Muslim women oppose Sharia councils in Britain
He has lived in the UK since 1976. As a judge (qazi), he rules on legal issues that affect the daily lives of British Muslims, especially in the realms of finance, inheritance and divorce (which, he says, now constitutes the overwhelming majority of his work).
He says: “Normally the woman comes to us. This is for one simple reason: under British law both the man and woman have to apply to the court for a divorce. Under the Islamic system, the man may end the marriage if he thinks it right. It is preferable he does this in front of two witnesses, then it is a simple exercise to say: ‘I divorce you.’ The only thing we must ascertain is that he has given the dower (dowry) to the woman. This is a marriage gift from bridegroom to bride. Unless he has paid it, the man cannot get a divorce.
“When a woman applies, the process is called a khula divorce. If the husband agrees, the matter is settled, but if not, we invite both for an interview, and we do emphasise reconciliation. If she is seeking the divorce, she has to return the dower to him, if not, no divorce.”
Issues of custody raise particular problems, but (unlike English law), the Sharia stipulates that male children are permitted to choose between their mother or father at the age of seven. For female children, the age is 14 (when Islam deems them to be ‘responsible’).
Dr Hasan says he would like two further Sharia principles to be incorporated into ‘British law’: The first is the dower. The second is for the 12 existing Sharia councils to be recognised as mediation bodies and for the British courts to ‘enforce their decisions’. He reasons that this ‘would ease the pressure on the British legal system (because) at least one section of the community would be taking a little of the burden upon itself’.
Quite so, Dr Hasan. But what of Muslim women who are not content with your ability to ‘enforce’ rulings in which women are manifestly not treated as equal to me?
A very brave Muslim woman, Kavita Ramdya , has written in response:
Sir, I shudder to think of the repercussions for Muslim women if British law recognises decisions made by Sharia councils. Sharia law dictates that when a woman requests a divorce and the husband disagrees, the judge will “emphasise reconciliation” and “she has to return the dower to him”, whereas a man can divorce his wife by simply repeating “I divorce you” in front of two witnesses.
Muslim women who seek divorce are subjected to an interview process, pressured to remain married and risk losing quite possibly their only financial wealth by being forced to return their dower.
In the past, it was critical that individuals marry and remain married in order to preserve the safety and stability of a clan, tribe, family fortune, or even an alliance between countries.
Since then, marriage has evolved. It is now the primary method with which to pursue happiness and fulfilment. Muslim women in Britain are cognisant of the fact that they have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.
For Sharia judges to question a woman’s motives for divorce and pressure her socially and financially to remain in an unfulfilling and possibly dangerous marriage is antiquated at best and deadly at worst. Decisions made by Sharia councils have no room in British law.
The former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir Ali, has warned us of the regressive nature of Sharia law and its irreconcilability to the English system of jurispridence. One wonders whether the Archbishop of Canterbury would agree with Dr Hasan or Kavita Ramdya.
Who now has the ultimate authority to adjudicate between them?