Should America welcome Islamic law? Voters in Oklahoma banned it last year. Other states have considered it. Diversity proponents say we should not fear — that we should embrace what other cultures bring to us.
Across Britain, Muslims now can apply to weekly Islamic “sharia” courts for rulings on family and financial issues.
“While these courts may be the cornerstone of many of Britain’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, there are growing concerns that they are creating a parallel legal system – and one that is developing completely unchecked,” writes Jonathan Wynne-Jones in the British daily the Telegraph:
After being beaten repeatedly by her husband – who had also threatened to kill her – Jameela turned to her local Sharia council in a desperate bid for a way out of her marriage. Today she discovers the verdict. Playing nervously with her hands, the young mother-of-three listens as the panel of judges discuss whether they should grant her a divorce.
The council meets once a month at the Birmingham Central Mosque. Many of the cases relate to divorce and involve the husbands and wives entering the room separately to make their appeals.
In an airless room in the bowels of the mosque, Jameela is asked to explain why she wants a divorce. She replies that her husband spends most of his time with his second wife – Islamic law allows men to have up to four wives – but complains he is abusive whenever he returns to her home.
Across the desk, Dr Mohammed Naseem, chair of the mosque’s Sharia council, sits alongside Talha Bokhari, a white-robed imam, and Amra Bone, the only woman sitting on an Islamic court in this country.
While a husband is not required to go through official channels to gain a divorce – being able to achieve this merely by uttering the word “talaq” – Islamic law requires that the wife must persuade the judges to grant her a dissolution.
Although the judges appear sympathetic, they are concerned about the rights of the father, as Islamic law says he is still responsible for his children’s education. “For the sake of the children, you must keep up the façade of cordial relations,” says Dr Naseem. “The worst thing that can happen to a child is to see the father and mother quarrelling.”
Jameela is one of hundreds of Muslims applying to Islamic courts every week for a ruling on family and financial issues. While these courts may be the cornerstone of many of Britain’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, there are growing concerns that they are creating a parallel legal system – and one that is developing completely unchecked.
Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester who was born in Pakistan, was accused of scaremongering after he said, in this newspaper three years ago, that parts of the country were being turned into “no-go” areas for non-Muslims. “To understand the impact of Sharia law you have to look at other countries,” he says. “At its heart it has basic inequalities between Muslims and non-Muslims, and between men and women.”
Last month, Islamic extremists put up posters in the London boroughs of Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Newham, warning residents that they were entering a “Sharia-controlled zone” where Islamic rules were enforced and gambling, alcohol and music was banned. The posters were later removed by police.
Alan Craig, a former Newham councillor who has lived in the area for 30 years, recalls that last September, staff at a local primary school assured Muslim parents that they would ensure their children observed Ramadan by refusing them food and drink –