Sharia councils: unjust, unequal and consequence of failed integration policies


Nahla Mahmoud is an environmentalist and human rights activist

Personally, I wasn’t surprised watching the Panorama on ‘Secrets of Sharia Councils in the UK’ broadcast on the BBC last week. I am aware of these dangerous practices by similar courts adopting the same Islamic constitution elsewhere outside the UK.

Sharia CourtsHowever, the main issues to be addressed here aren’t only the discriminatory nature and inequality of these councils, but also the broader context of the failed integration polices of the current government. The failure to integrate migrants and refugees and the government’s pro-faith agenda has resulted in the demand and justification for such parallel systems to fulfil the needs of those who feel they are ‘different’.

There is a common argument that a right to Sharia councils are part of an individual’s rights to their own religion and beliefs. It is important here to link the establishment of Sharia councils in the UK with the rise of Islamism internationally. Muslims have lived in the UK and Europe for centuries and didn’t need an Islamic court to provide them permission to adopt, worship or practice their religion.

The rise of political Islam

However since the early eighties, political Islam rose following the Iranian Revolution and the spread of  Wahhabism sponsored by millions of dollars of Saudi oil money. Political Islam then spread to take on state power in a number of east Asian, Middle-Eastern and some African countries.

As a result, a demand for Islam in power has grown in the UK and Sharia tribunals have been established. Sharia courts, which are wrongly perceived to be part of a Muslim’s ‘right to religion’, are in actual fact part of the political battle and fight for power by Islamists.

A major concern here is the government’s role in ensuring accessibility of public service to everyone. It is highly questionable that these bodies should be responsible for providing mediation services while the legislation they rely on (Sharia law), is fundamentally gender biased.

In the Panorama programme, Nazir Afzal, the chief crown prosecutor for the Northwest, emphasised that “most of the [courts] are absolutely fine but there are some clearly, like this one, who are putting women at risk”.

This, however, is a simplification, as the main Islamic constitutional principles are irredeemably biased against women. They place greater weight on men’s evidence than that of women. Under Sharia law a woman’s testimony is worthy half a man’s, she gets half the inheritance of her male siblings, and an Islamic marriage contract is between a women’s male guardian and her husband.

It is even worse in divorce cases, as a man can divorce his wife by simple repudiation using the word “Talig”. often without stating a reason and will then easily obtain a certificate from a Sharia court.

By contrast, women are blamed for the breakdown of the family and for not properly obeying their husband’s needs. Women pay higher fees and must give specific reasons to be permitted a divorce. Some of which are extremely difficult to prove.

Another privilege automatically conferred on the father is that of child custody which reverts to him at a pre-set age regardless of the circumstances, even if the father was abusive as seen in the case of Sonia in the BBC programme.

One law for all

All this clearly violates the equality laws which the arbitration service providers should strictly consider. The government should clarify why such a code is allowed to act as a reference of legislation and not only question the practices of the operating bodies implementing it.

I believe this goes along with the government’s integration policy published last year. The government is pushing a pro-faith agenda to promote integration between ‘different’ communities. Its emphasis on “the valuable role of religion in public life” serves to privilege religious bodies over others.

This approach discriminates against immigrants and minorities from different backgrounds by subjecting them to different treatment through separate divisive systems, such as Sharia courts and other religious tribunals. Muslim women and children of Muslim parents are especially likely to suffer the most from this approach.

The question which should be asked here isn’t whether these councils discriminate against minorities and citizens from ‘different’ backgrounds or not, because they clearly do. The actual question is whether the government actually  cares about what is happening.

It is high time that the government asserted one law for all.

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  • OldLb

    What about Jewish courts?

    What about arbitration?

    All alternative legal systems.

    So what’s going on?

    It’s the cost of the state run system that is exhorbitant. Unless you are very rich or on legal aid, you are denied justice.

  • John Abraham

    You sound completely illogical and biased against muslims only because you are not well informed and have no knowledge of Islamic laws. I dont know why people like you are even allowed to write such stuff on web.

  • SS

    If he is illogical in his assertion..May you please explain in details about equality of man and woman….or equality of muslim and non-muslim under sharia….Dont be hypocrite …We all know what it means…

  • Cillian

    Give us an example where they were biased or illogical?

  • Tufts

    Evidence? Reasoning? Logic?

    And why shouldn’t the author be allowed to ‘write such stuff on the web’? Because you don’t agree with him? Because you hate free speech? Because you believe in an oppressive ideology?

  • NT86

    In the civil justice system, early settlement of disputes are encouraged so that they’re disposed of, to avoid court time and costs. That’s why this country has mediation and arbitration services quite readily.

    Sharia or any other kind of council predicated on religious dotcrine need to be curbed. This is Britain and we must assert ONE rule of law for all.

  • NT86

    Care to enlighten us why Sharia should be permitted in this country?

  • http://twitter.com/CarriganGlen Glen Carrigan Neuro

    The author is using perfect logic if what you mean is following the
    scripture and Sharia (premises) through to they’re logical conclusions (the court’s verdicts).
    These courts practice their laws as a direct consequence of scriptural
    authority. I’m not talking in the name of their religion I mean as a
    direct consequence of what it says in the Quran and the Hadith. This
    comes from the absolutist moral sense that many Muslims think they have
    and operates via a totalitarian framework. This makes Muslims and
    non-Muslims (at the behest of those that capitulate to and promote the faith) think Sharia and Islam
    are beyond reproach and that to critique the faith in any way is by
    definition offensive to all Muslims, biased, uninformed and worryingly,
    punishable.

    Many Muslims will rightfully denounce such courts
    and say they’re un-Islamic (unequal) but this isn’t a helpful comment
    (as it isn’t correct). Others, especially women in countries like
    the UK who have a choice about where to go for legal help, (in Muslim majority countries they do not)
    will just say that blaming Islam is to blame all Muslims as if Muslims
    are being victimised as a minority based on their innate nature (or
    religious wants) which of course isn’t true, Islam is a choice, not an inborn faith based nature, unlike,
    gender, race or sexuality which are. The literal Salafi and Wahabi Islam on which
    the courts are based is one of the most subscribed ideologies within
    Islam and is migrating to countries in which such an ideology conflicts
    with law and these ideologies directly motivate inequality within the
    Muslim world and without.

  • amie

    allowed by whom? Who exactly do you think should hold the power to censor “the web”? You don’t want “people like you” to be allowed to write “such stuff”. Do you believe that certain preachers should be allowed to write their stuff on the web, when their stuff constitutes hate speech against other faiths? I strongly support their right to write “such stuff”, as “the web” is based on universal free speech, as long as it does not incite violence.

  • IAMTHE SHITEHAWK

    Muslims have no right to be treated differently, if they want to come here they must agree to behave as we have instructed them to, the same as when we go to their countries and have to endure their ridiculous customs.

  • Safwaan

    Disgusting, biased, vile piece. You talk about immigration and the ‘integration’ of minority groups, yet you only refer specifically to Islamic courts.
    Secondly, get your terminology right, the word is not ‘talig’ its ‘Talaq’.
    and if youre going to attack Sharia courts, why not talk of jewish courts and what goes in there; talk about some of the rulings in that religion. Till then, i will not take you seriously.

  • Greg

    My main concern with these tribunals is that a woman might feel pressure from her community or family to go to and accept the rulings of these tribunals, and not seek to uphold her rights or those of her children under UK law.

    But it’s not a simple answer to just ban these tribunals. That could leave women in a dire situation who genuinely believe that to remarry they need a sharia divorce. 95% of these tribunals’ work comes from women applicants concerning family matters, probably a considerable proportion to do with divorce. It’s illegal for these courts to rule on child custody issues. If they are illegally doing so, tighter enforcement is needed. But for the sake of women trapped in miserable marriages, an obstructive divorce process is better than no divorce if it is their beliefs in the need for sharia that cause them to be otherwise trapped. Again, better regulation, oversight and enforcement might be the best solution.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ifcMaik Maik Finch

    agreed

  • http://www.facebook.com/ifcMaik Maik Finch

    I am not Muslim nor of Middle East descent _ but i’m surprised that
    anyone anywhere _ regardless of their religion _ would support anything
    made by BBC Panorama producers on the Middle East_ who for years have
    consistently demonstrated a chronic anti-Islamic bias and therefore
    completely discredited themselves in this area of investigation _ I
    consider your support even more bizarre as you call yourself a human
    rights activist!
    As to your own arguments_ i hope you will agree that
    nothing is ALL bad and it is therefore a pity you have not written at
    least a paragraph that would give your piece some academic balance
    (pointing out some of the good elements of Sharia Law) _ I do understand
    that as this is largely a gender-related article I must necessarily
    limit my criticism_ nevertheless I do genuinely think that you would
    have done better and very possibly convinced further _ by displaying a
    little more balance in this matter rather than emulating the insidious bigotry
    incessantly produced by the aforementioned BBC producers _

  • http://www.facebook.com/pete.hodge.9 Pete Hodge

    For eight years I lived in Albania. A country with a troubled past, but with an increasingly hopeful future. When I went I expected to come under Albanian law. I never for one moment expected the government of Albania to allow me and other Brits living there, to form our own law system similar to the one we have in Britain. Likewise, those who come to this country should be obliged to live under British law. If they don’t want to, then they have an obvious option.

  • http://sadbutmadlad.com/ SadButMadLad

    I’m surprised that you think the BBC is anti-middle east. It is more anti-Israel than anything. It is very pro-Palestinian, and well known for being so. The BBC is so left wing (and therefore pro-Arab) that it calls North Korea a right wing extremist country.

  • blarg1987

    This is leading to the slippery slope of anarchy, with different groups having different rules, in future will it be extended to tax rates or what happens if their is a civil dispute between two seperate religious groups over s erious offence, would you try tthem for murder and face the death penalty under one system or self defence and allowed to take the life under another system? This long term could lead to the break down in society. What we need is very simple, people who come here who are willing to integrate, which the vast majority do. Those who do not, we should simply ignore and given time will be quiet or leave.

  • W.E.

    Why is it “anti-Islamic” to criticise a system of law that mandates appalling treatment of women? It has patriarchy and male superiority written into its DNA.

    There is ONE LEGAL SYSTEM in Britain. If you don’t like it, then tough. No one has a right to impose their legal doctrine on this country.

  • W.E.

    Aww, the poor “oppressed Muslim” card being played…

  • Wiggan

    If you had friends that have suffered horribly at the hands of this backwards excuse for a religion, you wouldn’t be spouting this kind of ignorant drivel. Go away you Islamic apologist troll!

  • isthisreallife2

    Absolutely. A separate legal system means by default that Muslims will live by a different moral/ethical code. Their behaviour will be different. A recipe for disaster. Imagine that a Muslim child brought up in a household where he has seen his Father mistreat his Mother and it is deemed ok by a Sharia court. Then the kid grows up and meets an English non-muslim girl and thinks its OK to behave the same way towards her. Where is this going?

  • Sam Malone

    Oh wow look – all the non-Muslim’s ‘experts’ on Shariah, Islam and gender equality have popped out the woodwork. What a joke.

  • Sam Malone

    Oh wow look – all the non-Muslim’s ‘experts’ on Shariah, Islam and gender equality have popped out the woodwork. What a joke.

  • Sam Malone

    Oh wow look – all the non-Muslim’s ‘experts’ on Shariah, Islam and gender equality have popped out the woodwork. What a joke.

  • Sam Malone

    You forgot to mention how the scary ‘Moozlims’ also killed your pet unicorn…

    Seriously though – how was his post ignorant? He seemed quite knowledgeable on the matter. Unlike you.

  • Sam Malone

    Don’t you get it? It’s only Muslims and Islam that is the problem. That is why most of us are bothered by halal slaughter methods but not kosher slaughter, even though it’s exactly the same. It’s our right to be biased – we’re weekend feminists and animal rights activists…

  • Sam Malone

    Thank you for being a source of logic in this discussion.

  • Sam Malone

    Ridiculous customs? All credibility = out the window…

  • LB

    Exactly, part of it is because people are anti muslim, because they see large numbers of migrants taking advantage. People who are taking out more money than they have paid in, and people know that is coming out of their pocket.

    Likewise they have been been asked by politicians, politicians have dictated.

    Then you have monopoly legal system, that works for those in the legal system in the form of high costs and high incomes against the interests of the public. Now here with Jewish, Muslim, and arbitration, people have taken matters into their own hands and cut the state out.

    That’s going to happen more and more.

    Greece is a good example. Politicians love to tell you that Greece is in a mess because Greeks aren’t paying their taxes. It’s a blame the victim game. In reality its the other way round. Because Greeks politicians and the EU politicians stiched them up (false accounts to get into the Euro), there is a mess. Hence why would a sane Greek pay taxes to a bunch of fraudsters only to see the money going on paying debts not on services?

  • Philip

    Hah! Good one. The BBC leans whatever way the wind is blowing. Being British that makes it a centre right organisation for the most part, centrist and maybe marginally left-leaning on some social issues and securely right wing on economics. If by ‘anti-Israel’ you mean ‘giving some limited credence to pro-Palestinian viewpoints while nevertheless giving greater credence to pro-Israeli viewpoints’ then, yes, they’re clearly anti-Israeli. I mean, what kind of public service broadcaster endeavours to present some degree of balance on a complex geopolitical issue? Disgraceful!

  • Philip

    Your logic with regard to Greece is rather flawed. Non-payment of taxes is a problem that long precedes the financial crisis. Lack of tax revenue is one problem the Greek state faces. Incompetence, corruption and ideological bankruptcy are all issues too but a state that can’t collect its due revenues is always going to be in trouble. Nobody likes paying taxes but they are literally the price we pay for living in a society.

  • http://sadbutmadlad.com/ SadButMadLad

    The BBC is left leaning because you have to think like a lefty to get anywhere in the BBC. Look at the numbers of The Guardian compared to all other newspapers bought by the BBC. Not a conspiracy or deliberate, just groupthink. That’s what makes the BBC lefty. Balanced? My Arse!

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