Leyton Islamic Sharia Council is Britain’s oldest Islamic council and one of the most active, hearing about 50 cases a month – mainly marital disputes. Nine out of 10 are brought by Muslim women from all over the country.
But Islamic rulings given here are not always in the interests of the women concerned, and can run counter to British law.
… but since their rulings are, instead, consistent with Islamic Sharia law, there is a much greater pressure put on these women from members of their own family and the community as a whole to follow them. British secular law still has the final say, but because of the level of influence their religion has on them
Many women who go to the courts with stories of domestic violence against themselves and even their children are strongly encouraged to go right back to their husbands and work out a peaceful solution.
In Leeds [the author] met Sonia, a woman who suffered extreme violence from her husband, who punched and kicked her and threw her down the stairs. He also hit their son. When Sonia got a civil divorce, the courts would allow him only indirect access to the children.
Sharia courts are not allowed to interfere in child access matters, but when Sonia went to Leyton Islamic Sharia Council for a Sharia divorce, they told her she would have to give the children up to her husband.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of such a violent person having my children,” said Sonia.
“What was shocking was when I explained to them why he shouldn’t have that access to the children, their reaction was – well, you can’t go against what Islam says.”
These Islamic councils, in my opinion, should not be allowed, period. Some of them may be perfectly fine; for example, they might be used to settle small claims or other minor issues that are felt by many in the community to not be worth the time and effort of a secular court of law.
The problem arises when these councils are involved in mediating domestic disputes, since – regardless of the consensus on the allowance of violence against women as given in the Quran – it is a significant problem in the Muslim community. Women encounter much more resistance when attempting to leave an abusive relationship, and even if they can, their children may be used as a way to keep them close by and force mediation.
The worst part is that such councils – regardless of their particular organizational structure or religious affiliation – tend to give far greater legitimacy to ideas that run counter to not only secular law but common sense in general. Having an unmarried, celibate Catholic priest dispensing marital advice or allowing a rabbi to violate basic sanitation on the basis of “tradition” both come readily to mind. And that’s in this country.
Watch the video in the article linked above. Note how he considers police involvement a “last resort”. I’m forced to agree with him on one thing, though: going to some kind of women’s refuge presents a whole host of other potential problems … if there’s not enough funding to ensure proper care for the children they bring with them, relocation to safer residences, and protecting them from retribution from their former partners. Women in these situations might consider it “safer” to stay where they are instead of making it even worse by attempting to leave. Pressure – instead of support – from these religious councils only makes this outcome even more likely.