Sharia law is the religious rule of Islam and deals with many topics addressed by secular law — for example crime and politics — but also marriage, divorce, sex, and child custody. In countries where sharia has official status, it is applied by Islamic judges — deeply conservative men with a vested interest in maintaining patriarchal power within Muslim communities. Under sharia, women and girls can be stoned to death for "adultery" if raped, and refused the right to divorce a violent and abusive husband.
A terrible precedent has been set. Let's hope and pray Canada does not follow suit.A glance at the many "fatwa" websites, where imams respond to questions regarding the correct way for Muslims to behave, shows how women are treated under this appalling system. Wives are routinely commanded to comply with their husband's demand for sex; told they should accept a polygamous marriage; and celebrate their low status and men's superiority.
[The Archbishop of Canturbury] Dr. [Rowan] Williams's rationale for the partial introduction of an archaic, deeply misogynistic sharia system that is in direct contradiction to Western values and law was that it would help maintain social cohesion. Muslims, he argued, could opt for marital disputes or financial matters to be dealt with in a sharia court and would not have to choose between the "stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".
Australia is now following suit and, apparently inspired by Dr Williams's stance as well as the fact that so many non-Muslim Brits appear tolerant of the presence of "sharia lite" operating alongside our formal legal system.
Sharia has been tolerated in Britain for some time. In 1996 the new Arbitration Act was introduced which gave a boost to the incorporation of sharia law in the UK. It enabled the formal recognition of agreements reached in arbitration tribunals in civil courts that resulted in Muslim Arbitration Courts (MAC) setting up in 2007. There are currently five in existence in the UK, and plans to introduce more in the future. Decisions made at the MAC are binding in UK civil law.
The majority of cases brought to these kangaroo courts involve divorce and related issues, mainly instigated by women. In all cases of domestic violence heard to date, the judges ordered the perpetrators to take "anger management" courses and dealt no punishment or deterrent. Domestic violence is a criminal offence in both the UK and Australia, and yet is dealt with as a civil matter in the sharia courts.
There is also an underground sharia system in the UK, doubtless boosted by the formal validation of the MAC. In 2009 a report by think-tank Civitas estimated that there were 85 Muslim tribunals and courts in the UK, most of which have no legal status and operate from the back rooms of mosques. Proceedings are carried out in secret, and always presided over by male community leaders — the most traditional members of the Muslim community.
The president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), Ikebal Patel recently suggested in a journal that Australia will "compromise with Islam" and allow sharia courts to rule on certain civil matters, citing the British response to sharia law as a positive approach.