Sharia Courts Are A Human Rights Scandal

Writing in The Freethinker secular activist Maryam Namazie makes the case against Sharia Law.

It is a human rights scandal that Sharia “courts” exist in Britain; it’s where the greatest abuses of minority women takes place.

For example, under Sharia rules, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s; a man can have four wives and divorce his wife by simple repudiation, whereas a woman has limited rights to divorce; child custody reverts to the father at a preset age, even if the father is abusive; and marital rape is not considered a crime.

Though there is no official Sharia and practice varies in different countries, Islamists believe “in the imposition of ‘God’s law’, something called the Sharia”, according to author Karima Bennoune.

Whilst opposition to the “courts” by black and minority women is absurdly portrayed as a denial of the right to religion, it is fundamentally about challenging the Islamist project, one aspect of which is imposition of the Sharia in the form of courts.

What’s often ignored is that Sharia bodies have grown out of an Islamist agenda; the first council was established in 1982 in Leyton with clear connections with transnational Islamist groups. Author Elham Manea says:

For example, according to its website, the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton was founded by several organisations that have known affiliations with political and societal Islamism: Jamaat-e-Islami (UK Islamic Mission), Muslim Brotherhood (Muslim Welfare House), and global Wahhabi Islam (Muslim World League). Some of those working in the council as ‘judges’ belong to Salafi Islam (such as Haitham Al Haddad) and to Ahl Al Hadith, the Salafis of South Asia (such as Dr Suhaib Hasan). According to the 1995 Channel 4 Dispatches documentary War Crimes File, the head of this council, Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, was a senior member of the Al-Badr Squad – a paramilitary offshoot of the Jamaat-e-Islami – which served as Pakistan’s death squad in 1971 during Bangladesh’s War of Independence.
Rather than being about the right to religion, Sharia bodies are about power and control over women. Also, Sharia bodies are highly contested, including by many Muslims, not just in Britain, but internationally.

The British government has mainly ignored the Islamist links and women’s rights violations whilst simultaneously continuing to promote the outsourcing of justice for minority women to a second-rate system.

The government’s main arguments are that these bodies are not courts, women who “choose” to go to them for “mediation” should have a “right” to do so, women “benefit a great deal” from them, and that those who need to can always seek justice in a civil court. But it’s not so simple.

Sharia bodies are clearly parallel legal systems though they misrepresent themselves as non-binding mediation bodies. The term Sharia itself means law. The bodies are set up as courts. Those presiding call themselves judges and issue what is considered by the judges, women themselves and the wider community as binding religious law.

Given the undue control and power judges have on women (many of whom are vulnerable or survivors of some form of violence), the voluntary nature of the courts are a sham. Testimonies gathered by campaigners reveal the pressures and coercion involved. In fact, the Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation argues that the “court” process itself amounts to abuse and psychological harm.

Moreover, refusing to attend or abide by rulings can be seen to be tantamount to apostasy making it all the more difficult for vulnerable women to secure their rights. Finally, even if some women “choose” to go to the courts, it doesn’t mean that rights violations do not take place.

Nearly 20 years ago, women’s rights campaigners from 18 countries warned that:

Fundamentalist ideologies and movements can transform themselves from a mere presence in a society – appearing as but one of the many ‘options’ for religious observance or affiliation – into a source of compulsion and, ultimately violation.

This is the situation we find ourselves in today – not only in Britain but in many countries across the globe.

Multiculturalism as a social policy, homogenisation of the “Muslim community”, cuts in legal aid, the outsourcing of justice to religious arbitration, the appeasement of political Islam and its conflation with “Muslims” are some of the factors behind what Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters calls Shariafication-by-Stealth.

Unfortunately, a much awaited inquiry into Sharia bodies is nothing more than a whitewash and will further legitimise and strengthen them. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the government seems still more concerned with defending religion and the religious-Right, than women’s and citizenship rights.

This is unacceptable.

Minority women must be treated as independent persons with citizenship and human rights – not extensions of “their community” or religious leaders and imams. Isn’t it time the same principles of human rights and equality before the law apply to everyone?

Nothing less must do.


  1. They will say the "Courts" are entirely voluntary, and Sharia Law includes praying five times a day, and giving to charity.They will use all the terms Western audiences think they understand, like mercy,justice, restitution too,with us little realizing the what they actually mean translated through the Arabic looking glass.
    If I was involved in this field,I would take a step back,Remove the legalese aspect that allows people to claim ignorance or room for Muslim obfuscation. I would focus on Mohammeds life and practices. Im totally convinced unbaised people will be horrified by what they find, then things like Sharia Courts and FGM, and the sordid rest of it will be actively opposed.

  2. I think with the government's policy and focus on further legal aid cuts they would hope more people would avail of Sharia courts regardless of the long term consequences.

  3. I don't see how these courts can be banned. I think the best that can be done is to restrict their remit and status. They should have no more power of legal enforcement than the priest in a confession box. The priest can forgive whatever he wants in his box but it has no relevance to society. I think there is a parallel with the veil - what can be said to those who decide to wear it? Those of us who insist on a woman's right to choose are not in a a good position to deny her a right to choose if she wants to wear a veil of the niqab or hijab type.

    I think Christy is probably right about the way this is going and the reasons behind it.

  4. AM, again you seek to draw an analogy with the Church. The confession box is not remotely the same in purpose as Imams in Sharia Courts. When do people come out of a confession box with instruction how to divide a dead persons estate? This distinction matters because it shape s our response.
    And we allow legislation on what people wear everyday: you can't wear full face bike helmets in a bank or the stand in court for example.BDSM gear wouldn't be allowed on teachers in kid schools etc

  5. DaithiD,

    I drew no analogy with the Church. I said that the power of the Sharia court should be no more than the power of the confessional. A person can come out of a confession box having been told not to distribute condoms as a means to prevent AIDS. But the priest can have no power of enforcement. It should be the same for Sharia.

    I think society should prohibit full face covering in public. And that would mean the Burka and the KKK mask for example. But the same can hardly be said for a niqab or hijab. The latter covers the hair while the niqab is worn pretty much as people wear scarves in cold weather - covering the mouth area.

    If society is to ban this type of dress mode in public then it has also to ban the habit worn by nuns. I see no reason for banning any religious clothing that is not used for the purposes of concealing identity.

    More beneficial than banning would be if people stopped worshipping murderous deities.

  6. Oh so not connected with your apparent need to mention Catholicism every time Islam is mentioned. And this one time, at band camp...

  7. DaithiD,

    Islam and Catholicism are pigs of the same sow, so to speak. Variants of the one belief in invisible men. It is hardly incongruous to refer to different types of fantasy particularly if one set of worshippers of a murderous deity lash out at another set of worshippers of a murderous deity on the grounds that they worship a murderous deity.

    Do you disagree that Sharia should have no more power or status than the confessional?

  8. AM, I am cautious in so far as a religious practice exerts itself on others. I believe confession to be a personal act, Sharia includes governance of beievers and non believers. I won't assign one as more powerful than the other as its quite a profound concept.

  9. DaithiD,

    It was not so very long ago that Catholicism was doing the exact same things that Islam is doing right now. If someone draws parallels it is for very good reasons.

    Look at how the 'Church' grew in South America alone. It cut a bloody swathe through all the indigenous heathens it found there using the same bloody techniques it used in Europe.

    If you want to practice a religion be my guest, just keep it out of the schools, government, law and order systems and orphanages.

    There is nothing as divisive as religion.

  10. for the series - truth is stronger than fiction!!

  11. DaithiD,

    a priest can tell a person in the confessional that if they continue to distribute condoms as a means to save life, they are not behaving as a good Catholic and cannot be forgiven. How is that not an attempt to govern people's behaviour? If the priest was only telling the person to say three Hail Marys and do four handstands, that would be personal and would have no impact on anybody else. Denying condoms has a major impact on the lives of others.

    So is it your position that the power of the Sharia Court should be no more enforceable or binding than the power of the confessional?

  12. AM,you can approach this how you like in the censorship free environment you promote, but if the problem with Sharia is even a fraction as serious as Maryam (and others) insists, it will require a broad church to confront it.I dont see how trying to find hypocrisy in others helps towards that end. Lets assume I am a hypocrite or a bad Catholic. What does this say about Sharia Law? Nothing. How does it assist those suffering its rulings? It doesnt. There are many other bodies that deal with Catholicism and its encroachment on civil life, ive seen the womens protest about abortion recently,it focussed rightly on the Church because this is where is problem is found even though Islam has the same view. If we cant actually focus on the issue at hand, nothing usable will come from it,and this becomes another missed opportunity.

  13. DaithiD,

    and still you don't answer the question.

    Should the power of Sharia be on a par with that of the confessional or not? Would it not be advantageous to society to reduce the status of Sharia to the status of the confessional? It is a very simple question.

    It is not about you being a hypocrite or a bad Catholic, it is about trying to get you to think about the validity of any criticism you make from a Catholic perspective. You claim that the problems we discuss are an outworking of the text whereas Christy seems to take the view that what matters is how the texts are practiced. I think his is a much more sober perspective. When it is suggested to you that your own sacred texts are just as murderous you opt for evasion rather than dealing with the matter.

  14. AM,Ive never heard the accusation of confessional booths being a substitute for the judicial system, which is what is being leveled at Sharia Courts here, so I can only indulge the pant shitting inanity so far. But in general, out of the two of us, I have dealt directly with the authors piece, what then should be classed as the critical evasion?
    How are Sharia Courts administered? As is written in the texts! And this is even leaving aside Hudud laws like hand chopping etc. It is written that a females view is worth half that of a mans, if this is to be abandoned, explain how, dont just hope it happens.

  15. DaithiD,

    again you find difficulty in answering the question you were asked.

    The accusation is not that the confessional booth is being used as a substitute for the judicial system. So for that reason do you agree with the power of the Sharia court being reduced to that of the confessional booth? What would be wrong with Sharia Law were it to have no more power of enforcement than the confessional booth?

    You have not dealt directly with the author's piece at all. Whereas I feel I have expressed dissent from Maryam on the question of banning Sharia Courts and the wearing of the veil. So the critical evasion is all you own and the critical engagement mine.

    If Sharia law is administered as it is in the texts (and I have heard very little of one handed women stumbling around London) then it has to be disempowered just as Canon Law is, under which the priest could rape the child and go free.

    But even here it is not about the texts but about how the text is embraced and applied. If the murderous bible was to be applied to people we would have just the same problem.

    And if Sharia law is to be tackled we can really only do so what is does otherwise it will be yet another fruitless search for a WMD (in this case ideological) based on false premises.

    Would it be right to repress some religious practice on the basis of religious hypocrisy or on the basis of evidence?

    These are very simple questions which cut to the chase.

  16. I make no criticism from a Catholic perspective, I make no reference to any religion other than Islam. Remember Anthony,a secular society is not the same as an athiest one, it seems you are looking for reasons to exclude. You can take the boy out of the Provos, but you can't ....etc

  17. DaithiD,

    I haven't the time to waste on evasiveness.

  18. Well let others read the record of this and decide who answered whose questions even though they were off topic for reasons Ive listed and that havent been rebutted. There is a familiar pattern to these articles on Islam, apropos of nothing you will steer it onto Catholicism, and fire one question after another until the Catholic ducks out, then accuse them of evasiveness.Even when questions are answered you will "divert the diversion" onto issues of 'typos',which im guessing would of come if i answered your third point? I have to draw a line somewhere. As ive said privately, please consider whether this broadens the debate (or being charitable, just your understanding). If you seek so hard to find hypocrisy in others, you will most definitely find it, but well done you for being so consistent.

  19. Infantile mewling rather than answer the questions. Stop wasting my time.

  20. Here you two, if a woman should choose to wear both niqab and hijab does that constitute a balaclava?

  21. Niall,

    as they say about god, you know he is on your side when he hates the same people you do. Funny that, now.

  22. Niall I dont get it, the niqab is approximately the same as a hijab save for an extra cloth to cover the face, i dont know why you would combine them. The poor bints must be hot enough under them already. Its interesting how people switch from solidarity with those oppressed to placing a primacy on selfish interests, so these garments become items of personal choice and not instruments of separation mandated by religion on those unfortunate enough for this to be enforced.
    Until they are banned, then of course its all to do with religion which they must have to honor their faith and the Islamophobic West prevents them from doing so.
    And the same nodding heads will cheer with each flip flop.

  23. Niall

    I think if they chose to wear neither that would constitute shaking off one element of their shackles of oppression.

  24. Daithi,
    A lot of your concerns are valid. However, as long as you phrase them with such hatred of Islam combined with spontaneous defence of Catholicism, they cease to be logical.

  25. There is a good discussion on the subject matter between Slama Yaqoob and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

  26. Thanks David, I actually didnt defend Catholicism, I rejected this specific comparison of Sharia Courts and Confessional Booths. The difference in function between the two should be self evident. I also jumped on it because of the inability/ unwillingness of people to critique Islam without making reference to other religions. Douglas Murrays latest article identifies something similar, an LGBT Pride march after the Orland shooter had banners denouncing 'Republican Hate', but nothing to do with ideology of the shooter. So its in this context I would like my comments to be understood.

  27. AM, that link just goes to the commentisfree front page? Ive checked it on a phone and laptop.

  28. I think YAB points about the veil are the same as ive made.
    People might observe jewish men covering their head, and nuns in habits and think the veil is possibly an extension of this type of tradition.It isnt. We are paying a form jizya tax to allow these communities to set up parallel states (in the UK at least),and I would stop that before seeking any change to outlaw veils though.

  29. Daithi, I understand your comments. In my opinion all religions have a fascist element. My concern is simple, if western civilisation is to better the backwardness of certain Muslim traditions then an inability to admit obvious similarities in Western religions is counter productive. For at least you have balls enough to highlight this subject

  30. David,

    one religion criticising another on the grounds of text is laughable when all their texts are murderous. I think that goes some way to explaining the fascistic content of religion. They need the power to suppress criticism and scrutiny of their hypocrisy.

    Daithi D,

    Salma Yaqoob made the more persuasive points in the piece. I just think she is wrong on people having the right to wear face masks in public. They should have the right to the habit, kippa or hijab.