The application of Sharia (or Islamic) law is on the rise in Britain, raising concerns over the law's consistency with democratic values and its impact on particular groups of citizens, according to a report by Britain's One Law for All Campaign.
One Law for All wants the UK government to eliminate Sharia courts and other legal applications of religious law "and to guarantee equal citizenship rights for all." Among the supporters it lists are writers Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and a host of secular and atheist groups.
"Sharia law is a form of religious dogma and tyranny. It is homophobic, sexist, and anti-democratic," Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell is quoted saying in the report.
Islamic law is implemented in Britain through Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (MATs). Sharia Councils are defined as religious bodies that aim to reach an agreement between the parties involved instead of a judgment. MATs, on the other hand, have a legal classification under the Arbitration Act 1996. Their rulings are binding in law, provided participating parties agree beforehand to abide by its decision. Despite this distinction, in practice, Sharia Councils also engage in arbitration and often ask people to sign an agreement to make their decisions binding.
Both Sharia Councils and MATs are criticized for threatening the legal rights of a large section of the British population, namely women and children. For example, in Islam, only men have the right to unilateral divorce and child custody reverts to the father at a preset age. Both these laws are typically upheld in Britain by Sharia Councils and MATs regardless of the specifics of the case.
While the decisions of Sharia courts are often contrary to British law and public policy and can be challenged in a civil court, they rarely are. The reasons for this include women's lack of understanding of English or their rights under British law and pressure and intimidation from the Muslim community.
Discrimination and human rights violations are being further institutionalized in the UK as Sharia courts gain greater approval. In fact, some law firms in the UK now offer Sharia law consultation along with traditional legal representation. Critics maintain that the powers of Sharia courts must be curtailed to stop abuses to the rights of women and children and restore the democratic principle of equality before the law.
Though calls for the implementation of Sharia in the UK currently refer mostly to the widespread use of the civil code in handling family issues, statements from supporters of Sharia in Britain suggest that their ultimate goal is to impose Islam's brutal penal code on British society as well.
"If Sharia law is implemented, then you can turn this country into a haven of peace," said Suhaib Hasan, Secretary General of the Islamic Sharia Council and Spokesperson of the Muslim Council of Britain. "Because once a thief's hand is cut off nobody is going to steal. Once, just only once, if an adulterer is stoned nobody is going to commit this crime at all."
For the full report, click here.