By Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Mubasher Bukhari
LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani judge directed Punjab province on Wednesday to decide a complaint against an Islamic charity that has been accused of running unauthorized 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 behind an attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.
Pakistani real estate agent Khalid Saeed filed the complaint against JuD, saying it had summoned him in January to appear at one of its courts to resolve a property dispute.
Court documents show the group is accused of holding parallel sharia courts where Islamic law experts decide family, civil and criminal law cases without official supervision.
It is based in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the country's richest province and power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The Lahore High Court directed the Punjab interior ministry to decide the matter "in accordance with the law after giving opportunity of hearing to all concerned."
Saeed told Reuters the JuD letter warned him that if he failed to attend, "no excuse would be accepted and action will be taken according to sharia".
JuD officials deny having links to LeT or running a parallel court system. Instead, they said it holds "arbitration councils" chaired by religious scholars who mediate disputes and provide guidance in light of Islamic teachings.
FRUSTRATION WITH FORMAL JUSTICE
JuD operates openly in Pakistan and its leader Hafiz Saeed, who also founded LeT, holds public rallies and gives interviews despite a $10 million bounty placed on him by the United States.
JuD officials said last year the group had 30,000 volunteers and hundreds of workers across Pakistan.
JuD representatives said Saeed's summons was forged and the group did not issue threats or summonses.
"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," JuD representative Nadeem Awan said. "Yet, all you have is this one complaint."
Pakistan has a Federal Shariat Court separate from the civil 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 instead look for justice from village councils or unauthorized sharia courts for a quick decision on a dispute.
Inside the JuD headquarters in Lahore, a large banner announcing the group's "Mediatory Sharia Court" was set up in 1992. The group said it has as decided "thousands of family, civil and murder disputes according to Islamic law" since its inception
The banner was taken down on Monday.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Tom Heneghan)