Sharia Courts Do Not Recognise the Equality of Sexes Before the Law... This Cannot be Permitted in the UK
Sharia law, the Islamic legal system, is estimated to be operating in 30 established councils across the UK often referred to as Sharia "courts". These "courts" primarily settle marriage and family disputes, but have been criticised for discriminating against women.
The Government has recently launched an independent review into sharia law in the UK having acknowledged that “there is evidence some sharia councils may be working in a discriminatory and unacceptable way, seeking to legitimise forced marriage and issuing divorces that are unfair to women."
That sharia law is incompatible with UK law should be obvious - the European Court of Human Rights has already ruled that "sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy, as set forth in the Convention." Under sharia law
The Government aims "to explore whether, and to what extent, the application of sharia law may be incompatible with the law in England and Wales."
The Government's review of sharia law in the UK is commendable and a welcome investigation into a potentially deeply discriminatory practice.
However, the independent review is now being criticised by multiple campaign groups and human rights activists including the “Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain” and “End Violence Against Women Coalition, UK”, who have written an open letter to the Home Office. Whilst agreeing that the review is in principle a good thing, the letter is heavily critical of many aspects of how it is being conducted.
The letter criticises the fact that the review appears to rule out considering whether sharia councils should be allowed to exist at all. Instead the inquiry seeks to draw attention to best practice thereby apparently endorsing the creation of a parallel legal system.
Furthermore, so the letter argues, the review panel seems more set-up for a theological discussion, than judicial review. The chair is a theologian and two of the four other members of the panel are Islamic scholars. One may wonder whether people who legitimate and justify sharia law are really the best people to impartially investigate human rights issues associated with sharia law and whether it is compatible with UK law.
The letter states: "Our fear is that in these circumstances, many vulnerable women simply will not want to give their testimony before theologians who legitimate and justify the very idea of sharia laws on the grounds that it is integral to their 'Muslim identity'. Indeed, the panel is set up much like the sharia 'courts' themselves."
In short, the incompatibility between UK law and sharia law is evident to all who take care to note. There are legitimate fears that because of the bias of those carrying out the review into sharia councils across the UK, and because of the limited scope of the review, this fact will be glossed over.
We call upon the Government to implement a robust, truly independent review of sharia councils comprised of human rights legal experts.
Find the open letter here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/pragna-patel-gita-sahgal/whitewashing-sharia-councils-in-uk