Recently it has been reported that Sharia courts have been active in the UK on civil matters. We put some questions to Gina Khan, an outspoken critic of Islamist politics, and Paul Sikander, a British Muslim Lawyer. Their answers, which they both contributed to, are set out below.
What is the drive behind these courts?
This is the culmination of decades of activism and ideological conditioning by Islamic institutions to incorporate the principles of separate laws for Muslims in the context of British society. More generally, it is a male led movement, disguising itself under the rhetoric of equal rights and superficial notions of ‘multiculturalism’, to embed reactionary religious laws in our society, and beyond that, to increase the influence and power of Islamic values interpreted by male clerics over the lives of Muslims in Britain. Even the acceptance of the most innocuous forms of arbitration is a big stick in their hands, as they can then act out control and judgment with the sanction of the state, and can use that to intimidate or bully opponents of sharia in the Muslim community into silence, as well as Muslim women or men who do not want to be governed by this system of religious law, but are unable to deny its influence over them when it is used as a tool of arbitration with the tacit acceptance of the supposedly secular state. It is also a starting point to the long term attempts to increase the range and influence of sharia in Britain even further.
How the courts are viewed by the Muslim community? How are they viewed by Women?
Most Muslims go about their daily life without thinking about such things, because their most pressing concerns are to feed their families. Amongst conservatives there is support for the idea of basic sharia arbitration, especially when the denial of them is erroneously generalized by activists like Bunglawala as discrimination against Muslims. On the other hand, all sentient non-Islamist Muslim women are horrified by the long-term consequences of ceding power to sharia-ist men. We need to acknowledge that most Islamists are attempting to Islamize Britain and we need to acknowledge that that Sharia law is being used to discredit democracy. It is apparent that Sharia law is different in many Muslim countries and very complex. The question we must ask is how will Sharia judges be operating? There are serious ideological issues to consider as well as legal. Remember Anjem Chowdery (of al-Mujhajiroun) and Omar Bakri; who both claimed to be judges of UK Sharia law. This is the impact of Islamist propaganda. Right now it’s not the BNP I fear or militant Jihadists, but the ‘soft’ Jihadism creeping into almost every area of our lives at grassroot level. Mr Bunglawala from the MCB seems to have an issue with the Jewish arbitration system (Beth Din), but they do not impose or contravene with British laws and rights. Above all it is not Judaism that is in crisis, in conflict with democracies, or a threat to Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide. Islam has been brought to a crisis, and the Sharia law legal system is a major issue that cannot be resolved. It is ongoing and problematic.
What do I think government policy should be?
A brilliant Barrister who has written to Muslim newspapers about Muslim marriages, Neil Addison, has already shown how Muslim practice is out of step with every other religious community in Britain, including the other main minority religious communities, in refusing to submit marriage ceremonies to British law. This leaves Muslim women and men beleaguered when marriages go wrong and they do not have the same legal rights as all non-Muslims have in a similar situation, all because many parts of the Muslim establishment in Britain refuse to accept the privileging of secular British law over sharia. The British government must openly declare a long-term aim of harmonizing the Muslim community with mainstream British society, and the first step to doing this is to will into action at every level of administration in our country the intent to empower Muslim individuals by denying any religiously inspired legal sanction against them. For the long-term emancipation of British Muslims, and for the long term harmony of British society, there must be no legal barriers to hinder national integration between groups in our society. Anything that increases the power of Imams and Mullahs over Muslim women and men, and embeds their judgment and power, must be denied.
The government must also be wary of ‘sharia creep’, where sharia is accepted tacitly. An example of this is the decision to allow the wives of a polygamous Muslim man to receive welfare benefits as a spouse. In the long term, the government is going to have to tackle issues like polygamy/bigamy in the Muslim community, which is perpetuated by the reluctance of the Islamic establishment in Britain to submit their marriage laws to secular British law. In fact, they need to start listening to Britsh Muslim women like Shaista Gohar, Diane Nammi and ex-muslim women Ayaa Hirsi Ali and Maryam Nawaazi..who all strongly oppose Sharia law. Plus how are these courts going to be monitored and how can measures be taken to stop discrimination of women in these kangaroo courts when Islamists make no scope for any kind of progress to create change within their interpretations of Sharia law, in regards to family law and the rights of Muslim women. To us Sharia law is medieval.
Is a failure to recognise Sharia courts de facto anti-Muslim?
No. To suggest that it is anti-Muslim is a cheap rhetorical trick employed by Islamists to mask their real agenda of special privileges and social control, and to paint Muslim opponents of sharia as being in some way traitorous or complicit in mainstream society’s discrimination against Islam. The fact remains that many British Muslim women and Pakistani Muslim women oppose Sharia law as it discriminates against them as women; wives, mothers and daughters particularly in cases of domestic violence, divorce, inheritance and rape/sexual abuse.
Progressive arguments against Sharia law?
All arguments against sharia are progressive. Sharia law is a reactionary system of social control, advocated by people with an agenda to impose their religious codes on the Muslim community in Britain, and to make non-Muslims abide by their worldview and interpretations of how Muslims should have their lives regulated. This is a long term agenda, it is something that all progressive people should be aware of, and it is something that thoughtful politicians should build a consensus on across parties, so that in the long term, whether the government is headed by the Conservatives or Labour, there can be unity of purpose and intent on this issue. Ultimately nothing can compare to secular laws of equality and fairness for all.