A Meeting to Discuss Shari’a Court in Ontario
Update: New material on the campaign against Shari’a Court in Canada
Report of Meeting with Marion Boyd Regarding Shari’a Court in Canada
On Thursday July 15, 2004, Homa Arjomand, Co-ordinator of the International Campaign Against Shari’a Court in Canada was called to a meeting with Marion Boyd regarding concerns about Shari’a court in Canada. Marian Boyd has been appointed by Premier Dalton McGuinty to review the 1991 Arbitration Act
This meeting lasted over three hours and many issues and case studies were presented:
Homa Arjomand emphasized the fact that The Ontario Arbitration Act 1991 has made it possible for the Islamic movement to make another attempt to attack both secularism and the women’s movement for equality. She stated that this move has proven, historically, to be a major force in creating serious setbacks to the lives of women. Arjomand also stated that the key features of this move include opposition to the freedom of women, opposition to women’s civil liberties and opposition to freedom of expression.
Ms Arjomand, by presenting some case studies, demonstrated that due to social pressure and the strict adherence to role and obligation imposed on women by Shari’a, battered women coming from so called Islamic countries remain in abusive relationships even in Canada. The government not only has done nothing to help these battered women come out of unbearable situations but now has also created another tool of oppression in Ontario.
Now, using the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991, which allows family disputes to be resolved by arbitrators who are Imams or elderly scholars of Islam, family matters can be resolved according to Shari’a law. Ms. Arjomand explained the consequences of allowing Shari’a arbitrators to handle family disputes. She listed some of the direct violations of social, political and civil rights that will result from the application of Shari’a law through the Arbitration Act. Once more, she stated that family law must be removed from this Act. The mere suggestion of Islamic cultural or religious tribunals has already generated an atmosphere of fear among Muslim women.
Ms. Arjomand finally drew attention to the fact that, in Canada, we uphold the separation of church and state, which means that there should be no religious determination in the laws that are applied through the courts. To ensure this, it is essential that all aspects of family law be removal from the Ontario Arbitration act 1991. Our campaign will not settle for less and we will not allow a shallow concept of “religion freedom” to translate into the bondage of thousands of women in Canada.
Mrs. Boyd stated that she is willing to meet with 35 other members of this campaign on August 3rd, 2004 at 9: 30 AM.
Re: Islamic Shari’a Arbitration Proposal Submitted by “The Islamic Institute of Civil Justice”
Dear Mrs. Boyd:
We wish to state our opposition to the recent move for establishing an “Islamic Institute of Civil Justice” in Canada. This move should be opposed by everyone who believes in women’s civil and individual rights, in freedom of expression and in freedom of religion and belief. We also wish to emphasis that even the mere suggestion of the Shari’a tribunals causes an atmosphere of fear among women who came from “Islamic” countries. If this Institute gains validity, it will increase intimidation and threats against innumerable women and it will open the way for future suppression.
While, technically, all Muslim women have access to Canadian laws and courts, and while the Canadian legal system would reject the oppressive decisions made under Shari’a as being contrary to Canadian Law, the reality is that most women would be coerced (socially, economically and psychologically) into participating in the Shari’a tribunal. Women are told that the Shari’a Tribunal is a legal tribunal under the Arbitration Act 1991. The women would take that to mean that whatever is decided by the Tribunal would be considered as lawful. Even women who know that Canadian law would not uphold the decisions would not challenge the decisions for fear of physical, emotional, economic and social consequences. Therefore, it is most unlikely that decisions that are contrary to Canadian law would ever come before the courts.
It is a sad and painful fact that, even in Canada, we still have to talk about the religious oppression of women. Nonetheless, the reality is that millions of women are suffering and being oppressed under Sharia law in many different parts of the world. Some of us managed to flee to a safe country, a country like Canada with no anti-secular backlash. Unfortunately, Canada is the only Western country that has given validity to an “Islamic Institute of Civil Justice” (through Ontario arbitration act 1991) that will allow family and civil matters to be arbitrated according to the Islamic Sharia law. If the government of Ontario and secular forces allow this move to succeed in Ontario, we don’t see how it will be possible to block it from gaining recognition in the rest of Canada and in every other country in the west.
We strongly believe that Shari’a tribunals will crush women’s civil liberties. It will enforce brutal laws and traditions on abused women who are living under the intensive influence of Islam. These tribunals will be applying Islamic Shari’a law which will compel abused women to stay in abusive relationship and will give them no choice but to be obedient’ or attempt suicide.
The acceptance of the Shari’a Tribunals as part of the Ontario legal system, is a move against secularism, modernism, egalitarianism and women’s rights. It will only send a massage to women that they are undeserving of human rights protection.
We believe it is the government’s duty to protect the individual and civil rights and liberties of all citizens living in Canada. There must be no state within a state. The Islamic advocates argue that, as Mr. Momtaz Ali stated in his proposal, it is their duty as good Muslims to work towards their own state. They also emphasize that there should be no separation between religion and the law.
We need a secular state and secular society that respects human rights and that is founded on the principle that power belongs to the people and not a God. It is crucial to oppose the Islamic Sharia law and to subordinate Islam to secularism and secular states. Under Shari’a family law and its penal code (which has remained unchanged since 1400 years), women are considered inferior to men. Marriage is a contract according to which the husband should perform sexually and provide materially for the wife. He has the legal, moral and religious duty to beat his wife, if she does not obey him. Sharia states that a man can easily divorce his wife, by declaring that fact three times.
One must bear in mind that Shari’a is not only a religion; it is intrinsically connected with the state. It controls every aspect of an individual’s life from very personal matters such as women’s periods to the very public ones such as how to run the state. It has rules for everything. An individual has no choice but to accept the rule of Sharia or face extreme consequences, as non believers are shown no tolerance.
Shari’a considers women to be a potential danger by distracting men from their duties and corrupting the community. It therefore suppresses women’s sexuality, whilst men are given the rights to marry up to four wives and the right to temporary marriage as many times as they wish. Young girls are forced to cover themselves from head to foot and are segregated from boys. These law and regulations are now implemented in Canada, but are usually hidden from secular society although, some, such as what happens in Islamic elementary and secondary schools, are visible. According to Shari’a law, a woman’s testimony counts for only half that of a man. So in straight disagreements between husband and wife, the husband’s testimony will normally prevail. In question of inheritance daughters receive only half the portion of sons and in the cases of custody, the man is automatically awarded custody of the children once they have reached the age of seven. Women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim whereas men are allowed to do so.
The message is clear: men dominate, women obey. A woman does not have the right to choose her husband, her clothing, her place of residence, and cannot travel without husband’s consent. The danger is that once these tribunals are set up, people from Muslim origin will be pressured to use them, thereby being deprived of many of the rights that people in the west managed to gain.
We, the defenders of secularism, believe that the introduction of Shari’a a tribunal or a “Shari’a court” in Canada would discriminate against the most vulnerable sectors of society: women and children. It would deny them the Canadian values of equality and gender justice.
In light of the above, and on the grounds of human rights, equality and gender justice we strongly urge the Ontario Government the removal of family law from the Arbitration Act 1991 so that all family disputes be resolved in Canadian secular court system regardless of their race, ethnicity and religion.
Editorial introduction: The possibility of Shari’a courts in Ontario has raised concern among Muslim women, as reported in the Toronto Star recently. Homa Armojand is the campaign co-ordinator for the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada.
Once more I’d like to emphasize the presence of two forces operating within the Canadian Muslim community. One tries to implement Shari’a law with its repressive measures against women, while the other relies on modernism and secularism to resist such attempts.
The question I am asked time and time again by the media is: Since it was possible for Shari’a to be used from 1991 when the Ontario Arbitration Act was enacted, why do we care now?
The reality is that in 1991, political Islam did not show its flag. There was no overt political message because there was no apparent legal validation. The public was not aware of its hidden message.
But on October 23, 2003, the flag of political Islam was raised.
We, as activists for women’s rights in the Middle East, have experienced the oppression of political Islam and knew the danger if it gained legal credibility in Canada. We immediately called for an urgent international campaign. We believed that an attack on women’s rights in Canada would soon be followed by an attack on women’s rights across the oceans. Political Islam is global.
Historically, political Islam has proven to be a major force that imposed serious setbacks on women’s lives. Political Islam is a political movement that came into force against secular and progressive movements for liberation, and against cultural and intellectual advances. In the 1970’s the political Islamic movement grew stronger and became more widespread. In the 1980’s political Islam was supported and nurtured by western governments to be used in the conflicts and tensions of the cold war.
The key features of political Islam include opposition to the freedom of women, to women’s civil liberties and to freedom of expression. The enforcement of brutal laws and untouchable traditions made women’s homes into prisons. Women were excluded from many fields of work and from education. Their brutal treatment became the norm. Under political Islam women are second-class citizen who are denied their full legal rights.
We strongly believe that only the secular movement which is already present in our society can effectively counter political Islam.
We must repeal the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991. Only then we will be able to prevent Shari’a arbitration in Canada.
Homa Armojand is co-ordinator of The International Campaign Against Sharia Court In Canada. She can be emailed here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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