Theresa May has claimed Muslims in Britain “benefit greatly” from Sharia law as she launched plans for an “independent inquiry,” headed by a Muslim and guided by two “leading imams,” into whether some of the controversial courts’ judgements are at odds with British gender equality laws.
The proposed review will investigate whether Sharia law is being “misused” and “exploited” to discriminate against women in Islamic courts in the UK, according to the Home Secretary.
A regular voice on Radio 4’s Thought For The Day, Professor Mona Siddiqui, billed on the slot as an expert in Islamic theology, will chair the inquiry looking into whether or not Sharia courts have broken British laws on gender equality, The Telegraph reported.
So as to reassure Muslims, unelected Home Office minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon issued a ministerial statement promising the review will in no way look into the legality of the courts, saying Sharia law is “a source of guidance” for Muslims in the UK.
The panel doing the review includes retired high court judge Sir Mark Hedley, specialist family lawyer Anne Marie Hutchinson and, in addition to Ms. Siddiqui, three other Muslims have been named in the line up. These are barrister Sam Momtaz and “leading imams” Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi and Qari Asim, who will advise the panel on religious and theological issues relating to aspects of Sharia law and how it is applied.
Mrs. May stated: “Many British people of different faiths follow religious codes and practices, and benefit a great deal from the guidance they offer.
“A number of women have reportedly been victims of what appear to be discriminatory decisions taken by Sharia councils, and that is a significant concern.
“There is only one rule of law in our country, which provides rights and security for every citizen.
“Professor Siddiqui, supported by a panel with a strong balance of academic, religious and legal expertise, will help us better understand whether and the extent to which Sharia law is being misused or exploited and make recommendations to the Government on how to address this.”
Critics took to social media to lambaste the inquiry for “legitimising” Sharia courts, the most prominent beings the National Secular Society who implied that as long as the courts exist in this country, Muslim women will be discriminated against.
As long as sharia councils exist, minorities within minorities + women will face pressure to use religious 'courts'. https://t.co/MmBbFguJX3
— National Secular Society (@NatSecSoc) May 26, 2016
Baroness Cox, a cross-bench peer who spearheaded a Parliamentary drive to rein in unofficial Sharia courts, said there was a danger the inquiry could be a “distraction” from the urgency of tackling discrimination. She said: “I think the Government may well say ‘let’s wait until the results of the investigation’ but we need action now.
“My reservation is that it won’t get to the root of the problem. A lot of Muslim women I know say that the men in their communities just laugh at this proposed investigation, that they will go underground so the investigation will have to be very robust.”
The peer also slammed Mrs. May’s insistence that discrimination against women is due to “misuse” of Sharia teaching rather than the teaching itself. Baroness Cox said she’s a supporter of religious freedoms and compared the Muslim period of fasting — Ramadan — to Lent (a period before Easter in which Christians either choose to go without things that are important to them, or fast), but condemned aspects of Islam related to its religious laws.
Ms. Cox said: “I believe in freedom of religion and I believe that there are aspects of Sharia law that are totally unproblematic.
“If Muslims want to fast, well Christians do that at Lent, if they want to pray five times a day, that’s more than I do.
“But the aspects which are causing such concerns — such as that a man can divorce his wife by saying ‘I divorce you’ three times — that is inherent, the right to ‘chastise’ women is inherent, polygamy is inherent.
“I don’t think those things are a distortion or Sharia law. These are aspects of Sharia law which are unacceptable.”
Family law specialist Kaleel Anwar said Sharia law is based on “total equality and fairness for all,” the Oxford Mail reported. The London-based lawyer added in a statement that “the issue here is not the law – the law has pretty much nothing to do with it”.
The Home Secretary and Mr. Anwar’s comments came at the same time as the Washington Post reported that the Council of Islamic Ideology, the constitutional body that makes religious rulings for the Pakistani government, ruled that husbands can “lightly” beat their wives.