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Apr 08 2012

Charge £400 for her, £200 for him

The wonderfulness of Sharia councils.

After fleeing a forced marriage characterised by rape and physical violence, Nasrin applied for an Islamic divorce from a Sharia council; that was almost 10 years ago now. Despite countless emails, letters and telephone calls to the Sharia council as well as joint mediation and reconciliation meetings, the Sharia council refuse to provide Nasrin with an Islamic divorce. Why? Because of Nasrin’s sex. An Imam at the Sharia council told Nasrin that her gender prevents her from unilaterally divorcing her husband, instead the Imam told her to return to her husband, perform her wifely duties and maintain the abusive marriage that she was forced into.

Charlotte Rachael Proudman has represented Muslim women pro bono at Sharia law councils in theUKto obtain Islamic divorces, so she knows how shitty they are for women.

I am all too aware of the gender discriminatory experience many Muslim women suffer at some Sharia councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (‘Sharia law bodies’). Unfortunately their experiences have not been highlighted by the media. Instead some Sharia law bodies have been misrepresented by the media as being transparent, voluntary and operating in accordance with human rights and equality legislation. This is not the case.

As we know, via Maryam and others. Lots of people don’t know, though.

the cost of an Islamic divorce is £400 for a woman compared to £200 for a man at the Islamic Sharia Council inEast London; this is an example of blatant gender discrimination which is incompatible with the Equality Act 2010.

With over 85 Sharia law bodies operating in theUK, the majority of which charge vulnerable and impoverished Muslim women astronomical fees, Sharia law bodies have become successful and lucrative businesses…

Diana Nammi, founder of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation[,] explained that “Sharia law bodies are money-spinning businesses because they afford men more rights than women unlikeUKlaw which is underpinned by a fundamental principle of ‘equality for all’. In most cases women do not receive any practical advice or assistance to help them exit abusive marriages, and instead face further discrimination perpetrated by Sharia ‘judges’”.

And the arrangement is punitive, not to say downright spiteful.

By protracting the time it takes for women to obtain Islamic divorces, Sharia law bodies are punishing women for their failure to maintain miserable marriages, and in Nasrin’s case an abusive forced marriage which was flawed from its incept[ion]. Rather than freeing Muslim women from the shackles of unhappy marriages they are kept in limbo and are expected to mourn their destructive marriages and to reflect on their failures as wives and mothers. Worryingly some Sharia law bodies are growing cynical business enterprises, which use their position of power to maintain unequal gender relations while profiteering on the misery of Muslim women.

Anne-Marie Waters, Spokesperson for One Law for All[,] commented – “the very process employed by Sharia law bodies is gender discriminatory, flawed and incompatible withUKlegislation”. For instance, unlike male divorce applicants, women are requested to bring along two Muslim, male witnesses to corroborate their testimony. I have yet to represent a Muslim woman who is able to comply with this gender discriminatory requirement…

Gender discriminatory and insane – as if marital abuse (or any other abuse) reliably happens in front of witnesses!

I hope a lot of people have read this article.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    A

    Is anybody compelled to deal with Sharia law bodies? Would Nasrin still be considered legally married, or this just for internal book keeping of a religious organization?

  2. 2
    Kevin

    How does this work? Is there some kind of arbitration clause added when they become married that force them to file a divorce through these groups? Why not just go through the justice system like any other divorce?

  3. 3
    mirax

    Where are the Suffragettes now that we need them?

    Indeed. Too many people are afraid of being branded as racist and or islamopbobic if they speak out on issues such as this.

  4. 4
    mirax

    For muslims in many countries, even those in which they are a minority such as India and Singapore, there is no other option but sharia law.

    In the UK, they are arbitration tribunals and their powers are governed by the Arbitration Acts.

    A Sharia ‘Court’ can only be involved in a dispute where the parties have agreed to this, either by contract or by subsequent agreement.

    I’ve read that Sharia judgments, once you have consented to the process can be binding and enforceable. It seems that people choose them for lots or reasons – low cost, certainty, speed of process as well as for the obvious religious reasons.

    Most cases before the sharia councils are divorce cases.

    Under Sharia law, men can have up to four wives and are given the primary right of divorce, or talaq.

    This means he can leave one wife and remarry, but refuse to give the first wife a divorce, and yet still feel he is living in accordance with his faith.

    In the eyes of the community his wife is still married, and because women are only allowed one husband at a time, she is left unable to remarry and move on with her life.

    These women use the sharia councils to try to obtain a divorce.

    There are over 85 such councils in the UK and the BBC and the al-Guardian are the only media that seem to do sympathetic writeups of these outfits.

  5. 5
    Steve

    It’s exactly the same in some Jewish circles where a woman will be unable to remarry unless she gets a “proper” Jewish divorce (which of course can only be granted by the man). So she may get a legal divorce, but culturally that doesn’t count.

  6. 6
    godlesspanther

    Steve, in the case of conservative Jewish, Catholic, and Mormon societies — yes that is true. One cannot be divorced and remarried without going through the proper channels of the church. They can still get a legal divorce and a legal marriage to someone else and that will not count culturally. The adherents to these faiths can by-pass the cultural frown by merely not caring and often such people find a way to remain connected to the community anyway.

    In the case of Muslim women living under Sharia law in the UK — I suspect that, even though they can by-pass the cultural law and obtain a divorce under the higher law of the country — it would not be culturally recognized and the individual would not be able to maintain any connection with the faith and her life may be in danger.

  7. 7
    BenSix

    The head of the Islamic Sharia Council is a man who claims there’s no such thing as spousal rape and its most prominent advisor thinks, among other things, that if a husband beats his wife it’s none of our business. That they hold authority over the lives of vulnerable women is disgusting.

  8. 8
    anne

    Isn’t one of the problems that many Muslim marriages are unrecognised under English law? Unless the parties register the marriage at a Register Office, they may be married according to shariah but not legally. So if the wife wants a divorce, she has no other recourse. There is no other way she could obtain a financial settlement.

  9. 9
    anat

    godlesspanther, in the Jewish case, yes, a woman can obtain a legal divorce without also obtaining a religious one if she can afford to ‘not care’, but if she has a child with another man (whether she marries said man in a secular wedding or not) the child is ‘mamzer’ according to halakha and can’t ever be a full member of a (Orthodox, not sure about Conservative) Jewish congregation and can’t marry within halakha. For some this is an important enough issue.

  10. 10
    vcatalysis

    Is this in the UK? Why are these women bothering with non-legal Shariar bodies that punish them so? Why aren’t they filing for legal divorces with the government of the European countries in which they reside? Why aren’t they going to those police and/or battered women’s resources? Why are they giving power over their lives to Shariar councils when they want to rid themselves of their husbands’ abuses of power?

  11. 11
    vcatalysis

    Ok, I am silly for not reading the comments above.

    Are these women trying to stay in their community while leaving their spouses? Is that the problem? They could run away from their husbands, but that would mean being exiled from their loved family members? Is this why they even bother with Sharia councils?

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