Islamism & Multi-culturalism: A United Camp against Universal Human Rights in Canada

In my speech, I will argue against the Islamic tribunals and will discuss how the Islamic Sharia law brutally violates human and women’s rights. I will try to demonstrate how Islamism and multi – culturalism are a united camp against universal human rights in Canada. At the end, I will emphasise the urgency of stopping the Islamic tribunals in Canada.

As we all know, Islamists in Canada have recently set up an Islamic Institute of Civil Justice to oversee tribunals that would arbitrate family disputes and other civil matters between people from Muslim origin on the basis of the Islamic Sharia law. This is the first time in any western country that the medieval precepts of the Sharia have been given any validity. One can imagine that the Islamists will use this as a lever to work for similar recognition in many other western countries. After all, if Canada is prepared to recognise Sharia law in this way why not every other country in the west.

This move is yet another effort by Islamists to impose the barbaric Sharia law, but this time on the people in the west. This move belongs to political Islam, a major force that has brutally suppressed people’s rights and freedom in general and women’s rights in particular in the Middle East. It is a political movement that came to the fore against the secular and progressive movements for liberation and egalitarianism in the Middle East. In Iran, the Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Islamic regimes proceeded to transform women’s homes into prison houses, where confinement of women, their exclusion from many fields of work and education, and their brutal treatment became the law of the land.

Sadly and unfortunately, the setting up of the Sharia tribunals in Canada will be given validity, due to the reactionary politics of multi-culturalism. This is yet another fruit of a policy that causes fragmentation; apartheid based legal system and racism. Of course, this politics of fragmentation and apartheid suits the purpose of Islamists best. Mr. Mohamed El Masry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, has argued that Canada needs “a multiplicity of laws” to accommodate different groups when their moral standards clash. Mr. El Masry says the tribunals, which would include imams, elders and lawyers, will provide Muslims with the means to settle civil disputes out of court according to their beliefs.

Advocates for the Islamic tribunals have argued that one of the beauties of free and open societies in the west is their flexibility. But the very same ‘flexibility” provides the Islamists with the opportunity to impose their own rigid and oppressive rules on a specific community in the society. Mr. Momtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims, and a leading proponent of the Islamic tribunals has said: “It – the Islamic tribunal – offers not only a variety of choices, but shows the real spirit of our multicultural society,” The very same Mr. Ali also says: “…On religious grounds, a Muslim who would choose to opt out … would be guilty of a far greater crime than a mere breach of contract – and this would be tantamount to blasphemy or apostasy”. You are aware that blasphemy and apostasy are among the worst crimes in Islam, in many countries punishable by death.

This project is against the equality of all citizens before the law, regardless of race, religion or gender. Such equality does not exist under the Islamic Sharia law. Sharia tribunals effectively establish a parallel legal system based on religion, which I believe will lead to an apartheid-based legal system. The principles of individual freedom and equality before the law should take precedence over any collective goals that members of a particular group might claim for themselves.

Many people from Muslim origin will be pressured into accepting arbitration by the Islamic Institute on matters of civil and family law. This presents a serious problem for the rights of particularly women living in Canada. The decisions of the tribunal will be final and binding and will be upheld by the Canadian courts. The Institute will be applying Islamic Sharia law which is totally against impartiality of the legal systems. For example, a woman’s testimony under the Sharia counts only as half that of a man. So in straight disagreements between husband and wife, the husband’s testimony will normally prevail. In questions of inheritance, whilst under Canadian law sons and daughters would be treated equally, under the Sharia daughters receive only half the portion of sons. If the Institute were to have jurisdiction in custody cases, the man will automatically be awarded custody once the children have reached an age of between seven and nine years. Given this inequality it is particularly worrying that there will be no right of appeal to the Canadian courts. The principle being that if both parties in a dispute willingly submit to Islamic arbitration, they can’t complain when they lose.

The problem here is the word “willing”. Too many women from Muslin origin living in the west still live in Islamic and patriarchal environments where the man’s word and pressure from the community is law. It will take a brave woman to defy her husband, and to refuse to have her dispute settled under Islamic law when her refusal could be equated with hostility to the religion and apostasy. To this is added the problem that going to a Canadian court will take longer and cost more. There is no reason however why arbitration service under Canadian law could not be used instead. 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 have fought for centuries.

In virtually every western country with a sizeable Muslim minority there is pressure from Islamists for a separate civil and criminal law. They seek to establish their own state to oppress people, legally and officially. There must be no state within a state. Yet this is precisely the objective that the Islamic advocates are pursuing. They argue that it is their duty as good Muslims to work for precisely this end. And this end precisely leads to more forced marriages, more honour killings, more Islamic schools, more FGM-s done secretly, and more harassment and intimidation towards women and girls in ghettos.

In Islam, as Mr. Momtaz Ali has said, there is no separation between religion and the law. But in the contemporary civilisation, laws are seen as the work of man and as such can be changed in the light of changing circumstances. In Islam, the law is against universal women and human rights, but is God’s law, and change is impossible.

Islamic Sharia law should be opposed by everyone who believes in universal human rights, women’s civil rights and individual freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief and freedom from religion. Islamic law developed in the first few centuries of Islam and incorporated Middle Eastern pre – Islamic misogynist and tribal customs and traditions. We may ask how a law whose elements were first laid down over 1000 years ago can be relevant in the 21st century. The Sharia only reflects the social and economic conditions of the time of Abbasid and has grown out of touch with all the human’s social, economic, cultural and moral developments. The principles of the Sharia are inimical to human’s moral progress and civilised values.

Islamic law forcefully opposes free thought, freedom of expression and freedom of action. Accusations of impurity, of apostasy are waiting to silence any voice of dissent. Suppression and injustice shapes the lives of all free minded people. One is borne and labelled Muslim, and one is forced to stay Muslim to the end of their life. Islamic law denies the rights of women and non- – Muslim religious minorities. Non -believers are shown no tolerance: death or conversion. Jews and Christians are treated as second – class citizens.

Under the Sharia, for over two decades, millions around the world have fallen victim: countless people have been executed, beheaded, stoned to death, had their limbs cut off, flogged and maimed, bombed to pieces and routed. In countries which have proclaimed an Islamic state, such as Iran, the Sudan, Pakistan, some states in Northern Nigeria, and Afghanistan, we have already seen the pernicious effects of the Sharia.

Human rights and the Sharia are definitely and irremediably irreconcilable and antagonistic. Universal human rights are essential to ensure a certain standard of living for people across the globe. It is not acceptable to let governments and authorities away with many of the abuses by using multi – culturalism as an excuse. We cannot let multi-culturalism becomes the last refuge of repression. To accept religion as a justification for human rights abuses is to discriminate against the abused and to send the message that they are un-deserving of human rights protection.

Multi-culturalism is a cover to create a comprehensive social, legal, intellectual, emotional, and civil apartheid based on distinctions of race, ethnicity, religion and gender. This complete system of apartheid attacks women’s basic rights and freedom and justifies misogynist rule inflicted on women by Islamists. Any attempt to restrict human and women rights in the name of religion and culture, or defining freedom and equality according to different cultures and religions is racist.

Our contemporary society is far larger, diverse and complex than the small primitive tribal society in Arabia, 1400 years ago, from which Islam emerged. It is time to abandon the idea that anyone should live under the Sharia. More than ever before, people need a secular state as well as a secular society that respects freedom from and of religion, and human rights founded on the principle that power belongs to the people and not to God. It is crucial to oppose the Islamic Sharia law and to subordinate Islam to secularism and secular states.

I call upon all secularist forces and freedom-lovers to stand up and protest against the setting up of Islamic tribunals in Canada. All progressive people should make a joint effort to stop Islamism and multi – cultural politics of the Canadian authorities from violating the universal human rights and our civilised values.

Adapted from a speech delivered by Azam Kamguian at a panel discussion and debate on “The Sharia Courts & Women’s Rights in Canada”, on 7th March 2004 in Toronto – Canada, and also at a seminar in the commemoration of the International women’s day on March 14 2004, in Birmingham – U.K

Azam Kamguian is the editor of the Bulletin of the Committee to Defend Women’s Rights in the Middle East. This article was first published on the CDWRME site and is republished here by permission.

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