A Pakistani judge has accepted a case against an Islamic charity, widely seen as a front organisation for a banned anti-India militant group, that has been accused of running unauthorised sharia courts in the eastern city of Lahore.
The charity, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), is listed as a “foreign terrorist organization” by the United States. Western officials regard it as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group that carried out the attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.
The case against JuD was brought by a Pakistani real estate agent, Khalid Saeed, who says the charity had summoned him in January to appear at its court in Lahore to resolve a property dispute with another man.
Saeed said that the JuD letter warned him that if he failed to attend, “no excuse would be accepted and action will be taken according to sharia”.
Pakistan’s judiciary has become increasingly assertive dealing with politicians, but the case could show how ready judges are to act against powerful Islamic organisations.
Lahore High Court Judge Shahid Bilal Hassan agreed to hear the case yesterday. He reserved judgment until a later date but told JuD’s lawyer that based “on facts, he (Khalid Saeed) has a point”.
There was no hearing today and it was unclear when the proceedings would continue.
Court documents show the group is accused of organising and holding parallel sharia courts, summoning individuals and deciding family, civil and criminal law cases in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the country’s richest province and power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
JuD officials deny having links to LeT or running a parallel court system. Instead, JuD said it holds “arbitration councils” chaired by religious scholars who mediate disputes and provide guidance in light of Islamic teachings.
JuD operates openly in Pakistan and its leader Hafiz Saeed, who also founded LeT, holds public rallies and gives interviews despite a $10 million (£7 million) bounty placed on him by the United States. JuD officials last year said the group had 30,000 volunteers and hundreds of workers across Pakistan.
During Tuesday’s hearing the JuD lawyer, Muhammad Aqeel, said the summons submitted by Saeed was forged. A JuD representative, Nadeem Awan, also said the group does not issue threats or summons.
“If we had been summoning people or coercing them to attend the council or abide by the council’s decisions, then there would be thousands of complaints against us,” Awan said. “Yet, all you have is this one complaint.”
Pakistan has a Federal Shariat Court separate from the supreme and high courts, and has the power to examine if laws comply with Islam.
Many Pakistanis are frustrated with the formal judicial system, regarding it as flawed and slow, and they instead look for justice from parallel courts like panchayats, or village councils, or unauthorised sharia courts.
The man who asked the JuD to intervene in his dispute with the real estate agent said he had written to the group’s leader asking for help.
“A friend told me about these courts and how effective they are,” said Muhammad Azam.
Inside the JuD headquarters in Lahore, a large banner had proclaimed the group’s “Mediatory Sharia Court” was set up in 1992 and has since its inception decided “thousands of family, civil and murder disputes according to Islamic law”.
The banner was taken down on Monday.