Hasba bill infringes personal freedom: SC

September 01, 2005

Email

ISLAMABAD, Aug 31: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the state cannot enforce any religious obligation stipulated by Islam, except Sallat (prayers) and Zakat. Authored by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, a 106-page detailed judgment, said that Islamic jurists were unanimous on a point that though zakat was seriously enforced by Hazrat Abu Bakar but for sallat, the only way was through “Taleem” (education), “Tableegh” (preaching) and “Targheeb” (persuasion).

The court agreed that private life, personal thoughts and individual beliefs of citizens could not be allowed to be interfered with and held that under the Hasba Bill, the NWFP Assembly had conferred judicial powers on “Mohtasib” (ombudsman) not only to inquire into cases of maladministration of government agencies but also religious and personal affairs of individuals and blocking powers of judicial review by civil and criminal courts.

On August 4, a nine-member Supreme Court bench had declared several clauses of the Hasba bill relating to powers of the mohtasib as contrary to the constitution and had advised the NWFP governor not to give his assent to the controversial law.

The unanimous short-order was announced after four-day hearing on a reference filed by President General Musharraf against the bill under the advisory jurisdiction of the court.

Instead of showing haste, the NWFP government should have studied in depth all the reports of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) before moving the Hasba bill in the assembly, under which discretionary powers have been conferred on mohtasib to create a new offence in consultation with the provincial advisory council, the CJ observed in the detailed judgment.

About mohtasib’s powers to remove causes of dereliction in performance and proper arrangements of Eidain and Friday prayers, the CJ observed that offering of prayer was a personal obligation on an individual being the Haqooq Allah.

Religiously, mohtasib is not authorized to check negligence or disregard of a person who abandons sallat. Allowing such interference by mohtasib would deny an individual’s right of freedom to profess religion, the CJ said.

It is therefore not correct to suggest that the Hasba bill is in accordance with Islam and if the legislation is accepted and made into law, then a citizen who is held responsible for dereliction will be liable to six-month punishment on the hukumnama (order) of the mohtasib when Sharia does not mandate imposition of penalties on vague offences.

The only objective behind making available Hasba police to mohtasib is to strengthen the arms of mohtasib, to implement his hukumnama by force, if need be, the CJ said.

Under the law, mohtasib would also have direct interference/access in the family functions in the garb of discouraging extravagance at the time of marriages and other family functions, thus interfering in personal life, freedom of assembly, liberty, dignity and privacy, which is strictly prohibited in Islam.

Tracing the history, the CJ recalled that the institution of the office of Hasba did not exist at the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Khulfa-e-Rashideen. Initially the office of “Amil-al-suk” was created by “Ummayyads” to regulate markets, but later it was expanded into the office of the mohtasib by the “Abbasids.”

History reveals that the term mohtasib was used during the Khilafat of Qazi Mamoon-ur-Rashid when mohtasib used to look after the market business in addition to his religious duties like to reform social life. During the period, the duties of the mohtasib was to inspect instruments of the scales of weights and measures, which were so complicated that the people could be easily deceived. In addition, their duties include keeping vigilant eye over shortcomings and dishonesty that could be committed during preparation and sale of commodities.

The judgment also explained that by declaring some sections of the bill as unconstitutional does not mean that leftover sections have been declared in accordance with the constitution. Their constitutionality remains open to be questioned, which can be upheld or struck down as or when challenged before a competent forum.

Meanwhile Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan in his separate note expressed reservations on the definition of Aalim (scholar) in the Hasba bill and held that the definition was discriminatory and restricted to only one school of thought.