Wednesday, 19 November 2008

New York Times on Sharia in Britain

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There's nothing particularly new here, but I was interested to see that the New York Times has picked up on the use of Sharia law in the UK. It's all things we know – Sharia law has been in use for some time in arbitration cases (as have C of E "ecclesiastical courts" and Jewish "beth din"), its use is on the rise, Rowan Williams put his foot in it earlier this year – but they do have some excellent first-hand examples from a Sharia court in Leyton, east London. Here's an example of the kind of "arbitration" they've been dishing out:
"The woman in black wanted an Islamic divorce. She told the religious judge that her husband hit her, cursed her and wanted her dead. But her husband was opposed, and the Islamic scholar adjudicating the case seemed determined to keep the couple together. So, sensing defeat, she brought our her secret weapon: her father.

In walked a bearded man in long robes who described his son-in-law as a hot-tempered man who had duped his daughter, evaded the police and humiliated his family. The judge promptly reversed himself and recommended divorce."

See, it was all going badly until the father walked in, with the "judge" saying “Please, will you give him another chance?” and "I'll give you one month's time to reconcile". But since the word of a man trumps that of a woman, and the word of an older man presumably trumps that of a younger man, the father was able to sort it all out with these words of wisdom:

“He was not a cucumber that we could cut open to know that he was rotten inside. The only solution is divorce.”
Okay, so it sounds like the correct decision was made in the end in that case, but only because the father intervened. Do we really want this kind of process to have legal backing in the UK? Here's another example from Leyton:
Another woman, 25, wanted out of a two-year-old arranged marriage with a man who refused to consummate the relationship. Dr. Hasan counseled dialogue. “Until we see the husband,” he said, “we can’t be sure that what you’re saying is true.”
The clearest arguments against Sharia that I've heard and read have been put by the Independent columnist Johann Hari. I recently saw him speak on the subject in a debate at the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain conference (clip included below), and after that he kindly nominated Rowan Williams for our Bad Faith Award (click here to hear that nomination). Why? Because, in suggesting we should allow Sharia in Britain, Williams was advocating exposing Muslim women in this country to "a court system that reinforces the most ugly forms of mysogyny."


Tom Rees said...

There is no question of whether to 'allow' Sharia or not. The point is that it's a free country. Anybody can make any kind of contract they like, and volunteer themselves to any kind of arbitration they like - so long as it doesn't conflict with the law. And the law allows for 'extra-judicial' arbitration that is legally binding.

So we can't stop Shariah, short of actually making it specifically illegal. We should target the problem with Shariah law, which is that it isn't really voluntary.

So the emphasis should be on making sure that these women (and anybody else) understand their rights under UK law, and that they are sufficiently empowered to take advantage of their rights.