Sharia Rides Up The Agenda

Since 2011 I’ve been working with the outstanding crossbench peer Baroness Caroline Cox on her legislative initiative, the Mediation and Arbitration Services (Equality) Bill.

Sharia Council of BritainThis turgid title masks sensitive and combustible issues: The primary purpose of the Bill is to tackle gender-discrimination in the 85+ Sharia courts across the UK. The secondary purpose is to tackle the growth of a parallel legal system in the UK.

Two years ago I covered the background to this proposed legislation in a post about the Bill’s Second Reading debate in the House of Lords. Despite multiple testimonies and clear evidence of discrimination against women, and strong cross-party back-bench support, the government opposed the Bill on the head-in-the-sand grounds that adequate legislation is already in place to deal with the issue.

Memorably, this inflexibility earned the new and junior minister responsible, Lord Gardiner, a magisterial put-down from one of the country’s top lawyers: “(Lord Gardiner) has given an Olympian exegesis of the processes and laws and consultations that are available to deal with the intellectual problem,” Lord Alex Carlile QC thundered from the LibDem benches behind and above the minister. “However we are concerned here with real people and real cases.”

baroness cox giving the keswick lecture week 2 09We had sat with many real Muslim women and heard their real and distressing cases at the hands of Sharia courts. We greatly relished Lord Carlile’s broadside.

This was Parliament’s first ever debate about Sharia. It was an historic debate – but this still cut no ice with the government.

Since then we’ve continued to push the issue in Westminster and Whitehall. We held briefings for Peers and met with individual MPs; we set up an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on ‘Honour’ Based Abuse ; we met and listened to more Muslim women; we supported vital research by Muslim women’s group Aurat led by the inspirational Habiba Jaan; we worked with other women’s groups like IKWRO, Inspire and Karma Nirvana; and we met off-record with a junior government minister and on-record with a key senior one.

Theresa MayThe first sign that things were beginning to change came at the Conservative Party conference last September. For the first time Home Secretary Theresa May raised publicly the issue of Sharia law and women. “Across the country, there are concerns about the way Sharia law is being applied, the way women are told to live and the intolerant attitudes shown to people of different beliefs and ways of life,” she said. “We must not sleepwalk into separation, segregation and sectarianism.”

Encouraged that we may not be banging against a brick wall after all, we continued to work the corridors of Westminster and Baroness Cox grabbed every opportunity to speak out.

Then on Monday last week and in collaboration with the Bow Group, we were about to publish a report calling for a judge-led investigation into Sharia courts when Theresa May, now a Tory leadership contender thanks to David Cameron, announced the government’s new counter-extremism policy; unexpectedly this included an independent review of Sharia courts.

“There is evidence of women being “divorced” under Sharia law and left in penury, wives who are forced to return to abusive relationships because Sharia councils say a husband has a right to “chastise”, and Sharia councils giving the testimony of a woman only half the weight of the testimony of a man,” said  Mrs May. “We will commission an independent figure to complete an investigation into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales.”

This was fantastic as far as it went, but on Tuesday we published our report anyway. The Ministry of Justice has previously run scared and aborted an investigation into Sharia courts citing lack of co-operation by Islamic authorities; we reckoned a formal judge-led investigation with powers to subpoena witnesses is more likely to succeed.

Boris_Johnson

On Wednesday Boris Johnson, current favourite in the Tory leadership stakes, weighed in saying that Sharia law is “absolutely unacceptable” in the UK and should not be allowed to preside even over family disputes.

On Thursday journalist Leo McKinstry – who famously turned on his former boss, Labour’s anti-marriage deputy leader and Shadow Deputy Prime Minster Harriet Harman, and accused her of preaching a “dangerous gospel of feminist fascism” – praised “robust” Boris and spelled out his support on the issue. Harriet Harman on the other hand, like most feminists, remains culpably silent.

So the cat is out of the bag and the hare is running. There’s been a sea change and Sharia is open for proper political scrutiny at last.

Muslim women up and down the country will be grateful.

6 thoughts on “Sharia Rides Up The Agenda

  1. It is good to see the Home Secretary publicly recognising the danger long seen by others, of Islamic communities creating colonies building a segregated society in the UK.

    British law is founded on principles concerned with delivering justice as understood in a democracy in which everyone is regarded as of equal worth before the law. Sharia law is not. It is based on maintaining order in a society based on its members submitting themselves in theory, to the will of Allah. In practice this means the society is ruled by political leaders claiming religious authority given by Allah through Mohammed. With no legitimate political checks or balances this means government by dictatorship.

  2. I hope your optimism is justified… They tend to say things before the elections and promise a lot but when in government they conveniently forget everything. Thanks for all your hard work, many muslim women feel betrayed by Britain but so many just accept things and know nothing else.
    Sharia courts must be abolished in Britain, they have no place here! If people want to live under Sharia the door should be open to them and they should be able to move to a Muslim country of their dreams.

  3. A ray of light. And as Margita says, thanks for all your hard work for the downtrodden!

  4. Muslims in the West are not asking for Sharia to be the law of the land. The Law of the land is the only law applicable and executable in affairs of the individuals.

    All they are seeking is to let Sharia be available as an alternative to resolve their spousal and contractual disputes between two individuals. That is their prerogative. Indeed, every human, no matter who it is, goes first to their family members and friends for seeking solutions to their problem some will go to their clergy (all religions) and some will appoint a mediator.

    When Muslims go to their clergy, he or she will look up similar situations in the past and guide the couple or business partners to find a solution, since the immigrant Muslims are familiar with the Sharia laws, they may accept it, and if they do, that is good for them.

    The problem is that of trust – when the parties agree to the terms per their Imam/clergy, and don’t abide by it, there is no way the aggrieved party can seek damages for the violations. This is what Muslims are asking, to make that binding.

    Indeed, it would be binding if they go to the judge and say, we have agreed to these terms and conditions per our religious conviction, and seek the judge to sign the order and the court order becomes executable. The judge looks to it as mediator resolved decision and signs it and it will become executable. The right wing Americans are downright stupid and making a bid deal about this, as if Sharia will become the law of the land.

    What Muslims have is Personal Sharia, that is a private relationship between the individual and God. How they pray, worship, fast, pay zakat, how they bury their individuals, marry per the requirement as a religious rite. All of that is a private matter and does not need any regulation or execution.
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  5. I hold to the highestate law I personally find. It incorporates all human laws and raises again to the God Creator. It is the law of the bodhisattva vow. Namaste

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