Who are Muslims?

Who are Muslims?

Author: Anamika M J, National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi

Definition                                                                                              

The word Muslim was first used in Print in 1615. According to Agnides a Muslim is one who believes in the mission of Mohammad as Prophet or one who says that there is one God and the Mohammad is his prophet or one who believes in several other essential beliefs in God and Mohammad. A votary of Islam recognises only one God and acknowledges Mohammad as His prophet. The children of such a person are Mohamedans. When only one parent is Mohammedan, the upbringing of the child in the Mohammedan faith makes the Mohammedan Law applicable to the child. Conversion is permitted in Islam and Mohamedan law governs the converts.

The Quran is the foundation of Mohammedan law. Muslim law is founded on Quran which is believed by the musalmans to have existed from eternity, subsisting in the essence of God.  The Quran is one showing truth from falsehood and right from wrong. It is in the form of a series of communication addressed by God to the prophet. The communication was revealed to the people on different occasions in the last twenty-three years of the Prophet’s life.

Sunni and Shia

Most of the Muslims are mainly of two denominations, Sunni and Shia. Sunni is the mainstream and traditionalist group. They recognise the first four Caliphs as Mohammad’s rightful successors. They also recognise the six ‘sound’ books of Hadith which contain the spoken tradition attributed to Mohammad. Sharia the traditional islamic school is interpreted in four different ways in Sunni Islam.  Shia considers that Ali was appointed divinely as the first Imam after Mohammad. There are many subsets to Shia, in the modern era there are mainly two groups, they are Twelvers and Ismailis. The Shia believes that Hadith supports the status of Ali.  Shia’s consider infallibility as a rational and necessary precondition for spiritual and religious guidance.

Muslims by Birth

A person who has been born in the Muslim faith and has never been proved to have adopted any other religion is held to be a Muslim.[1] The burden of proof will be on the person who asserts the contrary.  Every adult Muslim, whether male or female, may renounce the doctrines of the sect or sub-sect, to which he or she belongs, and adopt the tenets of the other sect or sub-sect, and he or she shall henceforth be governed by the law of the new sect or sub-sect.

Conversion to Islam

A non-Muslim who has attained the age of majority and is of sound mind can convert to Islam. The converts to Islam faith is considered to substitute the religion of Islam for the previous religion with so much of the religion as necessary as the person follows. This can be done mainly in two ways. First, he can declare that he believes in the oneness of God and the Prophetic character of Mohammad. Second, he can go to a mosque or to a person who is well versed in Islamic theology where he will utter Kalma before the Imam. A convert must formally profess to be a Mohammedan and the conversion must be bonafide. No one can commit a fraud upon the law pretending to be a convert to Islam to elude the personal law by which he is bound. Skinner v Orde and Rikhya Bibi v Anil Kumar are cases that discussed the conversion of Muslims by fraud. In Skinner v Orde Helen Skinner was married according to Christian George Skinner who died in the lifetime of Helen. Thereafter Helen cohabited with John Thomas who was married at that time. In order to legalize their union, Helen and John converted to Islam. Their conversion was not held bonafide as it was observed by the Privy Council that the conversion was for bigamy which was not permissible under the law. In Rikhya Bibi v Anil Kumar, Hindu women have converted to Islam in order to get rid of her husband since he was impotent. It was held that her conversion was colourable and was effected with an intent to commit fraud and therefore, it was held invalid and ineffective.

Apostacy from Islam

Under the Muslim law Mohammedan after renouncing Islam loses all rights to succeed as Muslim. But under the Caste Disabilities Removal Act 1850, the apostate will not lose all rights. According to Mohammedan law an apostate has no right to contract a minor to the marriage. According to the Act of 1850 no law or usage shall inflict on any person who renounces his religion any “forfeiture of rights of property”, it was held in Muchoo v Arzoon that a Hindu father should not be deprived of his right to the custody of his children and to direct their education by any reason of his conversion.

Marriage of a Muslim husband to a Muslim wife is dissolved ipso facto on the renunciation of the husband from Islam. But when a maried Muslim couple renounce Islam and embrace another relegion, their marriage remains intact and is not dissolved. The renunciation of Islam by a married Muslim woman or her conversion to any ther relegion does not dissolve her marriage. But when a woman reconvert to her former faith from Islam, her marriage with Muslim husband stands dissolved.


[1] Bhagwan Baksh Singh v Drigbijai Singh, AIR 1931 Oudh301.

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