The BBC’s Panorama asks, are Sharia councils harming women? It includes a bit of undercover video in which a guy sitting high up as if he were a judge gives a woman a lot of very bad advice. He tells her she should be “brave” and ask the husband who hits her why he does it. “Is it my cooking?” That way she can correct herself.
He also tells her that reporting the hitting to the police is the very last resort and that a shelter is terrible.
In a small terraced house in east London, a woman and her husband argue before an Islamic scholar who sits on a dais above them in a room that looks and feels like a court.
This is Leyton Islamic Sharia Council, and Dr Suhaib Hasan will decide if the woman can have a divorce. Her husband is refusing to grant her one and the couple have been coming here for a year.
She accuses him of refusing to work, ignoring the children and verbally abusing her. He vehemently denies it. When Dr Hasan orders the husband to leave the room, the woman breaks down in tears.
“I hate him, I can’t even bear to look at him, he has ruined my life,” she sobs.
Dr Hasan sends the couple away for another month to try to save their marriage, with the help of Allah.
Allah hadn’t helped before that point, so why would Allah help now?
The BBC article itself is somewhat confusing.
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.
With an Islamic marriage, it is far easier for a man to divorce. The only way for women is through these councils.
“We are not here just to issue divorces,” says Dr Hasan.
“We want to mediate first. We try to save marriages so when people come to us we try to reconcile them.”
But Islamic rulings given here are not always in the interests of the women concerned, and can run counter to British law.
That statement “the only way for women is through these councils” is very confusing to me. Surely that’s simply false, because women can get divorces through the legal system…unless of course they are being forcibly prevented, but surely that would be against the law.
Maybe the Beeb means “the only way for women who are determined to have only an Islamic divorce from an Islamic marriage is through these councils”?
Or maybe it means something more sinister, something like “the only way for women who are trapped in these Islamic marriages and don’t know how to get a secular divorce is through these councils.” If that is what they mean I think they should have spelled it out.
As it is, it’s not clear to me why these women who get such horrible instructions from these Sharia councils don’t just decide the hell with Sharia councils and go the secular route instead.
In Leeds I 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.”
Sonia stood her ground and eventually got Leyton Islamic Sharia Council to drop their demand.
That’s good, but much better would be to ignore Leyton Islamic Sharia Council altogether.
I met another woman who had tried to get a divorce from a different Sharia council in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
Ayesha’s husband was in prison for violence, but Dewsbury Sharia Council told her she would have to go to mediation with him.
“I said I can’t do that because he’s not even allowed near my house and because I am frightened, I can’t face him… but they didn’t take any notice,” she said.
Eventually Dewsbury Sharia Council agreed to see her without her husband but she had to face five men alone without legal representation. It took her two years to get a Sharia divorce.
God hates women.