Sharia courts in Britain are doing nothing to report domestic abuse and are trapping women in “marital captivity”, an academic with close access to the courts has said.
The judges at Sharia courts do everything possible to stop women leaving their husbands, even if they are abusive, and tell couples that civil divorce “counts for nothing”, according to research by Machteld Zee, a legal scholar given unprecedented access to Sharia hearings.
The Independent reports that during her research, she witnessed a judge laughing at a woman who was abused by her husband and asking her: “Why did you marry such a person?”
She also saw a woman “ready to burst into tears” when a court sent her away after her husband took out a loan in her name and refused to allow her to divorce him until she paid £10,000.
In another case, a judge told a couple “the secular divorce counts as nothing” when they asked if the woman had been validly divorced from her previous husband.
Ms Zee’s findings are due to be unveiled in Parliament next month, and are based on 15 hours of hearings at the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton, East London, and the Birmingham Central Mosque Sharia. She observed more than a dozen cases and interviewed several Islamic scholars, including nine Sharia judges.
“There are, in fact, two separate legal orders functioning [in the UK], of which one currently operates in the ‘shadow of the law’,” she says.
The Islamic Sharia Council is disputing her findings.
The findings are likely to intensify debate about the rise of Sharia in British society. The courts do not have the authority to overrule civil courts, but they can issue religious divorce certificates and give advice on Islamic law.
In July, Britain’s first female Sharia judge said that the government “cannot ask Muslims not to have more than one wife”.
Aina Khan said there was a growing trend of “secret polygamy” in Muslim communities in Britain. “Probably a quarter of all couples I see involve polygamy issues. There has been a huge rise in recent years because people can have a secret nikah [Islamic marriage] and no one will know about it.”
Women who enter into marriages under Islamic law often believe they are still protected by UK law, but they in fact receive few legal protections, such as protection of assets in divorce cases.