Sharia “courts”

What’s Wrong With Sharia in the UK

(1) What is going on

(2) Under Sharia men and women are not treated equally

(3) It is easy for a man to divorce but very difficult for a women

(4) Custody of children automatically goes to the father

(5) A woman’s evidence is worth less than a man’s

(6) Sharia councils are applying arbitration methods to Family matters

(7) Sharia councils misrepresent what they do

(8) Undue pressure on women and ignorance

(9) Sharia councils are involved in criminal matters

(10) Sharia councils infringe Human Rights

(11) The men running Sharia councils have little understanding of the UK and hold extremist views

(12) Only Civil and Family cases

(13) Socially divisive

(14) Sharia incorporates babaric practices

(15) Sharia councils are part of a process undermining English law concerning marriage

(1) What is going on

(a) Islamic Sharia councils are recognised as Arbitration Tribunals under the 1996 Arbitration Act, and are part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedure available to all UK citizens. ADR tribunals cannot cover criminal or family matters.

Parties may agree to arbitrate civil disputes using religious principles under the Arbitration Act. The Arbitration Act simply requires that both parties make a voluntary prior agreement to submit their dispute to the tribunal and that the outcome does not break any UK law.

(b) Family matters (divorce, child custody etc.) cannot be the subject of binding arbitration but the parties can, if they wish, draft a consent order embodying a Sharia council decision and submit it to a UK court for approval and recognition.

In the one case (a) the judgment of the Sharia council is equivalent to that of a UK court and recognised under UK law; in the other (b), it is the input to a UK Family court which the court will accept if it does not break any UK law, is not blatantly unreasonable, and if proper procedures have been followed.

Thus, Islamic Sharia is propagated by UK law. We should be very worried.

(2) Under Sharia men and women are not treated equally

Sharia is a male dominated patriarchal system that greatly disadvantages women in matters such as inheritance, divorce and the custody of children and it treats women as inferior witnesses.

This is not just the view of non-Muslims. Criticism comes from Muslim women. Nesrine Malik in a Guardian Cif article points out “there are some elements of sharia that are inherently incompatible with UK secular law”. See here

Cassandra Balchin, the editorial coordinator of “Knowing our Rights: Women, Family, Laws and Customs in the Muslim World”, has claimed that Muslim women in Britain suffer from fewer rights than in many Muslim countries.

“In my work with Muslim women, like many others I have anecdotal evidence of gender discriminatory arbitration being conducted under the 1996 Arbitration Act, including in family matters which ought to be beyond any arbitration tribunal’s jurisdiction.”

Even in Egypt, a large Muslim country, national law has been introduced to mitigate some of the discriminatory aspects of Sharia.

It was Muslim women in Canada who spear-headed resistance to the use of Sharia to settle family disputes, arguing that sharia law denies women equality before the law. Many had gone to Canada to get away from sharia law and the coercion that it embodied. As a result of a referendum on the issue the Province of Ontario abolished all use of religious arbitration.

Few governments have been as forthright as Australia, whose Attorney General, Robert McClelland, recently declared that ‘Sharia law has no place in the Australian legal system’ because (in Australia) “men and women are equal before the law irrespective of race, religious or cultural background.”

The Sharia laws that Muslim women and reasonable people everywhere find so objectionable are not the creation of marginal religious figures.

No lesser body than the International Fiqh Academy, a group of distinguished jurists which operates under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, issued a formal ruling on domestic violence which endorsed principles, such as those being applied in British Sharia councils, including the right of a husband to use force to compel his wife to have sexual relations, even if she is ‘unwilling’, and the right of a man to discipline his wife by what it termed ‘non-violent beating’.

(3) It is easy for a man to divorce but very difficult for a women

A Muslim woman seeking a divorce is subjected to an interview process aimed at keeping her married and she risks financial ruin by the obligation to return her dowry.

It is easy for a Muslim man to divorce his wife under sharia law, for no reason. For a woman divorce is much more difficult. She must apply to a Sharia council cum court, and only on the basis of a limited set of reasons, which do not include domestic violence or rape by the husband.

Dr Suhaib Hasan, a leading judge of the Islamic Sharia Council, explains it well:

“Under the Islamic system, the man may end the marriage if he thinks it right. It is preferable he does this in front of two witnesses, then it is a simple exercise to say: ‘I divorce you.’ The only thing we must ascertain is that he has given the dower (dowry) to the woman. This is a marriage gift from bridegroom to bride.”

“When a woman applies (and) the husband agrees, the matter is settled, but if not, we invite both for an interview, and we do emphasise reconciliation. If she is seeking the divorce, she has to return the dower to him, if not, no divorce.”

Muslims seeking a divorce through the Islamic Sharia Council pay a fee, and as if to rub in the inferior position of women, the fee for a man is £100 and for a woman it is £250 because (they say) it is more work to process a woman’s application as her word has to be corroborated.

It is also true and often pointed out but proponents of Sharia as if to argue that Sharia councils must be good for woman that the great majority of users of their services are women. In fact, this simply demonstrates the discriminatory nature of Sharia family law. A Muslim man can end his marriage without a going to a council. A woman can’t.

Sharia councils also say their aim is to bring about reconciliation.

On the one hand, they hold themselves out as a means of allowing women to execute divorces (because unlike men they cannot do so unilaterally) but when a woman does so the imams tell her to go back to her husband.

Reconciliation is a key policy of civil family courts as well and there is nothing wrong with it. But when the parties have unequal rights, and when those doing the judging or mediation are all male, it is fairly obvious that it is not so much ‘reconciliation’ as ‘ subjugation.’

(4) Custody of children automatically goes to the father

Sharia rules on child custody are rigid and were described by judges in the House of Lords as ‘arbitrary and discriminatory’.

Sharia is arbitrary because it permits of no exceptions to its application, however strong the objections may be on the facts of any given case. It is discriminatory too because it denies women custody of their children after they have reached the age of custodial transfer simply because they are women.

In general child custody reverts to the father at a preset age (seven for boys) no matter the circumstances or the behaviour of the father, or another male relative rather than the mother, and if a woman remarries she loses custody of her children.

If a wife refuses to agree to give the husband access to their children, even in cases of possible child abuse, the divorce is stalled until that issue is resolved.

The House of Lords case concerned a Lebanese mother who won her appeal to be allowed to stay with her child in England. She was granted asylum on the basis that returning to Lebanon would expose her to the arbitrary, discriminatory nature of Sharia family law.

Yet, the same arbitrary, discriminatory Sharia family laws now operate in the UK. See the Islamic Sharia Council fatwa on custody here.

It is breathtaking that something that is grounds for asylum when practiced in a foreign country can be espoused, openly, by a legitimate, quasi-legal institution here in the UK.

(5) A woman’s evidence is worth less than a man’s

An Islamic explanation of why a woman’s evidence is worth less than a man’s is given here by the Islamic Sharia Council itself.

Musleh Faradhi, central president of the IFE (Islamic Forum of Europe), protested in a Guardian Cif article that:

“The blanket claim that women’s witness is worth half that of men totally misses the complexities of Islamic law. In some limited areas of Islamic law, two female witnesses are required where one male witness will suffice. However, there are other areas where one female witness is sufficient.”

You may be amazed. The man doesn’t seem to realise (or care) what he is saying. It is a blatant admission that discrimination exists which is of course a violation of UK equality laws.

And you might wonder regarding divorce discussed above, when a woman sees her husband having an affair, the mediator cum arbitrator could be saying “unless you can supply another witness your testimony is worthless against your husband” … and that is one of those times when female testimony is considered less than that of her husband.

As usual different Muslim opinions can be found but there is no mitigation in the fact that there is no universally agreed Sharia concerning the testimony of women.

The Qur’an (2.282) talks of testimony of women in respect to financial issues. However, the question is how this is extrapolated.

In matters other than financial transactions, scholars differ on whether the Qur’anic verses relating to financial transactions apply. This is especially true in the case of bodily affairs like divorce, marriage, slave-emancipation and raju‘ (restitution of conjugal rights).

According to Averroes, Imam Abu Hanifa believed that their testimony is acceptable in such cases. Imam Malik, on the contrary, believes that their testimony remains unacceptable.

For bodily affairs about which men can have no information in ordinary circumstances, such as the physical handicaps of women and the crying of a baby at birth, the majority of scholars hold that the testimony of women alone is acceptable.

But the number of women witnesses needed is debated in different Islamic schools of law. Hanafi’s and Hanbali’s see one women as enough. According to Maliki’s two women are required. As for Shafii’s, they see that four women are needed.

So it depends on the school of thought as to what is accepted.

Also on financial issues now that women are educated there’s little call to allow for the testimony rules to be changed. They cannot be, even though the context has changed, because it’s a Qur’anic injunction.

So in some cases the financial rules of the status of women are extrapolated to other situations, and, on the other hand, despite women now being educated and schooled in finance, the rules of testimony aren’t changed.

(6) Sharia councils are applying arbitration methods to Family matters

In English law the distinction between arbitration and mediation is clear. In arbitration the disputing parties voluntarily choose by which rules or law their dispute should be resolved, and an arbitrator using those rules, decides what is right.

The decision made by an arbitrator is legally binding and can be registered with the civil courts and enforced by the state through bailiffs.

Arbitration is not permitted in Family matters.

In mediation which can be used in Family disputes there is no application of legal rules or the determination of legal rights or wrongs it aims instead at finding common ground between parties and a solution they can both live with. Mediation services, through solicitors, for example, are available to all UK citizens.

This is a far cry from the application of a legal system such as Sharia which has strict rules which must be applied.

What seems to be increasingly happening, however, is that Sharia councils are offering “mediation” services that are in fact laying down sharia rules, which both parties then sign and present to the family court pretending that it is a mediated agreement. Once a court accepts a mediation agreement it becomes a legally binding court order.

An English Family court judge may find himself presented with an “agreement” produced at a Sharia council. But how is the judge to tell if this is a truly mediated agreement or simply the woman’s resigned acquiescence in Sharia law.

(7) Sharia councils misrepresent what they do

The muddle between arbitration and mediation indicates that Sharia councils may deliberately misrepresent what they do.

Unlike the arbitration tribunals, Sharia councils have no legal status but a minority sometimes misleadingly imply their mediated decisions carry legal weight. They try to give the impression that they are in place of English law and are the final arbiters on the issues they cover and have more jurisdiction than they really do.

The MAT (Muslim Arbitration Tribunal) illustrates the front page of its website with a judges gavel and a photo of the Lord Chief Justice.

On the other hand they also say:

“A trial in a court necessarily involves a winner and a loser… This can be a disadvantage where there are reasons to maintain a good relationship after the verdict. An obvious example may include divorce and child custody cases… Court hearings impose a solution on the parties without their agreement and which may need to be enforced. If the parties are able to negotiate a resolution between them, to which they both agree, this should be less of a predicament.”

Sounds like mediation but what has a gavel got to do with it? And why a picture of the Lord Chief Justice.

(8) Undue pressure on women and ignorance

Proponents of Sharia councils claim that the use of such councils for arbitration or mediation is entirely voluntary. This rings very hollow.

There is enormous social and religious pressure on Muslim women from their families and communities to comply with the rules of Sharia and to go to a Sharia “court”.

To take their husband to a civil court would be seen as a rejection of Islam and they would risk being seen as an apostate, a terrible accusation in Islam.

In addition many Muslim women come to this country with little or no English and are discriminated against by their own husbands or relatives. Many of those dealt with by Sharia councils are from the marginalised segments of society with little or no knowledge of their rights under English law. Women may simply be ignorant of their rights, due to language or cultural barriers.

Take for example, the village girl brought over to marry an older man, married at a mosque that isn’t registered to perform marriages recognised by English law, and not speaking English, and then some years later divorced by the man who says simply (three times) I divorce you. There are many stories like this.

They are powerless to insist either that their marriage is registered properly in the first place, or to insist on taking their husbands to the civil court instead of the Sharia court.

The reality is that for many Muslims, Sharia courts are part of an institutionalised atmosphere of intimidation. The threats they can make are not trivial.

The Sharia council explains:

Denying Allah the right of Lawgiver means he has taken someone else as partners besides Allah who has the right to determine how this individual should conduct his life. The one who does not recognises Allah as his Master to govern him then surely he has found another god to administrate him. He is a clear disbeliever outside the fold of Islam.

While outright abuse may not occur, it is much easier in the cultural context of a Sharia court for a woman to be pressured into a position she would not take were she in a conventional court.

Ignorant of the equality that English law provides Muslim women may regard a Sharia court as protection from a worse situation.

However the State does not condone something bad because victims of it may consider the alternative worse. Generally, if a person is being bullied and abused by a family or a community we don’t legalise that abuse. Not even if the abused person is so frightened of leaving that family or community that they’re prepared to put up with the abuse.

(9) Sharia councils are involved in criminal matters

English law does not allow Sharia councils or Alternative Dispute Resolution bodies any jurisdiction over criminal matters.

Nonetheless Sharia councils are involved with criminal matters such as domestic violence and are undermining the course of English law.

In one study, four out of ten women attending Sharia courts were party to civil injunctions issued against their husbands on the grounds of violence and threatening behaviour.

Sharia councils were ignoring not only English law intervention and due process but providing little protection and safety for the women in question. In some cases of domestic violence, the Sharia council has disclosed the location of women to their husbands.

The manager of a woman’s refuge near Leeds, said:

“We’ve had an application for divorce go through the Sharia Council which led to the husband finding the wife. He had no idea where she was until he contacted the Sharia Council. Then a week later he knew exactly where she was.”

There are recorded cases where they have let violent husbands know where the wife is despite there being court injunctions out on them.

In some cases of domestic violence Sharia council judges ordered the husbands to take anger management classes and mentoring from community elders. There was no further punishment. In each case, the women subsequently withdrew the complaints they had lodged with the police and the police stopped their investigations. See here and here.

The adverse effect of Islamic beliefs on the due process of criminal law was well illustrated in a recent court case. The judge raised concerns over the ‘enormous emotional pressure’ exerted on women in Muslim communities after a rape case collapsed at the eleventh hour when the wife of an Asian man refused to give evidence against him.

The 35-year-old woman had accused her 34-year-old husband – a convicted sex offender – of raping her twice and was due to testify against him at a trial. But prosecutors were forced to offer no evidence and the case collapsed when the women suddenly decided to retract the allegations. See here.

There are examples of Somalis using Sharia law to deal with knife crime.

A leader of the Somali Family Support Centre told a reporter how sharia law was used to resolve the case of knife attacks among teenagers.

She believed this way of getting community elders involved and taking direct control is more effective than simply relying on the courts, and if the British police wished to attend the hearings, they would be welcome.

(10) Sharia councils infringe Human Rights

There are grounds for arguing that Sharia law is already unlawful in the UK since it is not practiced in a way that is compatible with the ECHR, enshrined in UK law via the Human Rights Act (HRA).

The practices of Sharia courts are clearly incompatible with Arts 14 and 6 of the ECHR since they do not treat women and men equally.

Thus even if their jurisdiction is limited and even if their rulings are – theoretically – unenforceable they should be abolished. They purport to be courts and there is evidence that some Muslims treat their rulings as though they should be respected.

A number of practices currently occurring under Sharia law are clearly illegal. So if Sharia courts can’t be trusted to abide by human rights’ law they need curbing or abolishing.

Sharia, which reflects the dogmas and divine rules laid down by a religion, is stable and invariable. Principles such as pluralism in the political sphere or the constant evolution of public freedoms have no place in it.

A regime based on Sharia clearly diverges from Human Rights, particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervenes in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts.

(11) The men running Sharia councils have little understanding of the UK and hold extremist views

The mindset of the men (there are no women) who run Sharia councils is vividly exposed by interviews they sometimes give to journalists.

Faisal Siddiqi, a Pakistani-born barrister and the founder and chairman of Muslim Arbitration Tribunal’s (MAT) governing council criticised the British media for its obsession with beheadings and other extreme punishments. “They constitute only 10% of sharia.” he says. See here.

What a relief! No more than 10%!

Another good example of fanatical Muslim reasoning is Mr Siddiqi’s comment to the South Wales Echo when explaining plans to set up a Sharia tribunal in Cardiff. He said: “What we are trying to do is help the third or fourth generation British Muslims who are growing up to give them the services necessary to make Britain their homeland”.

“Third or fourth generation British Muslims” need Sharia so Britain can be their “homeland”!

Dr Hasan, mentioned above, gives his views on the desirability of the cutting off of hands and flogging in this report “We want to offer Sharia law to Britain”. See here.

Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, president of the London-based Islamic Sharia Council, in charge of a large network of sharia courts, insists that men who force themselves upon their wives should have immunity from prosecution for rape.

“I asked Sheikh Sayeed whether he considered non-consensual marital sex to be rape. “No,” he replied. “Clearly there cannot be any ‘rape’ within the marriage. Maybe ‘aggression’, maybe ‘indecent activity’.”

He said it was “not Islamic” to classify non-consensual marital sex as rape and prosecute offenders, adding that “to make it exactly as the Western culture demands is as if we are compromising Islamic religion with secular non-Islamic values.”

See full interview here.

Most imams in the UK are Deobandi, a lot of the different Muslim communities here aren’t, but are being carried that way because of the predominance of that teaching in mosques.

There are no female Sharia judges. Nearly a quarter of judges in UK courts are female and in magistrate courts it is half.

(12) Only Civil and Family cases

In response to criticism proponents of Sharia councils and tribunals say they are involved only in civil and family matters and are not involved in criminal cases, as if this somehow lessens the impact on society.

“These tribunals only deal with the very narrow issues of marriage and divorce: they do not deal with any issues surrounding domestic violence or criminal activity” is what Musleh Faradhi, central president of the IFE (Islamic Forum of Europe), wants us to know.

Family, marriage, children, inheritance, relations with neighbours, doing business, are the most important matters for most people. Very few of us are touched by the criminal courts, but civil and family matters touch us all.

By recognising Sharia councils and their application of Sharia law the UK authorities are encouraging British citizens to give up certain rights, even if UK law and tradition gives them those rights, and to accept outcomes worse than what they would get from UK courts and mediation services.

Rights are established for the good of society as a whole, and are often achieved only after a long and hard struggle. It is wrong to allow any group of people to supplant those rights against the wider interests of society.

Communities living by different ideas of what is fair are a recipe for social division

(13) Socially divisive

The Government has allowed and is encouraging the establishment of a parallel legal system for Muslims on matters that affect all of us. It is wrong for the country and wrong for Muslims.

The official recognition of Sharia councils as arbitration tribunals is another mechanism by which Muslims are segregating themselves from the rest of society. It is a barrier to integration and reinforces segregation which eventually leads to civil strife.

(14) Sharia incorporates babaric practices

Sharia is a system of laws and a mindset which includes, inter alia:

  • Death for apostasy
  • Amputation of limbs as punishment
  • Stoning to death for adultery
  • Blood money
  • Polygamy
  • Non-Muslims are inferior

Recognition of Sharia in the UK – even of just those sections which do not conflict with UK law – bestows status and respectability on a system which produces these barbaric practices.

They are not some distant echo of the past but a fact in many parts of the world today. See these recent news reports:

Iranian Pastor Sentenced to Death Could Be Executed if He Doesn’t Recant, Says Verdict

Pakistani Islamic party leader: a woman should not report rape unless she has four witnesses

Article on Muslim Brotherhood Website: Implement Shari’a in Phases

Indonesian maid saved from execution

Lebanon Sunni clergy reject domestic abuse law

Unfaithful wives should be put to death

Amnesty International calls on Indonesia to end illegal caning

Iran stoning woman’s lawyer jailed, allegedly tortured

Iran postpones blinding man in retribution punishment

Iran to blind criminal with acid in ‘eye for an eye’ justice

Medieval justice… in the 21st Century: Woman caned in front of a baying mob for having an affair

Bangladesh clerics arrested after girl whipped to death

Pakistan: Man sentenced to death, boy arrested for blasphemy

Dozens injured as Bangladeshi Islamists protest women’s equality laws

Malaysian Christian lawyer barred from Shariah courts

Hundreds of rocks are thrown at her head

Judge raises concerns over ‘enormous emotional pressure’ put on Muslim women after rape case collapses

Pakistani governor who opposed blasphemy law slain

Bashir plans Islamic law if Sudan splits, defends flogging woman

A Sudanese policeman whipping a defenceless woman

Man sentenced to be blinded with acid by Iranian court

Underage marriages are allowed in Islam

Malaysian sharia laws sees first women caned for sex outside of marriage

Indonesia’s Islamic laws are ‘abusive’, report says

Iran authorities chop off man’s hand

Iran Court: ‘Pastor To Be Executed By Hanging’

A Saudi man is to be lashed 70 times

Afghan Christian faces trial for alleged conversion from Islam

Council promotes extremist preacher who supports wife-beating

You can’t commit rape within marriage, says head of UK Islamic Sharia Council

Lahore High Court upholds death for blasphemy accused

Indonesian women caned for selling food during Muslim festival of Ramadan.

IRAN: Courts confirm two more stoning sentences on adultery charges

Crime (Sex) and Punishment (Stoning) …. Between 2006 and 2008 at least six stonings took place

Saudi Arabian judge asks hospitals to paralyse man

Sharia creeps into New Jersey courtroom – but gets short shrift on appeal

Iran cuts off hands from five thieves

(15) Sharia councils are part of a process undermining English law concerning marriage

In the UK, to accommodate religious beliefs religious establishments (churches, mosques, etc) that perform religious wedding ceremonies can register to perform civil weddings and thus provide the civil marriage English law recognises, at the same time as the religious marriage.

Less than 20% of mosques have registered. Thus most Muslim marriages are not being registered and therefore have no legal validity, which is something the wives frequently only find out when their “marriage” breaks up or their “husband” comes home with another “wife”.

Unofficial estimates suggest that only around one third of the Muslim Marriage ceremonies (Nikah) performed in Britain are registered under the Marriage Act and the wife has no legal rights to property or inheritance.

This is a problem unique to Islam in this country. Sikh Gurdwaras and Hindu Temples have all registered under the Marriage Act so as to ensure that their marriage ceremonies are legally valid.

For mosques there is a very real problem with attitude to, and compliance with civil law. And, the police are not enforcing section 75 of the Marriage Act 1949, which makes it a criminal offence to perform a marriage ceremony that is not registered under the Act.

A study of Catholic marriage tribunals, Jewish Beth Din, and a sharia tribunal found that the Catholic and Jewish marriages were always legally registered while over half of the wives before the sharia tribunal had never been legally married in the first place.

The Muslim community could put this right very easily if they chose to, by registering their mosques and issuing a ruling (fatwa) that Muslim men must register their marriages.

Unfortunately, they won’t do that for any number of reasons, including perhaps that they regard Sharia Law as superior and don’t care what English Law says, or perhaps that some of these marriages are polygamous and they couldn’t register them without committing the offence of bigamy, and in the end the authorities will be forced to recognise Sharia only marriages as legal.

It is also this failure to enforce the law that has allowed polygamy to become a feature of the UK.

The law does not recognise polygamy, but it does not ban anyone from living in a polygamous household and, for the purposes of their own religious group, calling it marriage.

Although polygamy is nominally illegal in the UK, polygamous marriages are legally recognised and supported if they did not take place in the UK. A harem, it appears is legal and, indeed, subsidizable by the UK taxpayer.

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