I promised myself when I published “Mayhem” four days ago I would find something other than politics to talk about next time, and it seems to have backfired because I’ve actually found something more morbid: I’m going to discuss at length Sharia courts in the United Kingdom.
I read today in the BBC that social media increases loneliness, and I have to say this is not something I can particularly relate to: I’ve had more fun chatting with about a dozen anons on the Internet this past year than in a decade of attempting to actually talk to people in the — *shudders* — real world. They’re fun and interesting and very unique, to the extent I sometimes feel the Web has destroyed geography and distance so that misfits and introverts from all over the world can be brought together to one enclave, called up by the need to meme. The fact everyone’s identity is safe is also nice, as it makes us all more CandidTM.
One of these new friends(?), here and more immediately here, has recently disagreed with me in a Twitter conversation you’ll just have to find for yourself. This is not unusual, and shows we are both adults who can cope, but I thought the subject interesting and surprising enough to respond to in a more long-form fashion, as I am doing, in good faith, now. I don’t feel an inch of malice or ill-will or even irritation towards CursedE for being made to write this, and nor should anyone on my behalf, but I’m going to explain now as clearly as I can why Sharia courts are bad, and I want to be listened to.
Let us first define what we are dealing with. There is the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, and there is the Islamic Sharia Council (no I do not expect you to trust Wikipedia). Both are mediation organisations set up without power to enforce their decisions, and their purpose is to settle disputes in accordance with religious doctrine — specifically Sharia Law, which is sourced literally from the scripture and from fatwas issued by officials. It’s complicated and impacts everything from finance to divorce, and there’s a lot of people who believe it. We have an interest in both, but the first organisation deals much more with finance and commercial disputes, while the Islamic Sharia Council is more busy with the kind of family arguments we’re focussing on. We’re unsure how many there are, which should be a worry immediately, but the most commonly cited number I found was thirty major councils, and I tracked it to this research paper.
Here’s the problem with Sharia Law: it’s disgusting. The purpose of this post is not to argue that, and I don’t feel physically up to it anyway; I’m here today to demonstrate why the British courts that try to enforce it are contemptible and need to be shut down in their own right.
Let’s start with this testimony by a Pakistani-born British Muslim. I want you to read the whole thing — all of it. I did. This is the reality of how these courts operate. Sharia is a blindingly oppressive, sexist and generally filthy political (for it is political) program that does little other than assert the dominance of men. In case anyone was too lazy:
Another Imam, a close family friend of ours, told us that Lubna would have to seek a khula (divorce) from a Sharia court. I vehemently disagreed and cited the cases of several Muslim women I had known who had been divorced in the English courts without any need for a religious divorce. These women had since remarried too. The imam said the mosques had failed in their duty and that these women would go to hell as they were committing zina (adultery) and producing haram children. I reluctantly agreed to speak to Lubna.
We appeared before the Sharia court. The whole process in the Sharia court at Regents Park mosque was shocking. Lubna was dismissed every time she spoke; I was treated very disrespectfully every time I tried to intervene. They were not interested in anything we had to say, not even the real risks that my ex-son-in-law posed to his children let alone to my daughter. He had beaten my grandson a few years earlier and split his head open. He still has scars on his face.
And that isn’t even all of it, or the worst of it. How about what happened here? Or this? Or all of these? This woman was treated like dirt by the people legislating so much of her life because that is what they believe is the proper way. This was not a British court, and Sharia is supposedly inferior to British law. That is not what happens in reality. It’s a pipe dream. She lost custody rights because a handful men who thought she was their property, without any kind of judicial legitimacy, decided it. Click on all of those links, CursedE — all of them — and explain to me why you think these places should exist. These courts perpetuate a kind of life we left behind many hundreds of years ago — a barbaric culture composed in a desert a millennia ago that might actually have the systematic purpose of stripping the woman, the infidel and the disabled of all of their agency and submitting them to violent and self-obsessed husband when they are barely into the double age digits. Why is something allowed to be vile if its “their culture”? (I know you never said that but you seem to think it). Try to think for a moment of the pressure on these people, in their self-segregated, totally isolated religious communities. Imagine for a moment you were my wife and decided to divorce me; you can do it legally, but you can’t in the religion, and it’s not like you’re gonna move away because you probably can’t speak English.
Do you understand the problem now? Does it need to be spelt out more simply? Do you grasp the reality of what is happening? You tell me you want to end segregation — this is how. It will exist for as long as they have their own legal system, de facto even if it is not de jure. And the fact they are using this legal system in particular is uniquely problematic, to reclaim an overused word. Call me a hypochondriac, but I think acceptance here qualifies as abandoning all of those people. States do not abandon their citizens, not for the colour of their skin nor the wording of their creed — right? I’m quite willing to trample on their beliefs to keep that phrase ringing true, if I do say so.
Fuck me. I’m sorry, genuinely; but I’m not deleting that paragraph. This just makes me angry — #LiterallyShaking, in fact. Look — people are quite entitled to believe what they want; I would never legislate either thought or expression. What I want is equality under the law. Can you tell me Muslim communities in Britain have that?
This article talks about a government investigation — which should convince you this behaviour is the rule and not the exception — but what it doesn’t say is that there are plenty of human rights and women’s groups boycotting it because it’s looking like a farce. An excerpt:
There is considerable evidence to show how these parallel religious ‘legal’, mediation and arbitration systems operate in ways that violate the fundamental principles of protection, equality and non-discrimination in respect of women’s rights in relation to marriage, divorce, children, property and inheritance. See for example: “Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK” by Elham Manea published in May 2016, which documents the harmful and even life threatening consequences for vulnerable minority women who are denied the right to equality before the law.
Precisely for these reasons, we had welcomed the ‘independent review’, believing it to be a genuine attempt to look at the work of Sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals in the UK in the context of rising religious extremism and fundamentalism and its impact on the human rights of black and minority women. Nevertheless it is evident from the limited terms of reference and the makeup of the review panel that the review is in danger of becoming seriously compromised and as such, we fear that it will command little or no confidence.
“We fear that it will command little or no confidence”. Take a good long look at the signatories who put their name to that letter and to that statement: