Islam, equality and inclusivity
Islamic shari’a councils are recognised as arbitration tribunals under the 1996 Arbitration Act, and are part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedure available to UK citizens. There are now around 90 such councils operating as recognised tribunals, and moves are afoot to have scores more throughout the country.
Under shari’a, men and women are not treated equally. In matters of inheritance, property division, divorce and the custody of children, shari’a law disadvantages women and they are considered inferior as witnesses: a man may easily divorce his wife whereas a woman must argue her case and undergo a lengthy legal process.
A Muslim woman seeking a divorce is subjected to an interview process aimed at keeping her married and she risks financial ruin by the obligation to return her dower.
Shari’a rules on child custody can be rigid and were described by judges in the House of Lords as ‘arbitrary and discriminatory’. In general, child custody reverts to the father at a preset age (seven for boys) no matter the circumstances or the behaviour of the father, and if a woman remarries she loses custody of her children.
If a wife refuses to agree to give the husband access to their children, even in cases of possible child abuse, the divorce is stalled until that issue is resolved.
A Family Court judge may find himself presented with an ‘agreement’ produced at a shari’a tribunal that gives custody of the children to the father which in normal circumstances the court would register and enforce. But how is he to tell if this is a truly mediated agreement or simply the woman’s resigned acquiescence in shari’a law which does not explicitly consider the interests of children?
Women inherit half what a man inherits. And, of course, a Muslim man can have up to four wives.
Under shari’a, a Muslim woman will get a decision from a tribunal far less favourable than she would get from a British court under the Crown.
Shari’a councils are entirely male: there are no female shari’a judges. Nearly a quarter of judges in UK courts are female and in magistrate courts it is half. The Islamic Shari’a Council is listed as a charity and people who seek a divorce pay a fee. For a man, it is £100; for women, it is £250 because (they say) it is more work to process a woman's application as her word has to be corroborated.
His Grace is loath to blow a hole in the happy ship of stereotype which tends to dominate the comment threads of the Blogosphere, but there are quite a few Muslims who oppose shari'a tribunals - and they're not all women. It will come as no surprise to many, of course: Islam is as diverse in cultural expression as any socio-religious construct. And the vast majority of the younger generation will not be coercing their daughters into marriage or guiding them to a career in medicine. The 'Muslim community' is not homogenous, and the more the media present it as being so, the more likely are we to foster anti-Muslim sentiment and witness attacks upon the perfectly law-abiding and patriotic.
So, instead of taking the Muslim Council of Britain as being the representative authoritative voice of Islam in the UK; instead of focusing on the separated and segregated mosques which perpetuate gender inequality (not to mention advocate the stoning of homosexuals or the flogging and beheading of adulterers), why not consider those groups of Muslims who campaign tirelessly for justice, mercy, equality and inclusivity in their local mosques? If you can be bothered to have your prejudices challenged and stereotypes disturbed, you might start with consideration of the Inclusive Mosque Initiative.
Funny how we haven't heard much about them in the mainstream media, isn't it?