New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to refer its 1994 verdict in the Ismail Faruqui case that mosque is not integral to Islam to a five-judge Constitution bench. The matter had emerged during the hearing of Ayodhya land dispute.

The top court held that all religions and religious places need to be equally respected. “Ashoka’s Edicts preach tolerance to faith of others,” said Justice Ashok Bhushan as he read out the verdict.

Justice Bhushan said it has to find out the context in which the five-judge had delivered the 1994 judgement.

Back in 1994, the SC had then held that mosque was not an “essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam” and hence “its acquisition (by the state) is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India”.

Upholding its previous observation, the top court said that re-examining the 1994 verdict would delay the Ayodhya dispute, on which the hearing will begin on October 29. The top court said the civil suit has to be decided on the basis of evidence and the previous verdict has no relevance to it.

The apex court said now the civil suit on land dispute will be heard by a newly constituted three-judge bench on October 29 as Justice Misra will retire as Chief Justice on October 2.

The 2:1 majority verdict was pronounced by Justice Ashok Bhushan, who read on his and Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s behalf. Justice S Abdul Nazeer presented a dissenting judgement.

“Observations in Ismail Faruqui judgement on mosques as not essential to religion is in the context of the acquisition of mosque and made with respect to the facts of that case,” said Justice Bhushan.

“The statement in Faruqui case was in the limited context of immunity claimed by the petitioners for the mosque from acquisition, it need not be read broadly to mean mosque can never be essential to practise of Islam,” he added.

Justice S Abdul Nazeer disagreed with the two judges and said whether mosque is integral to Islam has to be decided considering belief of religion and it requires detailed consideration.

He referred to the recent Supreme Court order on female genital mutilation and said the present matter be heard by larger bench.

Justice Nazeer said that the Ismail Faruqui observation that “mosque is not integral to the practice of religion of Islam” had influenced the Allahabad HC decision to divide equally the disputed land among three parties. Hence, it must be re-examined by a larger bench, he added.

In this context, he also highlighted the observations of the high court judge S A Khan that mosque is not integral to Islam.

“Whether mosque is integral to Islam to be decided considering belief of religion, requires detailed consideration. Larger bench needs to decide what constitutes essential religious practice,” said Justice Nazeer.

The observations on mosque were made in the land acquisition matter pertaining to the Ayodhya site and the apex court had to consider two aspects as to whether a mosque could be acquired at all and whether a religious place of worship like a mosque, church or temple was immune from acquisition if it is a place of special significance for that religion and formed an essential and integral part of that religion.

Around 20 Muslim groups who filed the petition had argued before a special bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices Ashok Bhushan and S A Nazeer that the “sweeping” observation of the apex court in the verdict needed to be reconsidered by a five-judge bench as “it had and will have a bearing” on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi land dispute case.

A three-judge bench of the high court, in a 2:1 majority ruling, had ordered that the 2.77 acres of land be partitioned equally among three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.