As Israel appears on track to have its second woman Prime Minister, things seem to being going backwards here in the U.S. We’ve learned a lot about the state of politics and the media when it comes to women here during this election season as we’ve witnessed the trashing of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin… but things aren’t looking very good in Britain, either, especially for Muslim women. And the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chief Justice aren’t helping matters much.
Last February, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a controversial statement, opined that it was inevitable that Sharia law would come to Britain:
The Archbishop of Canterbury provoked a chorus of criticism yesterday by predicting that it was “unavoidable” that elements of Islamic sharia law would be introduced in Britain.
Christian and secular groups joined senior politicians to condemn Rowan Williams’ view that there was a place for a “constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” over such issues as marriage.
Dr Williams told BBC Radio 4′s The World At One: “It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system. We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances.”
He added: “There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government had moved to accommodate some aspects of sharia law, such as stamp duty on mortgages (without special provision, the tax would be payable twice), but declared: “The Prime Minister believes British law should apply in this country, based on British values.”
–The Independent, February 8, 2008, Archbishop of Canterbury warns sharia law in Britain is inevitable
Then in July, the Lord Chief Justice chimed in:
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, strongly backed Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, over his suggestion earlier this year that aspects of sharia should be adopted in Britain.
The archbishop’s remarks sparked a national debate and led to calls for his resignation.
Risking inflaming that controversy again, Lord Phillips has said that Muslims in Britain should be able to use sharia to decide financial and marital disputes.
The judge did add that only the criminal courts should have the power to decide when a crime has been committed and when to impose punishment.
But his suggestion that different religious groups should run their affairs according to different rules sparked warnings that community cohesion could be undermined.
Now, The Daily Express, The Times of London, The Telegraph, and The Brussels Journal are all reporting that Sharia law has already been operating in Britain. All these publications are conservative, but facts are facts. The Daily Mail has a particularly good summary of the entire situation.
From The Times of September 14, 2008:
ISLAMIC law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.
The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.
Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court.
Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.
It has now emerged that sharia courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, whose Muslim Arbitration Tribunal runs the courts, said he had taken advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996.
Under the act, the sharia courts are classified as arbitration tribunals. The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case.
Siddiqi said: “We realised that under the Arbitration Act we can make rulings which can be enforced by county and high courts. The act allows disputes to be resolved using alternatives like tribunals. This method is called alternative dispute resolution, which for Muslims is what the sharia courts are.”
The next day, the Daily Express reported on the backlash as it was revealed that Sharia Courts had already heard “more than 100 cases.”
Labour last night faced a backlash over claims the Government had quietly sanctioned powers for Sharia judges.
Last night MPs and pressure groups said the courts would divide the British legal system.
Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: “These tribunals have no place in passing binding decisions in divorce or criminal justice hearings. Far from handling more criminal cases they should be handling none at all.”
Douglas Murray, director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, said: “I think it’s appalling. I don’t think arbitration that is done by Sharia should ever be endorsed or enforced by the British state.”
Until now the rulings of Sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.
From the Telegraph:
It has also emerged that tribunal courts have settled six cases of domestic violence between married couples, working in tandem with the police investigations.
There are concerns for women suffering under the Islamic laws, which favours men. Mr Siddiqi said that in a recent inheritance dispute handled by the court in Nuneaton, the estate of a Midlands man was divided between three daughters and two sons.
The judges on the panel gave the sons twice as much as the daughters, in accordance with sharia.
Had the family gone to a normal British court, the daughters would have got equal amounts. In the six cases of domestic violence, Mr Siddiqi said the judges ordered the husbands to take anger management classes and mentoring from community elders.
There was no further punishment. In each case, the women subsequently withdrew the complaints they had lodged with the police and the police stopped their investigations.
Mr Siddiqi said that in the domestic violence cases, the advantage was that marriages were saved and couples given a second chance.
So far, no good.
Srdja Trifkovic writing in Chronicles, a Magazine of American Culture (a scholarly publication devoted to “Western Christian civilization”), discusses why the introduction of Sharia Law differs from Jewish and Catholic courts and tribunals that exist in Britain and expresses fears about the future:
Muslim activists point out that allegedly similar Jewish family courts (Bet Din) and Catholic marriage tribunals have existed in Britain for many years, but there is a major difference: such courts explicitly claim jurisdiction only over their believers, whereas according to orthodox Islamic teaching shari’a is the only legitimate law in the world, with universal jurisdiction over Muslims and non-Muslims alike. To a devout Muslim the incorporation of shari’a into British law is by no means the end of the affair. It is merely a major milestone on the road that cannot stop short of subjecting all Britons, regardless of faith, to the strictures of Allah’s commandment and Muhammad’s example. The Islamic law, the Shari’a, is not a supplement to the “secular” legal code, it is the only such code and the only basis of obligation (Kuran 4:8).
Only time will tell, of course, if the tensions between government and Sharia law that are described above will actually increase to this extent.
Britain, of course, is not the only place where there’s a push for Sharia law. Canada has had it’s own controversy, and, of course, there’s Kenya, where Obama’s “cousin” Raila Odinga is a proponent. In 2006, the Justice MInister of the Netherlands expressed being open to Sharia Law.
What about the U.S.? The Second District Court of Appeals in Texas, of all places, has adjudicated a case involving arbitration of a Sharia Law agreement which a few conservative sites like this one have seen the case as the first step onto a slippery slope; here is the actual court ruling so you can judge for yourselves. I think this is a different situation though…the judge upheld the provisions of an arbitrated contract, but the judge isn’t using Sharia to uphold the ruling and Sharia isn’t enshrined in the legal system…at least, that’s what I take away from the ruling. But it’s clear that Sharia Law is being conducted here, like everywhere else. It’s just a question of if and when pressure mounts to have it made part of the legal system in places where there are large Muslim populations here.
It seems to me that the introduction of Sharia Law could easily create a class of women with fewer rights within Britain. The question is, why should Muslim women in Britain suffer from treatment that other women in Britain do not have to experience? Would you feel comfortable witih this sort of thing here? I know I sure wouldn’t. It’s bad enough hearing cases involving women who have been subjugated by husbands or church doctrines…but having unequal treatment applied to a whole segment of the population based on religious law? Gives me the shivers..
And reminds me of “The Handmaid’s Tale“….
NOTE: For an overview on how Sharia Law is being followed in the financial world, including the U.S., see “The Zero Percent Solution” (11/4/2007) in the Boston Globe.
Information on Margaret Atwood and “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Filed under: Current Politics | Tagged: Archibishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Barack Obama, Centre for Social Coehision, Chronicles a Magazine of American Culture, Hillary Clinton, Islamic finance, Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Margaret Atwood, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Raila Odinga, Sarah Palin, Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve, Sharia Law UK, Srdja Trifkovic, sukuk, The Handmaid's Tale, U.S. Second District Court of Appeals Texas ruling & | 19 Comments »