Muslim Women Deserve Better than Sharia Law
Maryam Namazie of One Law for All: "There is no place for sharia in Britain's legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere." (credit: Peter Curbishlie/Amnesty International)
The British legal system is rightly considered one of the fairest in the world. But with the growth of sharia law, a parallel system that is based on inequality and ancient religious doctrine, in towns and cities across the UK, that proud system could well be under threat.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, is seeking to enshrine sharia within the British legal system. In March, the society discreetly published guidelines, distributed to all lawyers, to "assist solicitors who have been instructed to prepare a valid will, which follows sharia succession rules" while remaining valid under British law.
Feminist campaigners Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and the secularist organisation One Law for All (OLfA) mounted a legal challenge to the Law Society on the grounds that it contravened gender equality and human rights law. The Solicitor's Regulatory Authority (SRA) agreed to withdraw its endorsement of the practice note, but the Law Society refused to do so, arguing that "no equality and diversity implications" arose from the note. The campaigners are currently taking further legal advice on the question of whether solicitors acting on the practice note might be themselves acting unlawfully.
The guidelines penalise widows, non-believers and children born outside marriage. Illegitimate and adopted children are not sharia heirs. The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class. Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised. Similarly, a divorced spouse is no longer a sharia heir, as the entitlement depends on a valid Muslim marriage existing at the date of death.
All women are adversely affected by the implementation of sharia, as it perpetuates the notion that it is reasonable to privilege men over women for no reason other than they are born male. A number of feminist, secular and human rights organisations are challenging the creeping acceptance of sharia and speaking out against the non-Muslim cultural relativists who believe that allowing some forms of sharia to operate is good for cultural harmony.
Sharia courts or councils enjoy the support of a number of non-Muslim establishment figures, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. In a 2008 interview he said: "There's a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law." It is estimated that there are currently around 85 sharia courts operating in Britain.
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