Campaigning against the Sharia Court in Canada
The reasons given for a Sharia Court in Canada by Islamists and their multi-culturalist supporters are not what they seem. They say Muslims do not want their family problems to be made public; these tribunals will deal with civil disputes not criminal matters; one can choose not to go before the Sharia tribunal; and that it will take less time than a Canadian court and cost less.
Let me address each one separately. Why do the initiators of the proposal not want family disputes to be publicised outside of their ‘communities’. In communities where Sharia law interferes with people’s lives, family problems are not simply disagreements between a man and a woman and who gets what. In fact, private matters and religion are closely linked together. To make my point clear, I would like to present one case study I have come across in my social work. I have a client in Toronto who was taken out of school by her parents at the age of 15 and forced to marry a 29 year old man; according to Sharia, she is married whilst under the Canadian legal system she is not. At the age of 16, this young pregnant girl is going through separation because of domestic abuse. In a secular court, the fact that she was forced to marry at a young age is considered a crime and her husband will be charged for assault and child abuse. As for her parents, they too will be charged. The Children’s Aid Society will get involved and if they have any other children younger than 16, all will be moved out to the Aid Society’s care. While in the eyes of the Sharia tribunal no crime has taken place and the matter is a civil one, which can be resolved by the Islamic tribunal, under the modern secular system of Canada, the child will be immediately protected and the abusers prosecuted.
Moreover, proponents say that the Sharia tribunal is optional for those who decide to use it. My question is optional for whom? Muslim women lose their options right at birth. But for the sake of argument, let’s go back to our case study. Let us say that the 15 year old girl refused to accept the forced marriage, and made a complaint against her parents to a secular court. I don’t know if that would have happened in reality due to social and financial restrictions. What do you think would have happened to her? I know it is hard to imagine. Her family would disown her for sure. For a moment, imagine being born and brought up in such a family and the so-called Muslim community, being made to study in an Islamic school and never having the chance to integrate within society; and then being disowned by not only your family but also the entire community. No wonder she chose marriage over isolation. I think it is fair to say that she had no choice, even though she could have filed a complaint. As I mentioned before, her choice was taken away right at birth. In her case, after going through tremendous abuse (verbal, mental, financial and sexual) for eight long months and being five months pregnant, she could not take it anymore. What are her choices now before the tribunal? Because she married according to the Sharia, in the eyes of her community and family, her divorce has to be in accordance with the Sharia too or else it will not be legitimate!
Proponents go on to say that the tribunal costs less and takes less time. During a recession, these two excuses may be acceptable for the government and its right-wing parties. They may think that whatever reduces costs of social services, health care, education and social justice is to their advantage but what would the consequences of these low costs be? And who will pay the price? How much damage will it do to humanity? It is not their problem. The above two ‘solutions’ are exactly the same as letting an unskilled layperson do heart surgery on patients in order to reduce the cost of paying a skilled heart surgeon; the percentage of survivors in this case is obvious. Or discharging a sick patient right after her critical operation in order to bring down the costs of the hospital or to be able to shorten the process of recovery!! If this is not inhuman, then what is it?
My point is why should Muslim women pay a heavy price to bring down costs? If the cost of courts are high and the process is long because of its bureaucracy, then it is everyone’s duty to fight it and make sure that the justice system is fair and affordable for everyone, while remaining secular and modern.
And finally, we often hear people saying, this is not your problem; why do you care? This is what Muslim women want. Modern society is not built of different clans and tribes that can make their own laws and practice it without affecting others. A modern, secular society has its own norms and standards. We have gained them by going through harsh struggles over many years. The rights to live, education, health, to socialise and have a social life, and all other rights such as the rights of gays and lesbians and children, etc. make up the society’s standards and norms. The disturbance of any will affect others. For example, it is not acceptable to physically discipline children. In fact it is considered abuse and has legal consequences. When some Amish people claimed that it was their right to physically punish their children and had nothing to do with others as they were doing it out of love for their children, society opposed it. And we had every right to do so. It is exactly the same in the instance of the ‘right’ to have the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice. It must be opposed nationally and internationally as it will diminish our social norms and standards. In the real world, not every ‘right’ is or should be respected, such as the right to commit suicide, drink and drive, institutionalise male domination, gender apartheid and segregation between man and women and so on. Whether all Muslim women want it (as they falsely claim), 1,000,000 people demand it or just one does not affect the argument.
We still have many long hard challenges ahead for the separation of the state and administration from religion, ethnicity, nationalism, racism and any ideology that contradicts the absolute equality of all in civil rights and before the law. Fighting the Sharia tribunals is one important step in defending universal rights for all those living here in Canada.
The above speech was made on March 8, 2004, International Women’s Day at a panel debate organised by the International Campaign against the Sharia Court in Canada to debate the planned establishment of a Sharia Court in Ontario, Canada. The successful panel was organised by Homa Arjomand, the Campaign’s Coordinator. To join or find out more about the campaign to stop the Sharia court in Canada, contact Homa Arjomand at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the website
and sign the petition online.
This article first appeared on the Iranian Secular Society site and is republished here by permission.