The whole system is stacked against women

The Independent on sharia courts in the UK, via Machteld Zee, a Dutch researcher who did her PhD on the subject.

“The judges were very friendly,” she says. “We chatted between cases. The problem is not that they were mean but the foundation of their judice acts in a system of sharia Islamic law, in which the principle focus is making women dependent on their husbands and clerics.

“One judge said: ‘Under Islam, we should reconcile marriages even if there is violence’. They don’t care. It was shocking:

they would have you cling to a marriage.

“There are also unfair custody statements. The woman has no idea this is a religious institution and she should go to a secular court [for her children’s interests] – and once she finds out, a British judge won’t switch parents after a few months.

“But in 2001, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that sharia law is incompatible with liberal democracy.”

In a sidebar, the Indy quotes a horrifying passage of dialogue:

One case Zee witnessed, at the Islamic Sharia Council in London, involved a married couple with children, who asked if the woman’s first civil divorce was recognised religiously. It included the following exchange:

Qadi: “You as a Muslim female, you should have known that you need a Muslim judge or an Islamic court or council for a divorce. Who told you that it was enough?”

Wife: “My friends and family. The UK divorce does not count as anything?”

Qadi: “It is going to be a difficult case. We are going to ask our scholars to give you the answers… Marriage is an act of worship”.

Husband: “But I thought Muslims in a non-Muslim country need to abide by the laws of the land of the country they live in?”

Qadi: “A secular judge does not do religious divorces. We have Islam. Secular courts do not have Islamic laws. Can a kaffir [non-Muslim] come in and judge Islamic matters?”

He told them something that’s not true – or, to put it another way, they were talking at cross-purposes. The couple don’t need a sharia divorce, and they do need to abide by the laws of the land of the country they live in. The qadi is talking in the language of a cleric, from the point of view of a bossy, coercive religion. Yes, a “kaffir” can give a secular divorce to a Muslim couple, it’s just that the qadi doesn’t like it.

Her book Choosing Sharia? is based on the 15 hours of cases that she saw at the council in London and another at Birmingham Central Mosque Sharia Council, alongside her extensive research into sharia law and other reports on sharia councils. She also investigated the Jewish Beth Din religious court, where she interviewed two judges.

Ms Zee’s analysis is blistering: these courts all treat women as less than equal and are incompatible with human rights law.

The Indy quotes a woman who works in a sharia court and says that’s all nonsense.

Some campaigners feel even more strongly than Ms Zee. On Thursday 10 December, the International Day of Human Rights, groups including One Law For All will deliver a petition of more than 200 signatories to 10 Downing Street calling for the government “to dismantle parallel legal systems.”

They say that with cuts to legal aid and funding for women’s groups, vulnerable women – who might be taking their first steps away from an abusive relationship – are even more likely to go to sharia councils where those like Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation’s Diana Nammi believe: “The whole system is stacked against women”.

Supporters of multiculturalism are reluctant to criticise sharia law, says Ms Zee.

Take a bow, Goldsmiths Student Union and Feminist Society and LGBTQ+ Society.

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