Inside Britain’s Sharia Courts: Battered Wives Plead with Clerics to Dissolve Abusive Marriages for Cash

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A journalist has been allowed a rare glimpse into the workings of Britain’s secretive Sharia Courts, which can preside over business, marriage, and financial disputes in the Muslim community under the Arbitration Act of 1996.

“What strikes you first is the squalid nature of the women’s stories. Their husbands have beaten and abused them, they claim; lied and cheated, cavorted with prostitutes, become addicted to drugs. One weeping wife even accuses her spouse of molesting her infant child,” reports David Jones in an article for the Daily Mail.

Jones describes how, “after much negotiation”, he was able to persuade a Sharia council in Birmingham to let him observe it in action as a “procession of downtrodden women” came to plead for the dissolution of their Islamic marriages “in a windowless chamber in the city’s huge Central Mosque” — in exchange for a £300 fee.

Just how many courts of this kind are operating in Britain is unknown, with Reading University estimating around 30 and  the Civitas think-tank estimating around 85 — but the Government has conceded they pose a danger to Britain’s social cohesion, “[keeping] many Muslims isolated, entrenched and with little social stake in wider British citizenship and life.”

Many Muslim women find themselves forced to turn to these courts because their husbands do not supplement their Islamic marriages with civil marriages — which would give wives more rights in the secular courts, and prevent husbands from taking extra spouses without breaking the law on bigamy.

Jones clearly has some sympathy with the people operating the Birmingham court, claiming their “compassion was undeniable” — at least compared to the powerful Dewsbury court, said to be influenced by the Saudi brand of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam, chaired by the grandfather of Britain’s youngest convicted terrorist, and possessing “a reputation for delivering hardline and misogynistic judgments.”

Nevertheless, Jones had to concede that the Birmingham court is highly atypical, being chaired by a woman thought to be Britain’s only female Sharia judge — and still appears to harbour “disturbing” attitudes, with the reporter noting how an elderly male judge asked one woman if she would consider returning to a criminal husband who had sexually abused her child.

Further questions are presented when Jones describes another ‘progressive’ court based in Bradford, operated by a young religious teacher with a Kashmiri background named Harun Subhaalni.

His claim to offer “a modern alternative to the brand of Sharia handed down in Dewsbury” was undermined when Jones discovered a post on the court’s Facebook page — later deleted — which asserted that it is “an essential right of man over his wife to be obeyed… If a husband calls his wife to his bed but the latter refuses to fulfil the call (for any reason other than a lawful one) which drives the man to be upset with his wife, then the angels will curse such a wife until she gets up in the morning.”

Subhaalni claimed that the post was written by a stand-in while he was off sick, but it seems notable that, according to Jones, he charges women £300 for a divorce, while male petitioners have their cases heard for free.

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