Like Hindu law, Muhammadan law is a personal law. Unlike territorial laws, it does not apply to all the persons in a given state or country. It applies only to those persons who answer a given description, namely, Muslims, whether they are so by birth or by conversion. To be a Muslim is to profess Islam, i.e., to acknowledge that there is no God but God (i.e., there is only one God), and Muhammad is His Prophet. “La ilaha ill lil lah Muhammad ur Rasul Allah.”
Profession of the faith of Islam (i.e., belief in the unity of God) and the mission of Muhammad as a Prophet or messenger of God are necessary and sufficient for establishing that a person is a Muhammadan by birth or by conversion. It is not necessary that he should observe any particular rites or ceremonies.
A person who is born a Muslim remains a Muslim until he renounces the religion by an unequivocal renunciation of Islam. The mere adoption of some Hindu forms of worship does not amount to the renunciation of religion. An illegitimate son of a Hindu by a Muslim woman, who is brought up as a Hindu, may be regarded as a Hindu, though his mother is a Muslim.
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Muhammadan law applies to: (a) Muslims by birth, and (b) Muslims by religion, i.e., persons who have become converts to Islam.
In India, Muhammadan law is applied as a branch of personal law to the Muslims in matters relating to Inheritance, Succession, Wills, Gifts, Wakfs, Marriage, Dower, Divorce, Paternity and Guardianships. In other matters, the general laws of the land, as for instance the Law of Torts, the Indian Penal Code, the Indian Contract Act, etc., apply.
The Courts in India apply those rules of Muhammadan law:
(i) Which have been expressly directed to be applied to Muslims, except in so far so as they are altered or abrogated by the Indian Legislature? (Thus, for instance, the rule of Muhammadan law that a convert from Islam is to be excluded from inheritance is abolished by the Freedom of Religion Act, 1850);
(ii) Which, though not expressly directed to be applied, are not excluded by the Indian Legislature, either expressly or by implication? These rules are applied as matter of equity, justice and good conscience. No rules of Muhammadan law that have not been expressly directed to be applied can be applied if they have been abolished, either expressly or by necessary implication.
Thus, for instance, rules of Muhammadan law with regard to pre-emption are not applied in U. R and Punjab, because there are special Acts dealing with these topics in those states. Similarly, the rules of Muhammadan Criminal law or the Islamic law of Evidence are not applied; rather, the matter is governed by the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Evidence Act.
In the mofussil areas of the erstwhile State of Bombay (now Maharashtra and Gujarat), the law to be applied in the trial of suits was to be Acts of Parliament and Regulations of Government applicable to the case; in their absence, the usage of the country in which the suit arose was to be applied; if none such applied, the law of the defendant, and in the absence of any specific law and usage, justice, equity and good conscience alone would govern the case. [Sec. 26, Bombay Regulation of 1827 (Regulation IV)]