Lady Cox recently proposed “The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill” to Parliament. This aims to tackle discrimination by shariah councils and introduces an imprisonable offence if anyone claims that shariah councils have legal jurisdiction in criminal law.
It is indeed a crime that Lady Cox has made no attempt to understand the workings of the shariah councils. She repeats the modern mantra that shariah law “is an inherent discrimination system which is causing real suffering to women”. Perhaps she could then explain why 90% of clients of these councils are women.
It is totally incorrect to suggest that shariah councils consider their judgements to be superior to the English Legal System. At the Islamic Shariah Council, we are concerned only with the religious aspects of divorce, such as the settlement of the dower. This is akin to couples having a religious marriage (Nikah) at the Mosque and then a civil marriage at their local Registry office. The religious marriage and divorce satisfy the religious needs of the community and do not encroach on the work of civil bodies. In many cases Muslim couples do not register their marriages and in the event of divorce, the wife is then left in an incredibly vulnerable position with no recourse to the law. Shariah councils are in the position to dissolve this marriage.
Domestic violence is just as condemned in Islam as it is in the English Legal System. If a woman suffers from such abuse and approaches the Islamic Shariah Council, she is in a strong position to obtain the divorce she seeks. The ISC does not advise abused women to return to their husbands.
In child custody issues, we advise clients to approach family courts to settle them. If both clients sign their agreement to hear the advice of the ISC, we will certainly offer such advice. It is however not a binding judgment. In most cases of divorce, it is the mothers who receive custody of their minor children anyway unless there is very strong evidence against her ability as a mother and primary carer.
We fail to understand why the issue of the testimony of a woman being half of that of a man is even mentioned in this context. Shariah councils deal with marriage and divorce, and so have no jurisdiction in such matters.
Furthermore, it is morally wrong to comment on such issues without knowledge of them. In legal disputes, Islamic courts require two male witnesses as well. A female witness in a financial case is required to have a second woman with her in a supporting role, but the primary witness will be responsible for her own testament.
Lady Cox has regurgitated common myths about the role of women in Islam in an effort to undermine the work of the shariah councils. For this she deserves little praise.
Dr. Suhaib Hasan
The Islamic Sharia Council