Melanie Phillips: No Longer One Law For All

Sharia Courts operating in Britain

Melanie Philips:

Confusion abounds over the claim in the Sunday Times that Islamic law has been officially adopted in Britain with the government quietly giving powers under the Arbitration Acts to sharia courts to enforce their decisions. The story quoted Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, whose Muslim Arbitration Tribunal runs the courts, and who said he had taken advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996:

Under the act, the sharia courts are classified as arbitration tribunals. The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case.

Siddiqi said: ‘We realised that under the Arbitration Act we can make rulings which can be enforced by county and high courts. The act allows disputes to be resolved using alternatives like tribunals. This method is called alternative dispute resolution, which for Muslims is what the sharia courts are.’

But there’s nothing new here at all. The rulings of the sharia courts, which have been in existence for years, have always been enforceable under the Arbitration Acts, as is all dispute resolution. They have not suddenly been given the force of law. In that respect, the story seems to be overheated and misleading.

This does not, however, dispel the serious concern about the spread of sharia law and the scope of these courts. Once again, misleading comparisons have been made with the Jewish religious courts in Britain, but the big difference is that these operate wholly within English law. Anything governed by statute law – personal status issues such as marriage or divorce, or inheritance – has to conform to English law. British Jews operate under the principle that ‘the law of the land is the law’. By contrast, the sharia courts are not only ruling on precisely such personal status issues but – even more alarmingly – are dealing with criminal matters such as domestic violence. True, the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal website says

MAT is unable to deal with criminal offences as we do not have jurisdiction to try such matters in the UK

and merely tries to bring about a reconciliation in such cases where the parties agree, with the final decision to prosecute remaining with the Crown Prosecution Service. However, given the inferior status of Muslim women under sharia, any sharia arbitration in respect of domestic violence can hardly be viewed with equanimity. Moreover, although the MAT website says that it

must operate within the legal framework of England and Wales

it seems that what it means by this is merely that this enables its rulings to be enforced rather than it recognises the primacy of English law over sharia – indeed, since Islam recognises no higher legal authority than sharia, such a recognition would seem to be deeply improbable.

The key point is that sharia law is not compatible with English law or the principles of equality and human rights that it embodies. The result – regardless of the fact that this is not, as the Sunday Times claimed, anything new – is that Britain is allowing the development of a de facto parallel legal system in Britain, thus destroying our society’s cardinal principle of of one law for all. In his bookFaith Power and Territory: A Handbook of British Islam Patrick Sookhdeo writes:

The Sharia Council of the Darul Uloom London even appears to assume the possibility of child marriages, as there are instructions on its website for how to deal with the divorce of a girl who has not yet reached puberty.

Elsewhere in his book Sookhdeo writes:

The move to implement sharia in the UK, both within the Muslim community and within the British legal system, must be seen as part of Islam’s inherent compulsion to dominate every society within which it finds itself. Part of the Islamic legal tradition is that it treats individuals not as persons in their own rights but only as members of a religious community. The community has inherent rights but far less so the individual. While some expressions of this drive might seem harmless, and may be justified in providing for Muslims who wish to live voluntarily by sharia, there are real dangers in the use of strong communal pressure on individual Muslims to accept sharia litigation (not least for Muslim women who are disadvantaged under sharia). Integrating sharia precepts into British law would gradually impose elements of Islamic religious law on non-Muslims in the UK. Both trends contradict the human rights and freedoms of individuals which are enshrined in modern western states. British law is based on territorial jurisdiction – all citizens within the state territory have equal rights before the law. Muslims pushing for sharia integration into British law are actually asking for a new system that treats citizens in different ways according to their religious community.

From Atlas Shrugs:

If this continues Britain will break up as a unitary state governed by one law for all. Sharia law should be stopped, not condoned or encouraged. No other minority in Britain either wants or is permitted to live under an alternative legal system. This is the way a society fractures — and then goes under.

Coming fast on the heels of official sharia law in the UK, it appears the EU is prepared to recognize sharia divorce.

Fjordman opined, “this story is extremely serious. The European Union is now about to do what senior officials have already agreed upon years ago in meetings with Muslim nations, as documented by Bat Ye’or in her book about Eurabia: To officially recognize sharia law in European countries.

Muslims living in EU countries will in future be able to divorce according to sharia law. This is the belief of the EU Commission, which recommends that a couple be able to choose which country’s law they will follow if they divorce — as long as they have some kind of connection to the country they choose. Because of Danish opt-out provisions, the EU regulation will not have a direct impact on Denmark. But Danish People’s Party EU spokesman Morten Messerschmidt is still greatly concerned about the proposal: “It’s a completely lamebrain idea, the possibility that the Commission will use inhumane sharia laws in the EU,” he says to MetroXpress. Aalborg University EU expert Soren Dosenrode concludes that this is a spanner in the works of the government’s ambition to abolish opt-outs. “It will clearly make it harder, because people are concerned about just this sort of far-reaching proposal.

UK: Sharia law superceding British law

Sharia courts are now operating in Britain, and what’s the big deal? They’re just private, voluntary arbitration tribunals, like similar arbitration panels for Jews and Catholics.

In “Britain Adopts Sharia” in Chronicles, September 16, Serge Trifkovic explains what’s wrong with that analogy:

Muslim activists point out that allegedly simiral Jewish family courts (Bet Din) and Catholic marriage tribunals have existed in Britain for many years, but there is a major difference: such courts explicitly claim jurisdiction only over their believers, whereas according to orthodox Islamic teaching shari’a is the only legitimate law in the world, with universal jurisdiction over Muslims and non-Muslims alike. To a devout Muslim the incorporation of shari’a into British law is by no means the end of the affair. It is merely a major milestone on the road that cannot stop short of subjecting all Britons, regardless of faith, to the strictures of Allah’s commandment and Muhammad’s example.

And he also reports that Islamic law is already taking precedence over British law:

…Shari’a courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, with two more courts planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh. A visibly pleased Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, whose Muslim Arbitration Tribunal runs the courts, explains that he had taken advantage of a clause in the British Arbitration Act of 1996, which classifies sharia courts as “arbitration tribunals” whose rulings are binding in law once both parties in a dispute agree to accept its authority. It goes without saying that battered Muslim wives and disinherited Muslim daughters will “freely choose” the authority of shari’a courts rather than face various unpleasant and potentially fatal consequences of not conforming to the “community’s” rules and preferences.What this means in practice was evident from a recent inheritance dispute in the Midlands, when the Nuneaton shari’a court divided the estate of a Muslim father between three daughters and two sons. The “judges” gave the sons twice as much as the daughters—perfectly in accordance with sharia, of course, but contrary to any regular British court, which would have given the daughters equal shares. In six cases of domestic violence quoted by Siddiqi,the “judges” ordered the husbands to take “anger management” classes and “mentoring from community elders” (such as imams and shari’a judges). In each case, the battered women subsequently withdrew the complaints and the police stopped their investigations. It should be noted that under normal British law those six cases could have been prosecuted as criminal, rather than “family” cases….