Published: 12th September 2016
A leading expert in Sharia Law has spoken out about the Islamic divorce process, arguing that the courts in Britain should have the power to issue Islamic divorces - sparking an inquiry in the House of Commons.
Elham Manea, a Sharia Law expert and Associate Professor of Middle East Studies at Zurich University, has recommended to the Home Affairs Select Committee that a specialised unit is set up to protect the rights of Muslim Women.
Currently, British Courts do not issue Islamic divorces; the process for a Muslim couple requires both the husband and wife to take different paths in order to divorce.
Under Sharia law, men are able to divorce their wives without their agreement or active participation in the process, by pronouncing the phrase ‘I divorce you’ (‘talaq’ in Arabic). However women need to obtain a judicial decree or relinquish any financial rights to be granted a divorce from a religious judge, which can cost them up to £400.
Elham Manea is also trying to include mandatory civil marriages along with religious ceremonies and will also argue for harsher punishments for Imams who defy the rules. Manea has spent four years researching the UK’s Sharia councils and has published a book on the subject, saying that Sharia councils would be left redundant if British Courts were able to deal with these divorces, as these councils are mainly aimed at women looking to achieve an Islamic Divorce.
There are an estimated 85 Sharia councils in Britain that have no legal power of enforcement and evidence shown to the Commons inquiry has revealed that women who aremarried under these councils are not protected under British Law. This leaves these women with no choice but to surrender their rights as a citizen in order to acquire an Islamic divorce. Some women have even been forced into mediation and reconciliation - despite the fact they may have been abused by the husbands.
Because their marriages are simply not recognised by civil courts these women are left in a very vulnerable position. Manea and a community of women’s rights groups have called for these councils to be abolished if Muslim women are to have a chance of equality. As she told the Guardian Newspaper: ‘woman will be stuck if you don’t provide a solution but that solution is not a parallel legal system.’
She added that the ‘[i]nterpretation in many Islamic countries including Tunisia and Morocco means a religious divorce automatically follows a civil one. It should be the same in Britain and a bureau within the courts should provide this service.’
Manea has called for a national campaign to have all Islamic marriages registered, a system which she hopes will expose many polygamous unions.
Evidence put forward as part of the inquiry will show that the principles behind these Sharia councils in Britain condone child marriage, wife beating and marital rape. The notion that women are the property of men appears to be accepted under Sharia Law, as Nus Ghani, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, explained: ‘Under Sharia, men are in charge and women are treated as their property. That does not sit well under British Law and cannot go unchallenged. We can't have a system where we are championing equality for women on the one hand and but on the other overlooking a whole section of society.’
The Muslim Law Council in Wembley states that they have always encouraged the civil registration of Islamic marriages within the UK, as this will help to secure financial and legal rights of married Muslim women living in the UK. The Executive Secretary of the council, Moulana Raza said ‘If the government offered an alternative, 90% of the work of Sharia councils would end.’
The specialised unit will hope to examine how these councils are being operated and to what extent woman are being discriminated against, how they’re being funded and the relationship the councils have with the British Legal System.
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