The British government has launched an investigation into Sharia courts in the U.K., after allegations by rights groups over “discriminatory and unacceptable” treatment of women. The groups raised particular concern over the courts legitimizing forced marriages and issuing unfair divorce settlements, offering preferential treatment for men.
There are more than 30 Islamic courts or councils operating in Britain, overseen by imams who advise on family matters and issue divorce certificates in accordance with Islamic law. The rulings are legitimate as long as they do not conflict with U.K. law.
Critics are particularly concerned about women from isolated or marginalized communities; especially those who don’t speak English or know their rights under British law. “A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man under Sharia,” activist Maryam Namazie told journalist Flora Bagenal. “Sharia judges are also on record as saying there is no such thing as marital rape.”
Namazie is requesting the government focus squarely on women’s rights in its investigation. “This is not a theological issue,” she said. “It is about basic human rights.”
Yemeni Swiss author and academic, Elham Manea, claims some of the decisions handed down by councils in the U.K. are more extreme than the courts in some parts of Pakistan, and universally represent a view that encourages male guardianship over women.
Bagenal writes that a recent survey carried out by research agency ICM found that 23 percent of British Muslims want Sharia law in the U.K.; 31 percent said it was completely acceptable for a Muslim man to have more than one wife and 39 percent said a Muslim wife should “always obey her husband.” Among the general population, only five percent agreed.
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