Supplementary written evidence submitted by One Law for All
New Submission by Maryam Namazie to Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into Sharia Councils
I am writing to raise serious concerns over the Home Affairs Select Committee hearing on 1 November 2016 at which I gave oral testimony and to provide further and new evidence on the matter at hand, particularly with regards the transnational Islamist links with Sharia courts as well as the discriminatory content and intent of the courts, which violate the UK’s gender equality obligations and commitments to freedom of religion and expression. Please treat this letter as a submission to the inquiry.
Key findings are:
1) Accusations of "anti-faith", “Islamophobia” and racism constitute an attempt to delegitimise the evidence of secular witnesses to the inquiry.
2) Sharia councils violate human rights. Based on their own statements, Sharia councils consider themselves to be courts, giving rulings on Islamic law which they consider binding on all Muslims.
3) Sharia judges have made statements supporting the criminalising of blasphemy and apostasy and justifying the killing of apostates. The label of "apostate" carries grave risk of shunning, violence and death.
4) Challenging any aspect of Sharia court decisions may lead to threats and charges of blasphemy and apostasy in Britain and abroad.
5) Sharia court jurisprudence and practice violate every article of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( CEDAW). In particular, they violate Article 16 on marriage and family relations. The concept of "zina" which criminalises sex outside marriage is key to understanding the operation of Sharia courts.
6) Secular values underpin human rights treaties on ending gender discrimination. They cannot be set aside in favour of religious discrimination.
7) CEDAW recommendations declare that the state must end parallel and customary legal systems as they violate women’s right to equality.
8) The law and not religion must be the key basis for securing justice for citizens and BME women.
SECTION 1: ISLAMISM, APOSTASY, ISLAMOPHOBIA AND "AUTHENTIC" MUSLIM WOMEN
Accusations of "Anti-Faith" and "Islamophobia"
1. I would like to initially register my objection to Ms Naz Shah’s line of questioning when it came to me. She asserted:
"But Ms Namazie, according to your blog, which I read earlier, this isn’t just about Sharia courts. If we were to look at implementing your view of the world, the majority of discrimination would be faced by the 33 million Christians of this country because you would have away with Christianity and any religious institutions... What you are saying is that you are denying everybody’s religious view on life".
2. Since Ms Shah has not responded to my requests for clarification nor was my blog under investigation or part of the background information provided to the Committee, I am unable to address the allegations in specific. Nonetheless, Ms Shah’s line of questioning was a clear attempt to discredit my evidence solely based on my atheism and my being an ex-Muslim. There was no similar attempt to discredit any of the other nine witnesses giving oral evidence in this manner.
3. Ms Shah wilfully conflated criticism of Islam and the Islamist movement with discrimination against believers. For those of us who have fought against the Islamist movement in our own countries and in Britain, this allegation is a long-standing one. Per Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas, a Founder of Women Living Under Muslims Laws: "Yes, we do have an already quite long experience of perversity, which magically turns the victim into the abuser and blames her for the crimes that are committed against her". Per a statement in defence of ex-Muslims:
"...it is not an insult to Islam or any religion, if one becomes an atheist – either in public or private. It is exercising a fundamental right to freedom of conscience. Moreover, criticism of religion, including Islam, is not “Islamophobia” but exercising a fundamental right to freedom of expression. Those who “punish” or forcibly prevent freedom of conscience and expression are the ones who commit a crime – not those exercising their basic human right".
4. As stated in evidence submitted to the Committee by secular women’s rights campaigners including myself, Ms Shah’s line of questioning contributes to a "culture that incites religious hatred and violence towards those, especially from Muslim backgrounds, who are perceived to be apostates, atheists and non-conformists".
Islamism and Apostasy
5. "Islam’s Non Believers", a recent ITV documentary by award-winning filmmaker Deeyah Khan reveals that shunning, discrimination and violence against apostates is pervasive. The film highlights incitement to violence against those deemed "anti-Islam" from Muslim backgrounds here in Britain linked to the transnational Islamist movement, including via leafleting at mosques and by "community leaders" such as Shah Sadruddin. In the long term, vilification and shunning also amounts to psychological torture according to Savin Bapir-Tardy, counselling psychologist at the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation.
6. The threats of violence are not limited to ex-Muslims and atheists from Muslim backgrounds but all those who are seen to transgress Islamist norms of the "authentic Muslim". For example, Usama Hasan an Imam (whose father and sister are key figures in the Leyton Islamic Sharia Council) was threatened in Pakistan AND in Britain for his views on evolution and women’s rights. Secular Muslim activists like Yasmin Rehman have been branded "apostates" and "anti-faith" for speaking out against Sharia courts; Rehman has received threats of death and sexual violence as a result. Hate crimes against those deemed "apostates" are on the rise, including against Christian convert from Islam Nissar Hussain who was forced to flee his home in Bradford with his family due to violence and threats in November 2016 and Ahmadiyya Asad Shah who was murdered in Glasgow in March 2016. Far from being harmless labels, Ms Shah’s allegations feed into a climate of insecurity for dissenters.
7. Within a global context where apostasy is punishable by death in 13 countries and a prosecutable offence along with blasphemy in many more, accusations of "anti-faith" are dangerous. Our research shows that Sharia judges in Britain promote this climate of hate and violence. The existence of Sharia courts is not just a matter for "Islamic feminists" like the Muslim Women’s Network that supports their continuation; Muslims are not a homogeneous group. Also, the courts have real and negative implications for apostates and the wider society. For example, in a ruling (now deleted; screenshot available here) on whether Muslims can marry Ahmadiyyas amongst others, the Islamic Sharia Council replied:
"The three names Ahamdies, Qadianies and Mirzai are all used for one group. They follow Mirza Ghulam Ahmed of Qadian. This group is not a Muslim group so they claim to be so Islamic Scholars of the Muslim World have declared them as non-Muslims and therefore it not only a sin but an act of heresy to marry such a person. The difference between Muslims and this group is that while all the Muslims believe in the finality of the prophet hood of Muhammed (pbuh), this group believes otherwise, therefore going against one of the basic cardinal principles of belief in Islam."
8. Khatme Nubbawat (affiliated to the Muslim Council of Britain) has been directly implicated in inciting violence in Pakistan that has led to the murder of Ahmadiyyas. Leaflets in Stockwell Green were distributed last year calling for the death of Ahmadiyyas for kufr and apostasy. Moalana Shahid Raza Naeemi, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (a "self-regulatory body") and Executive Secretary and Registrar of The Muslim Law (Shariah) Council UK says:
“First of all, I’d like to say that Muslims are not seeking the introduction of all the aspects of the Sharia law, particularly the criminal law aspects, in the UK. This is not a Muslim country and we’re not seeking to change or convert this country into one. However, Sharia law says that if a Muslim changes their religion it is treason and the punishment for treason is death".
He has been filmed speaking at a Khatme Nubbawat conference.
9. Sharia judges have promoted the death penalty for apostasy. For example, Haitham al Haddad (who has submitted written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee and was until recently a Sharia judge at the Islamic Sharia Council) has said: "apostasy deserves, once the conditions are met, deserves capital punishment in an Islamic State and I can say this openly; I am not here to hide it".
Suhaib Hasan, a co-founder of the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton (and father of Khola Hasan who gave oral evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee), is a member of The European Council for Fatwa and Research chaired by Yusuf al-Qaradawi who says that killing apostates is essential.
10. In the testimonies gathered by the One Law for All coalition (which includes Southall Black Sisters, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Centre for Secular Space, Culture Project and Nari Diganta), Nadia Sadiq went before a judge at the Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham, which is a Salafi mosque where Abu Usamah has said women were created deficient and "whoever changes his religion, kill him". Habiba Jan, another woman who has submitted a testimony, went to a Sharia court judged by Anjem Choudary who defends the death penalty for apostasy and stoning to death for adultery.
11. Even questioning the competency or relevance of Sharia courts is equated with "disbelief", a form of kufr, which has serious penalties include the death penalty in some countries. The Islamic Sharia Council, for example, has said (now deleted but screenshot available here):
"As a Muslim we should know that our religion is perfect without any imperfection as Allah says; ’this day, I have perfected your religion for you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion’. Therefore, belittling them or calling them as out-of-date constitutes disbelief as Allah says".
12. In a Channel 4 documentary, Suhaib Hasan of the Islamic Sharia Council says to a woman who questions his unfair ruling: “there is no exception to this rule; in the Sharia there is no exception, you have to accept it”. The promotion of the Sharia that cannot be questioned or challenged is a calling card of the Islamist movement despite the fact that "Sharia is not the 6th pillar of Islam" according to Muslim secularist and Trustee of Centre for Secular Space Yasmin Rehman.
13. As Karima Bennoune, author of Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here and the current UN Rapporteur on Culture says:
"Muslim fundamentalism... stands out... by dint of its transnational nature, the ubiquity of its adherents, and the sophistication and reach of its armed groups. Muslim fundamentalists believe in the imposition of "God’s law" or sharia – and only their version of it. Beyond the law, Bennoune says, fundamentalists denounce secularists and seek to bring politicised religion to all spheres".
14. Founding organisations of the Islamic Sharia Council are further examples of the transnational Islamist links. They include:
* London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Center (whose Trustees include officials from the governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brunei, Qatar, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan - many of which punish apostasy with the death penalty and have discriminatory family laws. Ahmad Al-Dubayan who gave oral evidence at the Home Affairs Select Committee as the Chairman of the UK Board of Sharia Councils which aims to "regulate" the courts is Director General of this centre.)
* Muslim World League (which propagates Saudi Wahabbism, the Muslim Brotherhood played a role in its founding)
* Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith (involved in promoting sectarianism and jihad in the Indian sub-continent)
* UK Islamic Mission (inspired by Jamaat e Islami and Syed Abul Ala Maududi and shares the same ideology as Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood)
* Dawatul Islam, UK (UK branch of the Bangladeshi Jamaat e Islami. In 1971, some of the Jamaat e Islami were implicated in running death squads and organising lynchings against people demanding independence)
* Jamia Mosque & Islamic Center, Birmingham (where protestors marched from the mosque after Friday prayers to the Bangladesh High Commission in Birmingham after the execution of a Bangladeshi Islamist convicted of atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence with Pakistan following the country’s war crimes tribunal)
* Muslim Welfare House, London (was founded by Kamal Helbawy of the Muslim Brotherhood who has praised Osama Bin Laden. They have fatwas defending polygamy and prohibiting Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men as well as campaigned to stop the selling of alcohol)
Identity Politics and the "Authentic Muslim Woman"
15. Accusations of Islamophobia against secular women’s rights campaigners deceptively conflate criticism of religion and the religious-far-Right with bigotry against believers so as to scaremonger critics into silence. These accusations provide a pretext to discount evidence by those who are not "authentic Muslims" or are secularists like Yasmin Rehman, Gina Khan, Gita Sahgal, Pragna Patel and Southall Black Sisters , the Centre for Secular Space as well as One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain that have been at the forefront of defending women’s rights, including those of Muslim women, for decades.
16. The identity politics that the Muslim Women’s Network and Naz Shah promote homogenises "Muslim women" as supporters of some form of Sharia courts whilst portraying secular feminist opponents of Sharia courts as "anti-Islam" and "Islamophobes". But this is dishonest to say the least. Elham Manea, an academic who gave oral evidence at the 1 November Home Affairs Select Committee and is opposed to the courts is a Muslim. Her recent book "Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK", which was sent to all the Select Committee members, makes a very clear case for why the courts must be abolished.
17. Moreover, many BME women including Muslims signed on to an open letter to the Home Secretary calling for the law and not religion to be the basis of justice for citizens. The independent review ordered by the Home Secretary was called a whitewash because it sought out "best practice" rather than properly investigating the existence of parallel courts, and the violations that they commit. Campaigners across Britain and many prominent feminists and human rights advocates (including Muslim reformers associated with the international network Women Living Under Muslim Laws) were concerned that it was chaired by a theologian and not a judge, and because imams were placed as advisors (one imam has removed evidence gathered on him by One Law for All). An investigation by Gita Sahgal of the Centre for Secular Space also revealed that the Judge who is part of the Sharia review belongs to a Christian fundamentalist lawyers’ organisation that has campaigned against marriage equality. The review is more suited to a discussion of theology than one which serves the needs of victims and is capable of investigating the full range of harms particularly for women, caused by Sharia councils and tribunals.
18. In a 2011 article, Cassandra Balchin, a founder of the Muslim Women’s Network wrote "those who have a political stake in being seen as the legitimate representatives of an essentialised Muslim community are part of this problem". Naz Shah, Shaista Gohir, the Muslim Women’s Network and Apna Haq - with their allegations of racism and Islamophobia - personify Balchin’s statement.
19. In the same article, Balchin speaks of how Sharia law is highly contested across time and geography and that it involves power, contestation and politics. She goes on:
"Thus the interpretations of, for example, women’s right to divorce by Britain’s Sharia councils must be seen as an ideological statement. Having married and divorced in Pakistan, having edited "Knowing our Rights", and having assisted dozens of women in crisis in Britain who have interacted with the Sharia councils, I can confidently state that the Sharia council interpretations here in Britain are among the most conservative and gender discriminatory in the world".
20. Similar to a submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee asking why it is only seeking evidence from those who have used Sharia courts, Balchin asks:
"What about those women who never go to the Sharia councils, why is their opinion never sought? Are they somehow not ‘real Muslims’ in the eyes of academics and policy makers and thus not worthy of policy consideration?"
21. Shaista Gohir of Muslim Women’s Network says that "on matters of faith, Muslim women can speak for themselves" but clearly not all "Muslim women" agree just as all "Christian women", "Jewish women" or "atheist women" agree. Moreover, religious courts addressing women’s status and rights in the family are hardly matters of faith but of the law, political power and access to justice.
22. Gita Sahgal of the Centre for Secular Space says:
"Our testimonies show that Muslim women are coerced and bullied to get them to appear before a court. Women we know have been raped, isolated or shunned as a direct result of their experience of Sharia courts. Is it Islamophobic to stand up to these practices? It is really shocking that an MP and the Muslim Women’s Network which has been carrying out a hostile Twitter campaign, should have contributed to the extreme risk that activists and survivors face. Neither the review (which does not have these issues in its terms of reference) nor the Home Affairs Select Committee are examining apostasy, blasphemy, ‘Zina’ or sex outside marriage, which are extremely serious crimes under fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia. In many countries, all these ’crimes’ carry the death penalty. Where fundamentalists cannot impose a death penalty, they incite terror in the community. The impunity that Sharia courts enjoy must be ended".
Section 2: DISCRIMINATORY INTENT AND NATURE OF SHARIA COURTS
23. By permitting the existence of Sharia councils and other parallel legal systems Britain is failing to meet its obligations to gender equality in marriage and family relations . Article 16 1. of CEDAW on marriage and family relations:
" States parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women: (a) The same right to enter into marriage; (b) The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent; (c) The same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution; (d) The same rights and responsibilities as parents, irrespective of their marital status, in matters relating to their children; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount; (e) The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights; (f) The same rights and responsibilities with regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children, or similar institutions where these concepts exist in national legislation; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount; (g) The same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation; (h) The same rights for both spouses in respect of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property, whether free of charge or for a valuable consideration. 2. The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory".
Court or Mediation body
24. Proponents say Sharia councils are not courts and parallel legal systems but mediation bodies and a "service" for the provision of Islamic divorce. Many of those attending the courts are victims of domestic violence and abuse so faith-based mediation should be discouraged due to safeguarding standards and good practice (though it is not). In fact, however, "mediation" is used as a smokescreen for bodies that are set up as courts. The term Sharia means law; when Islamists run things - it means the law. Those presiding call themselves judges and issue what is often considered by the judges, women themselves and the wider community as binding religious law with regards to family matters.
25. Even Sharia bodies call themselves courts. See for example the Islamic Sharia Council website. In the "About Us" section, it says (screenshot in case it is deleted):
"A group of concerned Muslim scholars and field workers among the Muslim community, aware of the acute sense of alienation felt by many Muslims, when it comes to solving their personal problems, met together in mid-1982, at the Central Mosque of Birmingham and decided to establish “The Islamic Shari’a Council” to be a quasi-Islamic Court. It would apply Islamic rules in what was presented to it, of the Family problems in particular and any Islamic questions in general."
26. The Birmingham Central Mosque says on its website (screenshot in case it is deleted):
"This body deals with matters of Fiqa, Marriage and Divorce. The Shariah Council is made up of elders who are well versed in the science of Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic matters and rulings. Birmingham Central Mosque is the only Islamic institution in Britain in which a woman has been elected as a high official of a Shariah court second to a judge. The Shariah Council is the formal body of legal Islamic opinion and jurisdiction for local Muslims and the community". [of note is that even though we have been told they have a woman Sharia judge, their website states "a woman has been elected as a high official of a Shariah court second to a judge". [It is noteworthy that their celebrated woman judge is actually "second to a judge".]
27. The CEDAW Committee states in its comment on Article 16 of CEDAW:
"The Committee has consistently expressed concern that identity-based personal status laws and customs perpetuate discrimination against women and that the preservation of multiple legal systems is in itself discriminatory against women. Lack of individual choice relating to the application or observance of particular laws and customs exacerbates this discrimination".
28. In Sharia courts, women and men are unequal in every aspect, including with regards the right to divorce. Men, for example, have unilateral right to divorce via the triple talaq rule whilst women’s rights to divorce are limited. The Islamic Sharia Council explains it as follows (deleted from their website but screenshot is available here):
"As for the three Talaqs pronounced separately in three consecutive months, the wife in such a case is separated from her husband permanently. The husband has the right to take her back (known as Ruju’) after the first or second Talaq, but not the third Talaq, which is the final one.
Pronouncing the word "Talaq" Three Times in one Sitting is counted as one Talaq in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAWS). The husband would still have the right to Ruju’ after such a Talaq within the Iddat period and can take back his wife by having two witnesses present".
29. Whilst women have the right to divorce, they must effectively return any financial settlement due in order to be released from the marriage in a Khula. The inherent inequity in content and intent should be clear to any impartial observer. The Islamic Sharia Council explains it as follows (now deleted from their website but screenshot available here):
"The situation in which the wife initiates divorce proceedings is known as Khul’a. Once the husband agrees to divorce her in exchange for some money or the remission of her dower, the divorce is known as Talaq. It is valid as the Talaq given by the man of his own initiative. Khul’a depends upon the agreement reached between the two parties. If the husband agrees to give Talaq provided that his wife either abandon her right to the dower (if the dower has not yet been paid) or return back the amount of the dower to the husband (if the dower had been paid). Once the husband agrees to Khul’a, he is asked to pronounce TALAQ in exchange for the above-mentioned".
30. CEDAW Committee in a general recommendation on the economic consequences of marriage, family relations and their dissolution says "States parties should eliminate any procedural requirement of payments to obtain a divorce that does not apply equally to husbands and wives". There are numerous other recommendations about eliminating financial inequality on the dissolution of marriage including "Eliminate different standards of fault for wives than for husbands, such as requiring proof of greater infidelity by a husband than by a wife as a basis for divorce".
31. During the Home Affairs Select Committee hearing, there was much talk of Sharia courts recognising civil divorces. As was rightly mentioned, even in many Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, a civil divorce in Britain is considered a valid divorce. So why the need for a Sharia court? Much of the increased "need" for these courts have grown out of propaganda that invalidates civil divorces. According to the Islamic Sharia Council, for example, on "when a civil divorce is recognised Islamically" (which has now been deleted but screenshot available here):
"The right of divorce is primarily with the husband in the Shari’a. A decree of divorce issued by a civil Court will be valid if:
1. The husband is the petitioner, or:
2. The Husband consents to the divorce in writing.
If neither of the above is the case, then the wife may apply for an Islamic divorce through the Council. An application for divorce by the wife is known as Khul’a, a condition of which is that the wife returns to the husband any Maher (dower) or jewellery she received from him, if he so demands".
32. Haitham Al Haddad, a Sharia judge with the Islamic Sharia Council until recently explains the various forms of divorce via a fatwa here:
"The following points briefly illustrate the ways in which an Islamic marriage comes to an end. Ending a marriage in Islam can take place by one of three main methods:
Talaq: This form of divorce is the sole right of the husband whereby he pronounces the word divorce, talaq or any other similar word (in any language) to establish a divorce. No one may deprive him of this right given that he has been awarded such a right by God. This right belongs only to the husband and moreover, he does not need the consent or approval of any one, including his wife. Therefore, a woman divorcing her husband is Islamically incorrect and is invalid as a female has no such recourse to such a right, although she may request the conclusion of the marriage through other means. Similarly, an Islamic judge cannot issue a divorce but he can (once being recognised as an Islamic judge) issue a faskh (marriage dissolution).
Khul’: It is a divorce issued by the husband in exchange of money. It happens when the wife requests her husband to divorce her, but he refuses unless she returns her dowry. Again, it is the right of the husband and is conditional to his approval.
Faskh; it is a marriage dissolution issued by a judge in response to a request by the wife and normally takes place against the will of the husband. However, the judge has to be appointed either by the leader of the Muslims, or by the Muslim community, or at least recognized as being an Islamic judge by the vast majority of the Muslim community. Merely being an imam neither suffices nor authorises him to dissolve marriages.
All of the Islamic (legal) schools of thoughts agree that the Islamic judge who implements Islamic law must be privy to certain requirements such as being a Muslim. In the Qur’an it is stated, “And never will Allah grant to the disbelievers a way (to triumph) over the believers”.
33. In the fatwa, Haitham Al Haddad makes clear that civil divorces are not Islamically recognised if initiated by women. The Fatwa says:
"...divorce issued by the civil court in response to the wife’s request is neither a valid divorce nor legitimate marriage dissolution. This means that such a wife remains a wife and is not free to marry another man. Marrying another man while the original marriage is still in place is a violation of Islamic law and a crime. What is more dangerous than this is the fact that all children she gives birth to before obtaining a proper marriage dissolution may be considered to be of the first husband from whom she assumed she had been divorced. Wives who face intolerable situations may seek marriage dissolution by a recognized body that is known and accepted in acting as a judiciary body for Muslims. No single imam or Mufti can do that by himself".
34. The underlying threat of accusations of "zina" or adultery is always the sub-text of any discussion on women’s "right" to divorce. This is evident in the testimonies we have gathered and reveals the coercive nature of such threats over women who fear being ostracised and vilified for "dishonouring" the family or community. The absurdity of claims that Sharia courts reduce abuse and discrimination when they are the cause of it seems to have alluded some. According to Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas:
"How could it be detrimental to women to benefit from laws they can vote and help modify according to their will and rights as citizens? How could it be beneficial to women to be held under laws that they cannot vote for or against, that they cannot change and which are subject to the exclusive interpretations of most conservative men who self-appoint themselves as interpreters of god’s will? It amounts to saying that exercising one’s democratic rights is detrimental to women’s rights. How could it increase abuse? From the point of view of strict logic, I would be interested in knowing how can it be demonstrated that exercising one’s rights is detrimental to one’s rights".
35. The "right" to divorce is actively discouraged by Sharia bodies more concerned with keeping male "honour" than women’s rights, which is why there are many examples whereby they have tried to reconcile the spouses despite violence and orders of protection. If you look at the Islamic Sharia Council website regarding advice to "Women Seeking Divorce" (deleted now but a screenshot is available here), it starts with:
"The prophet Muhammad has said what could be translated to, ’The women who seek divorce (’khul’a’), without good reason are hypocrites’".
36. Sanitised evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee on the "divorce service" Sharia courts provide, including through deception and removal of incriminating fatwas and rulings on their websites, ignores the fact that men’s rights are being packaged and rebranded as women’s rights, including by Islamic feminists. Also what has been completely sidelined is the reality that the courts address family related issues, many of which are crimes under British law, including polygamy, marital rape, domestic violence, child marriage, child custody, hijab, LGBT rights, inheritance, apostasy and not just divorce. [If they do not address other criminal matters, it is only because according to their pronouncements, Britain is not an Islamic State; it is not because they disapprove of criminal punishments.]
37. On the issue of polygamy, the Islamic Sharia Council promotes this too. On their website (now deleted but screenshot available here), in response to what a man must do with his two wives when immigrating to the UK, they say:
"He should try to keep both wives. Either visiting the one, in her Muslim homeland from time to time if he can afford to do so or to bring one of them to U.K. through a valid visa. Just emigration to U.K., is not a valid reason to divorce one of them".
38. Amra Bone, the Birmingham Sharia Council’s "judge" has been quoted saying “the government cannot ask Muslims not to have more than one wife. People have a right to decide for themselves”. Again, men’s right to have up to four wives is promoted as a right for the entire community. As many of our testimonies attest, however, polygamy has devastating effects for women and the children of such "marriages". According to Muslim women’s rights campaigner Yasmin Rehman who has done a 6 year extensive research on polygamy: "...it’s a conducive context for violence against women and girls. It’s abusive; it’s unequal in terms of gender... We know it can be used as a means of engaging in child marriage, forced marriage, there is domestic violence, there is sexual violence..."
39. According to Women’s Rights Campaigner and a One Law for All Spokesperson, Gina Khan, who has interviewed numerous women who lives have been adversely affected by polygamy: "why isn’t anyone addressing the impingement on the human rights of married women who must silently live with this practice enforced upon them by husbands, families and mullahs?".
40. CEDAW Committee General Recommendation 21 , Equality in marriage and family relations says:
"States parties’ reports also disclose that polygamy is practiced in a number of countries. Polygamous marriage contravenes a woman’s right to equality with men, and can have such serious emotional and financial consequences for her and her dependents that such marriages ought to be discouraged and prohibited. The Committee notes with concern that some States parties, whose constitutions guarantee equal rights, permit polygamous marriage in accordance with personal or customary law. This violates the constitutional rights of women, and breaches the provisions of article 5 (a) of the Convention.
Further, the Committee indicates that a state is breaching its obligations under the Convention by not actively prohibiting polygamy in customary marriages. While most countries report that national constitutions and laws comply with the Convention, custom, tradition and failure to enforce these laws in reality contravene the Convention".
Marital Rape and Sexual Abuse
41. Maulana Abu Sayeed, chairperson of the Islamic Sharia Council, has said that marital rape is not an offence because "sex is part of marriage". He considers it "not Islamic” to classify non-consensual marital sex as rape. He says calling it rape is a major aggression. Khola Hasan, a Sharia judge at the Islamic Sharia Council has legitimised his statement and said "Maulana Abu Sayeed is a highly respected scholar. He was quoting the traditional Islamic discussion regarding rape within marriage".
42. However, this is a perspective that is actively promoted by the courts, including her own. For example, when asked for a ruling on a woman who "refuses to respond to her husband’s sexual needs" because of "abuse in childhood", the Islamic Sharia Council advises the wife to read books such as the Ideal Muslimah, quotes hadith which says that women’s treatment of her husband decides whether she goes to heaven or hell, mentions that "The angels’ curse will befall every woman who is rebellious and disobedient; this does not excludes those who are too slow and reluctant to respond to their husbands", and that she must respond to her husband’s sexual urges even if she is riding a camel. It goes on to say:
"Narrated by Abdullah the prophet said, "there are three people whose prayers will not be accepted, neither their good works:
"A disobedient slave until he returns to his masters and puts his hand in theirs
"A woman whose husband is angry with her, until he is pleased with her again
"And the drunkard until he becomes sober" reported by Ibn Hibban
"The warning given to women whose husband is angry with her reaches such an extent that it would shake the conscience of every righteous wife who has faith in Allah and the last day. She is told that her prayer and good deeds will not be accepted, until her husband is pleased with her again.
"After this advice, if your wife should persist upon not responding to your sexual needs then you should divorce her. This is because a woman who can not have conjugal relationship should not be married in the first place". (This is no longer on their website but available via screenshot here.)
Domestic Violence and Child Custody
43. Very often, child custody is used to exert further pressure on women who have faced domestic violence. It’s unsurprising that the Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation says the process of the courts themselves amount to abuse.
44. In a documentary called Secrets of Britain’s Sharia courts (Part 1 and Part 2), Sonia who had secured a civil divorce was told by the Islamic Sharia Council that she would have to give up child custody to her ex-husband (who had been allowed only indirect access to the children). In the documentary she says: "I could not bear the thought of such a violent person having my children. What was shocking was when I explained to them why he should not have that access to the children, their reaction was, well, you cannot go against what Islam says."
45. Another woman, Cara, who was in a shelter after being abused by her husband was told she had to be accompanied by him to the court for arbitration. She said: Surely they can see that women who have been through this cannot be forced to meet up with someone who is abusing them". An undercover reporter was told going to the shelter was a " bad option" by judge Suhaib Hasan who says:
"I think you should be courageous enough to ask this question to him. Just tell me why are you upset huh? Is it because of my cooking? Is it because I see my friends huh? So I can correct myself".
46. The Dewsbury Sharia Council mentioned by Apne Haq as an exemplary court insists that women attend hearings with their husbands. On their website, they say (screenshot available here):
"At the same time, the husband (respondent) will be contacted with a copy of his wife’s reasons for wanting a divorce requesting him to clarify his position in the matter.
If he writes to the Council and asks for reconciliation.
The applicant will be contacted again and instructed accordingly by the Council (with a copy of the respondent’s letter).
The Council will arrange a meeting between both parties at the Council in an effort to resolve the case by reconciling both parties or issuing a divorce. It is necessary for the applicant (wife) to attend the meeting. Otherwise a judgement cannot be passed.
Normally at the request of the respondent (husband) the Council allows a reasonable period of time for reconciliation efforts to be made by the husband through his own resources and family contacts.
However, if the applicant does not agree to reunite, then eventually the Council, under the rules of Islamic Law, will have to dissolve the Nikah ( marriage) and issue a Divorce Certificate to the applicant. (Reconciliation can take place only if both parties agree to it.)"
47. In the documentary mentioned above, Ayesha who had been physically abused and her husband imprisoned for his violence, was told by the Dewsbury Sharia Council to go to mediation despite injunctions issued by a British court. According to Ayesha, "I cannot do that because he is not even allowed near my house, and because I am frightened. I cannot face him... but they did not take any notice." After an outside lawyer became involved, Dewsbury Sharia Council agreed to see Ayesha on her own but took 2 years to grant her a divorce, by which time her ex-husband had re-married in Pakistan.
48.Whilst the Sharia courts say they do not deal with child custody issues, the above cases as well as rulings on their websites say otherwise. When questioned on "What age is it suitable for children to live with the father" upon divorce, they issued ruling that the child must go to the father at a preset age, irrespective of child welfare rules (advice is no longer on their website but screenshot available here):
"Till the age of seven the mother has the sole right to have the custody of the child if she marries someone who is not related to the child, she loses her right in the custody. If the child were still under seven, he would be given custody of a female (preferably among the mother’s relatives like his maternal aunt or grandmother). But if he is above seven, he is no more in need of a woman’s care and he is to be in custody of the father".
49. The courts also address issues such as the veil. The Islamic Sharia court has ruled (no longer on their website but a screenshot is available here):
"It is obligatory for a woman to cover her whole body whenever she comes out of home in accordance with the saying of Allah.
’O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when out of doors): That is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.’ (33: 59).
The Arabic word for outer garment used in the Qur’an is ’Jilbab’. It is reported in an authentic hadith the when this verse was revealed, the women in Madina wrapped themselves in such a way that their heads used to be seen as if crows were upon them. They just left their eyes open to see the way when they walk.
"A woman is required to cover her head whether she is alone or in presence of someone else in accordance to the saying of the Prophet (SAWS):
"Allah does not accept the prayer of an adult woman without s scarf".
As to why she is required to cover her body in such a way, the answer is that the woman herself is ’Awrah’ (meant to be covered).
The main objective behind is to cover her eyes of the non-related (Mahram) men to avoid attraction or temptation. The display of the beauty or the part of woman and free mixing with men lead to scandals like that of Mr Clinton & Monica which is not acceptable in Islam which invites for a clean and pure society".
50. The Birmingham Sharia Council has also ruled that the hijab is compulsory. So much for the propaganda on the "right" and "choice" to veil. In a letter, they write:
"In Islam hijab is compulsory and any woman who denies the ruling of hijab is disobeying her Lord and is rebelling against the Islamic law".
51. Evidence given at the Home Affairs Select Committee hearing stated that women’s testimony was worth half that of a man’s only in financial transactions. This is blatantly untrue and applies to divorce amongst others. The Islamic Sharia Council explains it here (deleted from their website but available via screenshot):
" There are issues where only women’s testimony is enough like those related to birth of a child, the period of suckling and weaning. In such cases, which are normally handled by the women, testimony of a single lady is accepted...
Cases of serious nature, like that of fornication, adultery and rape attract a very hard punishment in Islam. Flogging a hundred times for unmarried couples and stoning to the married ones. To prove such an allegation, even two male witnesses are not enough, but four of them are required. Suppose those who witnessed were women alone. If the number of witnesses is doubled, less would be the chance for the implementation of this punishment. Many people do not object a lot to these ways of punishment but they do not realize how difficult it has been made in Islam, to prove such allegations. [Author’s Note: Confession, including under duress, is in fact the main way in which adultery is proven in countries where stoning to death is legal].
The text (Surah Al-Baqara 2:282) which requires two female witnesses in place of one male witness, gives a clear reason for it i.e. "if one of them forgets, the other reminds her." Is this derogatory to the status of the women or is it a revealed secret about the nature of the women? Though much has been said about the difference between a man’s brain and that of a women but I would rather like to quote the latest research made about this issue. According to a survey, as published in Los Angeles Times (U.S.A) , made involving fifty men and women for quite a considerable time, the out come was as follows:
Man’s mind is uni-focal while the women’s mind is multi-focal. In other words, a man would be fully occupied with the task he is involved with; he may not be distracted by anything else while being engaged in his activity. On the other hand, a woman may be busy in kitchen work and she will be easily alert to a phone buzzer or her infants cry from the cradle. In a way she is found to be more sensitive and active in her dealings. Thus she has got a very praise worthy character but that is not so good for a case of testimony which requires more attention and concentration. What is wrong then, if a second woman is needed, only to remind her is she fails to deliver her testimony completely. So it is a case of verification of the testimony, not that of degradation to the status of the women at all.
In many other matters, the nature of women are considered. For example, the right of divorce is vested in the hand of the man while she is allowed to ask for divorce either directly or through a Qadi (Judge). Why? Because the women are kind-hearted human beings who are governed by their emotions, a character strongly needed for bringing up the children. On the other hand, man is governed by his mind more than his emotions. He would think twice but more than that before uttering the word "Talaq" (divorce). Even if he misuses this word (as noticed again and again) a long procedure following a divorce i.e. the Iddat period of a woman, allows him to retract the step he has taken. He can revoke that Talaq within this cooling period of approximately three months time.
To deny the difference between the two genders is a denial of truth. Allah who created us, gave us rulings according to our nature. And all is well as long as we go by the nature".
Child Marriage and Forced Marriage
52. The Centre for Islamic Pluralism international director Irfan Al-Alawi said he knew of a 15-year-old girl in Pakistan who was tricked into marriage over the telephone with a 40-year-old man from Sheffield, who had the mental age of a four-year-old child. “The Home Office refused to recognise the validity of the marriage but the Islamic Sharia Council in Britain accepted it”.
53. Hundreds of "child brides" every year - some as young as 6 - as well as a report that at least 30 girls, some as young as 9, were married under Sharia law in one London borough alone reveals another area in which the courts are clandestinely involved.
SECTION 3: OPPOSING RACISM AND CULTURAL RELATIVISM AND DEFENDING SECULARISM
Opposing Racism and Sexism
54. Accusations of racism against women’s rights activists for campaigning against Sharia courts ignores the racism underlying culturally relative standards and rights for BME women. With cuts in legal aid, and the privatisation of justice, BME women are more often than not being fobbed off to sub-standard courts with the police, councils and social services often collaborating. As secularist campaigners around the One Law for All coalition have shown, it’s crucial to oppose racism and sexism and not allow one to be excused in the fight against the other. Moreover, the demand for an end to Sharia courts must be within a framework that calls for the dismantling of all parallel legal systems, including the Beth Din.
55. The call for dismantling parallel legal systems is not an attack on religious beliefs but a defence of gender equality. A legal memo for One Law for All on the Universities UK’s sex segregation guidance, which was withdrawn after a successful campaign by the One Law for All coalition and other campaigners is relevant here. "Rights to free exercise of religion and freedom of expression are not absolute and may not be used to violate the rights of others to gender equality. If the international community takes these claims seriously and prioritizes religious claims over gender non-discrimination, basic guarantees of women’s rights are weakened for women worldwide".
56. The legal memo explains that CEDAW, the ICESCR, and the ICCPR —all of which the UK has ratified—define “discrimination against women” as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise by women. . . of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” This definition may be broken into three elements:
A) A distinction, exclusion, or restriction on the basis of sex
B) With the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms
C) In a political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
Sharia courts, which distinguishes men from women and excludes or restricts women’s rights meets the elements in this broad definition of discrimination.
Religious-Right versus Right to Religion
57. According to Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, "Muslim fundamentalists have mounted what can be described as a two pronged pincer like manoeuvre based ostensibly on the demand for religious tolerance, but which is in reality a bid for power in which the control of female sexuality is central. On the one hand they seek to ensure that personal religious codes are normalised within the legal system, and on the other they seek to formalise a parallel legal system through the establishment of alternative religious forums for dispute resolution in family matters. This process - a sort of ‘shariafication by stealth’ of the legal apparatus – involves making state law and policy ‘Sharia’ compliant".
58. What is often touted as "religious rights" is in fact an imposition by the religious-Right and Islamists and aims to implicate the state in the implementation of inequalities in the name of rights. As author and human rights lawyer, Karima Bennoune says:
“...in applying freedom of religion, both those who believe and those who choose not to believe, as well as those who seek to manifest belief and those who do not wish to be coerced to do so, must be taken into consideration. This is only possible in a framework of secularism...
“...The term secularism here means emphasis on the temporal over the religious in law and an accompanying minimization of the role of religion in the functioning of the state and legal system. The significance of the temporal for human rights is not that it is always morally superior to the religious, but rather that it is contestable. The temporal allows space for dissent which the ‘you cannot argue with God’ paradigm foreclose”.
59. This is not about limiting religion to the private domain. Religion and atheism are matters of conscience. Eliminating religion from the law and women’s status in the family is not about limiting conscience but defending gender equality and also challenging fundamentalist impositions posing as choice and rights.
Regulation versus Abolition
60. As the duplicity of the Sharia courts evidenced in this submission reveal, regulation will have little effect in improving BME women’s lives and rights. The courts are already being regulated in some ways, including via the Charity Commission or MINAB but no amount of regulation will make the courts "naturally redundant". The more normalised they become, the more they will limit women’s rights. This has been the experience of many of us who have fled Islamic states and sought refuge in Britain. Also if one has to wait for self-regulation and increased awareness, we will be waiting forever.
61. There will always be Muslim women who support Sharia courts, as there will be Muslim women who oppose them. The point is not about the faith or identities of proponents and opponents but whether the British state wants to normalise and institutionalise gender discrimination or instead defend equality of citizens irrespective of beliefs and background.
62. Abolishing Sharia courts and parallel legal systems will not solve all the problems at hand; criminalising FGM or domestic violence has not ended them either. It will however make very clear what is acceptable and what is not and will underline a commitment to gender equality.
One Law for All
63. As mentioned in the One Law for All report Sharia Law in Britain: A Threat to One Law for All and Equal Rights, despite all efforts to package Sharia’s civil code as mundane, its imposition represents a concerted attempt by Islamists to gain further influence in Britain.
Clearly, Sharia courts are not compliant with either British law or international human rights treaties. By undermining British legal principles of equality before the law, the universal concept of one law for all and the protection of the rights of women and children, these courts help to increase discrimination, intimidation and threats against the most vulnerable. By accommodating them, the government is itself in breach of its obligations. The law and not religion must be the key basis for securing justice for all citizens.
Spokesperson One Law for All
BM Box 2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK
tel: +44 (0) 7719166731
email: onelawforall gmail.com