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Qazi


Qazi was a judicial functionary for the adjudication of cases concerning Muslim law during the pre-British period. A Qazi was appointed by the Muslim government to administer both civil and criminal law, chiefly in towns, according to the principles of the Holy quran. Though theoretically, the subahdar was the supreme head in the subah to pronounce sentences involving death, succession and juristic interpretations of Muslim law, he had no original jurisdiction on those matters, and it was, in fact, the Qazi whose judgment he had to confirm, modify or reject.

In the beginning, the function of a Qazi was to settle disputes, but later his jurisdiction widened considerably and included the supervision and management of the orphans and lunatics, the execution of testamentary dispositions and the supervision of endowed property. Sometimes he even helped the destitute widows to find suitable husbands. All contested property was to be deposited with the Qazi or his nominee; he brought the wrong doers to their senses and it was the duty of the governor or executive officials to help him in maintaining the dignity of law. Appointed by the centre and independent of the governor or executive department, the Qazi decided cases in accordance with Shariah (Shari'at, Islamic law) or Adah ie equity and reason. He could help the parties to reach a compromise, provided it did not violate the law. All Muslims were reliable witnesses except those who were convicted to serious offences or perjury or suspected of partiality. The Qazi could revise his own decision on the basis of fresh evidence or of reasoning on his own part.

The judicial department or Diwan-i-Qaza was headded by Qazi-i-Mamalik or Qazi-ul-Quzzat. The whole judicial system and the administration of religious affairs were in the charge of the Qazi-i-Mamalik. He heard appeals from the lower courts and appointed the local Qazis. A Qazi enjoyed honour and prestige in the whole Muslim period, Mughal and pre-Mughal.

With the rise of the British power in Bengal, the institution of Qazi began to decline steeply. The judicial functions of a Qazi were altoghether withdrawn under the Cornwallis Code of 1793. The Code replaced the Qazi with the British civilian judge. Of course, the civilian judge was required to keep a Qazi as legal advisor in his court in cases of Muslim law. This function was also taken away after the High Court Act of 1861. Since then, the duties of a Qazi were confined to the preparation and attestation of legal documents, and the general superintendence and legalisation of the ceremonies of marriage, funerals, and other domestic occurrences in the Muslim society.

At present, the Qazi's only legal function is to register Muslim marriage deeds and conduct Muslim marriages. The government approved Qazi office is maintained out of the income accrued by way of fees from marriage registration. As a person versed in Islamic lore and as a state functionary, a Qazi was socially held in very high esteem until the mid nineteenth century. Since then his role was reduced to only marriage registration. [Abdul Karim]