Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
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16 September 2008

Sharia in the UK

By Diana Hsieh

This news from Britain about the establishment of a parallel Muslim legal system is very disturbing:

Islamic law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases. The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence. Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court.

Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims. It has now emerged that sharia courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network's headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh. Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, whose Muslim Arbitration Tribunal runs the courts, said he had taken advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996. ...

It has also emerged that tribunal courts have settled six cases of domestic violence between married couples, working in tandem with the police investigations.
Such courts pose a particular threat to Muslim women. They may be threatened into accepting these courts, then denied justice within them:
There are concerns that women who agree to go to tribunal courts are getting worse deals because Islamic law favours men. Siddiqi said that in a recent inheritance dispute handled by the court in Nuneaton, the estate of a Midlands man was divided between three daughters and two sons. The judges on the panel gave the sons twice as much as the daughters, in accordance with sharia. Had the family gone to a normal British court, the daughters would have got equal amounts.

In the six cases of domestic violence, Siddiqi said the 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. Siddiqi said that in the domestic violence cases, the advantage was that marriages were saved and couples given a second chance.
A just state must respect and protect the rights of every person within its borders, even when that conflicts with religious doctrine. Muslims are welcome to live by sharia by their own ongoing choice, but such decisions ought never be enforced by law. To do so when grave concerns exist about whether people -- particularly women -- genuinely consent to be ruled by sharia is beyond the pale for a civilized nation like Britain.

Happily, at least some politicians are speaking out against this situation:
Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, said: "If it is true that these tribunals are passing binding decisions in the areas of family and criminal law, I would like to know which courts are enforcing them because I would consider such action unlawful. British law is absolute and must remain so."
That's exactly right.

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