holy Quran or Sunnah which ordained Muslims, especially those of non-Arab origin, to learn the Arabic language compulsorily.

“Even otherwise if a Muslim wants to learn or teach their children Arabic language, there is no state law or custom or policy having the force of laws which prohibits its citizens to learn or teach their children Arabic language. Even in the life time of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) as well as in the Khilafat period, the non-Arab Muslims were not subjected to compulsory learning of Arabic language,” the petition added.

It said the main sources of Shariah like the Quran, Sunnah and Fiqah had been translated from Arabic to Urdu and to English by top Arabic experts/Muslim scholars having high degree of expertise in the Arabic language so that the knowledge of Islam was easily available to people. Even otherwise, the students learning Arabic at secondary or high secondary school level could neither reach the level of these Arabic experts nor would become competent enough to access the Arabic resources in true spirit, it argued.

Such secondary or high secondary level Arabic graduates would create confusion and conflict in the meaning and interpretation of Arabic sources like the Quran and Sunnah, the appeal contended, adding that the purpose of Islam was communication of Islamic directives and not learning of the Arabic language.

“Moreover, Arabic is not a language of Islam rather it is the language of the Arabs whether Muslims or Non-Muslims,” the petition argued, adding that Allah Almighty did not send all his Holy books in the Arabic language. “We can say that if there had been any sanctity or sacredness attached to the Arabic language, Allah Almighty would have sent all his religious books in Arabic.”

The Punjab government argued that the FSC jurisdiction was clearly provided in Articles 2013-D, 203-DD and 203-E of the Constitution and as the Shariat Court could decide the questions of any law if it was repugnant to the injunctions of Islam, there was no jurisdiction conferred upon the FSC to issue a writ of mandamus in the absence of a finding of the court declaring a law or a provision of a law to be repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2018

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