Written By A Classical Liberal

 

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My recent researches into grooming gangs and female genital mutilation (FGM) have led me to wonder if Muslim culture is inherently sexist – and naturally leads to the abuse of women on a massive scale. This culture is rooted in Sharia law, which leads me to ask if Sharia law is sexist?

It all starts with The Koran. In Islam, sexism is mathematically established. Regarding inheritance, The Koran states:

The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females.

(The Koran, Sura 4  – ‘Sura An-Nisa’’, which translates as ‘The Women’ -, Verse 11)

And:

They ask you for a legal verdict. Say: “Allah directs (thus) about Al-Kalalah (those who leave neither descendants nor ascendants as heirs). If it is a man that dies, leaving a sister, but no child, she shall have half the inheritance. If (such a deceased was) a woman, who left no child, her brother takes her inheritance. If there are two sisters, they shall have two-thirds of the inheritance; if there are brothers and sisters, the male will have twice the share of the female [My emphasis]. (Thus) does Allah makes clear to you (His Law) lest you go astray. And Allah is the All-Knower of everything.”

(The Koran, Sura 4, Verse 176)

The estimated Muslim population in Britain is now 3 million, nearly 5% of the total population, and an increase of 75% in the last decade. The UK has the third largest Muslim population in Europe. The Muslim increase has resulted from a high birth rate, greater immigration and conversion. Over 5,000 people in Britain convert each year. Hundreds of mosques have been built. Islamic primary and secondary schools have been established.

The UK is, therefore, challenged by a steadily increasing Muslim population, by the influence of religious extremists, by the influence of religion in society, by differences over social issues such as women’s rights, marriage and divorce, and by the trend towards a legal system for Muslims, separate from the rest of the British population.

Sharia (‘Path’ in Arabic) law is the divine law of Islam. It comes from a number of sources: the Koran, the teachings (Sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad, the interpretations by successive imams of these teachings, and fatwas, the rulings of Islamic scholars. Practicing Sharia law in Britain is legal. As a result of the 1996 Arbitration Act, which allows private disputes to be settled by an independent arbiter, the rulings of religious bodies have legal force in disputes about inheritance and divorce, and can be enforced by county courts or the High Court, thus making them binding in British law. The parties can choose to apply rules and principles outside of UK laws so long as those rules and principles do not conflict with British law.

Sharia law is practiced in Sharia councils, Muslim arbitration tribunals and informal tribunals. Since 1982, well before the 1996 Arbitration Act was passed, Muslims have been resorting to Sharia courts acting in accordance with Muslim principles. About 3,500 Muslims go each year to these courts for arbitration.

The procedures of these courts present problems. The presiding judges are imams; there is no agreed-upon selection process based on experience and credentials over their appointment. Furthermore, there is little or no access to legal representation for defendants and there is no right of appeal even when there may not be genuine consent by both parties to the arbitration. The proceedings themselves are not even recorded.

Of course, Sharia law is interpreted differently by Muslim judges. Not all would accept the view of Judge Dr Suhaib Hasan, that the penal law should provide that women be stoned for adultery and that robbers have their hands amputated. Nor is it clear to what extent women go to Sharia courts voluntarily and accept unfair decisions. It is more probable that they are pressured by families to abide by those decisions, and even more probable that they do not know their rights under British law.

Some of the rulings of the Sharia courts are contrary to British common law, particularly those that discriminate against women. Sharia law treats women as second-class citizens. Already, about 17,000 Muslims in Britain have become victims of forced marriages, or have been raped by their husbands, or subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). Under Sharia law, a man can divorce his wife by repudiation; a woman must provide justifications. Female evidence is not permissible in a Sharia court in the case of rape. Women cannot become judges in these courts. The custody of children reverts to the father at a set time, usually the age of seven, regardless of what would be in the best interests of the children.

Sharia courts and British courts also hold different standards. Sharia courts have tried to ban alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, and the mixing of sexes in public. Extremist Muslim groups, especially Muslims against the Crusades, have even called for the creation of ‘a Sharia controlled zone’ in three boroughs in London (Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, and Newham), and in several towns including Bradford, Luton, Leicester, and Dewsbury. These would be autonomous entities operating outside British law. Their objective is to defeat ‘Western decadence’ in Britain. These controlled zones would be the first step in the creation of an Islamic state.

The Sharia courts often make the false claim that their verdicts are officially binding in British law in cases involving divorce, financial differences between husbands and wives, and domestic violence that is a criminal – not a civil – offence. The fundamental question is whether Islamic courts should be forced to acknowledge the primacy of British common law, especially in relation to the issue of discrimination against women. Lord Phillips, the former Lord Chief Justice, spoke of the ‘widespread misunderstanding’ of Sharia law and approved the use of Islamic courts for cases of family, marital, and financial disputes. However, many disagree with that view and hold that British law is absolute.

Will Sharia law become the dominant law in Muslim areas? Surveys show that most Muslim students in Britain want Sharia law to be introduced into British law. Sharia law reflects Muslim cultures abroad in which compliance is enforced. Once confined to Saudi Arabia, enforcing theocratic rules through national laws has spread to democratic countries, thus becoming a troubling issue.

In February 2020, the Court of Appeal ruled that Islamic faith marriages are not valid in English law. The judgement overturned an earlier High Court ruling that an Islamic marriage (known as a ‘nikah’) fell within the scope of matrimonial law. Thus, we are safe for now. But, judging by the high level of support for Sharia law amongst the UK’s Muslim community, there will be further challenges. And, this is just the beginning of a very slippery slope. If the judiciary ever decides that Islamic faith marriages are valid in British law, in order to make it easier for Muslim women to divorce their husbands, this would be the beginning of a journey that ends in the full introduction of Sharia law in the UK: with amputations for theft, stoning for adultery, Sharia controlled zones, etc.

Sharia law is inherently sexist and not consonant with true British values – the rule of law, legal equality, and open justice. It has no place in the UK and should be banned outright.

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