Israel Has Sharia Law?


Here’s something that came as a surprise to me, but in retrospect I suppose it shouldn’t. Israel actually has official, publicly funded Sharia courts for Muslims, just as they have rabbinical courts for Jews. That makes sense, in a way, because if you’re going to allow religious courts to adjudicate certain issues, you have to allow them for all religious groups.

Not only is sharia law officially recognised by the justice system in Israel in everything regarding the personal status of Muslims, but the judges of the sharia courts are officially appointed by a joint ministerial-parliamentary committee and their salaries paid for by the state. Ironically, this arrangement originates from the days when Britain was the Mandate power in Palestine.

Most matters of personal status, especially marriage and divorce, are ruled in Israel by religious courts. For three religious groups, Jews, Muslims and Druze, there are official, state-appointed courts, who rule on these matters. For Christians, there are private ecclesiastical courts whose rulings are recognised de facto by the civil authorities…

“It works quite well,” says Sheikh Badir Raed, who often appears before the sharia courts on behalf of Muslim clients in divorce hearings. “The Israeli authorities, the police and social services will almost always respect an order issued by the sharia court. I am currently writing a book on this system in Arabic, because I think that this is the best example of a Muslim minority getting its religious rights while respecting the law of the land. The only problems are when the civil law is different from sharia law as in the case of wills and for security reasons when we are dealing with a couple, one of whom lives in the Palestinian territories.”

But Dr Aviad Hacohen, a constitutional law expert from Hebrew University and the head of the Mosiaca centre on state and religion, believes Israel’s system “has two main shortcomings.

“The first is that it creates a twin-track system of religious and civil law that are not always compatible.” Over-ruling of the religious courts by the Supreme Court is not uncommon, and in 1992, in the landmark case Bavli v Bavli, the Supreme Court ruled that civil courts take precedence over religious courts.

“The second shortcoming is that the system isn’t good for everyone. It can’t deal with mixed marriages, or those who are not recognised as belonging to a religion.”

We have the same thing in this country, at least for Jewish communities; they’re called beth din courts. And there are circumstances in which they are legitimate, such as handling wills or contracts where both parties agree to have their actions bound by religious law. But there are also many situations where they are clearly illegitimate, especially when they violate the rights of one of the parties before such courts.

Divorce proceedings are a perfect example; before either rabbinical or Sharia courts, women simply do not have anything like equal protection in divorce proceedings. American courts have been resolute in forbidding such discrimination, routinely overturning decisions that violate the constitution. And that is at it should be.

Comments

  1. says

    “It works quite well,” says Sheikh Badir Raed, pointing at his penis and shouting out, “‘Cause I got my halal sausage right here, so I’LL be okay! Am I right, guys?” High fives were then shared amongst all the dudes present regardless of religious affiliation.

  2. dingojack says

    ““It works quite well,” says Sheikh Badir Raed, … I think that this is the best example of a Muslim minority getting its religious rights while respecting the law of the land”.

    And here’s an example of it not working so well: the Bedouin of the Negrev.

    Dingo

  3. helenaconstantine says

    There are certainly rabbinic courts operating in the US, as well as canon law courts, and judicial bodies within protestant denominations to judge issues like heresy. I would be surprised if there are not sharia courts in operation also. OF course, these courts’ decisions don’t have the force of law, but are voluntarily followed by the religions adherents. Many Catholics and Jews don;t want to get divorced and remarried in civil law unless they can get their religious courts to sign off on it also.

    it strike me that canon law authorities are far more pernicious than Sharia ones, since it is cannon law courts that co-operate with the bishops in covering up child rapes by priests.

    But, if you are going to allow those religions to operate in this country (as the Constitution demands), you have to allow them to have their courts to control their own religious matters.

  4. matty1 says

    I think religious courts should have an enforceable role in two circumstances.

    1. They can rule on the internal rules of a religious group but the only penalty they can impose for violating those rules is temporary or permanent loss of membership in the official organization

    2. If you have a business contract that clearly states, we agree to have disputes arbitarated by X organization.

    Otherwise, they are as free to meet and express opinions as anyone else but should have no more power to enforce those opinions on others.

  5. says

    “We have the same thing in this country…”

    Not quite. Religious courts in this nation are not publicly funded.

  6. nrdo says

    The system is a clear example of how a “liberal” decision early in a state’s development can have the opposite of its intended effect. A similar separation exists in the education system, where Jewish and Muslim religious schools are given wide latitude to produce students with none of the scientific or cultural knowledge necessary to function and cooperate in the modern society.

    Fortunately, there seems to be more secular Jews and Muslims who are recognizing that catering to religious sensibilities doesn’t promote harmony and they’re speaking out. It’s a good start.

  7. laurentweppe says

    Ironically, this arrangement originates from the days when Britain was the Mandate power in Palestine

    I don’t see how this is ironical since anglo-saxon legal systems also allow such religious courts.

  8. interrobang says

    The Province of Ontario at least used to allow religious arbitration (subject to the dictates of civil law, which meant that the rulings were constrained by Ontario’s existing civil legislation) for Catholics and Jews, but when Muslims asked for the same accommodations, people flipped (in an obvious case of screaming bigotry; I remember it well, as I was apparently the only person in the province’s general public espousing the “if you let one do it, you have to let them all do it” position). Now, as far as I know, there aren’t any. I don’t really know how I feel about that. On the one hand, secular ADR is the way to go. On the other hand, damn, I’m surrounded by a bunch of unhinged bigots…

  9. wscott says

    if you’re going to allow religious courts to adjudicate certain issues, you have to allow them for all religious groups.

    Is this true under Israeli law?

  10. anat says

    Is this true under Israeli law?

    Israeli law recognizes a list of religious communities – Judaism, Islam (I think the minority-within-minority of Shiites have their own courts, but they answer to the Mufti like the Sunites), the Druze religion and nine flavors of Christianity. This originates in the way the Ottoman law handled religious matters. See Marriage in Israel.

    In the case of divorce – the terms may be settled either in a religious or secular court. Often what happens is that there is a race to file – the husband often prefers the religious court whereas the wife often prefers the secular route, whoever files first determines where the procedures take place. A divorce whose terms are settled in a secular court is then validated by the religious court for the purpose of terminating the religious marriage.

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