Several hundred joined a rally in London’s Hyde Park organised by One Law for All to show their opposition to Sharia and religious-based laws in Britain and elsewhere and to demand universal rights and secularism.
At the rally, over 20 speakers and performers exposed the discriminatory and brutal nature of religious laws. They included Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s Asad Abbas; International Humanist and Ethical Union’s Roy Brown; Philosopher AC Grayling; Southall Black Sisters’ Rahila Gupta; MP Evan Harris; Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq’s Houzan Mahmoud; Lawyer Rony Miah; Campaigner Maryam Namazie; British Humanist Association’s Naomi Phillips; European Humanist Federation’s David Pollock; National Secular Society’s Terry Sanderson; Activist Muriel Seltman; Equal Rights Now’s Sohaila Sharifi; Organisation for the Defence of Secularism and Civil Rights in Iraq’s Issam Shukri; Iran Solidarity’s Bahar Milani; Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell; National Secular Society’s Keith Porteous Wood and the rally’s Master of Ceremonies, Iranian Secular Society’s Fariborz Pooya.
The rally heard from people with direct experiences of Sharia law, including Iranian-born activist Sohaila Sharifi and a Somali-born secularist who spoke of his cousin who had been forced to remain in a violent marriage by the sham courts here in Britain. He said: ‘I wanted to tell you my cousin’s story to highlight that whatever the pro-Sharia lobby say, we know that there are women out there being abused, and sadly all too-often too afraid to come forward. The only ‘choice’ my cousin was given, was either to be separated from her children or remain in a violent marriage. She chose to stay in the marriage for the sake of her children… I don’t think this is a ‘choice’ – how can it be?’
Maryam Namazie, the One Law for All Spokesperson, also gave several examples of the legal compulsion involved in the decisions of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunals and Sharia Councils, particularly with regards forced marriages, divorce and child custody. She went on to say that it was scandalous that countless women were relegated to kangaroo courts with lesser rights here in Britain and elsewhere.
Campaigner Peter Tatchell said: ‘Sharia law is a form of religious dogma and tyranny. It is homophobic, sexist and anti-democratic.’ Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society went on to say that: ‘Sharia law does not develop, it is fixed and immutable, but its interpretation is unpredictable, unregulated and subject to the whims and prejudices of individual practitioners.’
Many of the speakers spoke of the brutalities of Sharia in other countries. Issam Shukri from Iraq told the rally how Islamic militias linked to the cleric and MP Muqtada al-Sadr had executed dozens of women who they deemed to be improperly dressed because they were not fully covered head-to-toe in Iraq. Examples were also given of rights violations under Sharia in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere.
Activist Muriel Seltman condemned the cultural relativism that allows for religious laws to go unchallenged. She said: ‘What can be more racist than laying down different standards for different people in different societies? This is what is racist not the criticism of barbaric practices.’
Many speakers criticised the right of religion to special status to undermine fundamental human rights. David Pollock of the European Humanist Federation said: ‘Sharia courts seek to provide a parallel legal system… Arguments for Sharia law are based on the concept of group rights. And group rights are inherently hostile to human rights.’ MP Evan Harris condemned the government for giving privileged advisory status on policy and legislation to often unrepresentative faith leaders. Lawyer Rony Miah said: ‘Having separate systems of law for different communities are no different from separate faith schools; it will only lead to a fragmenting of communities – not cohesion.’
Rahila Gupta of Southall Black Sisters added: ‘accommodating alternative systems of justice is not about choice or tolerance in a pluralistic society; it is not about Muslim women’s autonomy. These demands emerge from fundamentalist politics however they are dressed up.’
Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union spoke about how Islamic states are behind the demand for more religious laws and the banning of any criticism of Islam. He said: Sharia law [in Britain] is but a small part of a worldwide campaign to replace international law with Islamic law… The acceptance of Sharia law for the settlement of family disputes in Britain is just one small part of a global problem.’
Maryam Namazie said that Sharia courts and councils were extensions of the political Islamic movement – not the demand of Muslims or those labelled as such – and resistance to it was global as well. She told the crowd: ‘Sharia adversely affects the rights, lives and freedoms of countless human beings across the world. Opposing Sharia law is a crucial step in defending universal equal rights and secularism, and showing real solidarity with people living under and resisting Sharia.’ Fariborz Pooya added that ‘people living under Sharia law are the first victims and at the same time the first line of resistance against it and must be defended.’
Writer AC Grayling went on to say: ‘The principle of one law for all, with everyone equal before the law, is a vital one for a genuine democracy. The One Law For All campaign is doing an urgently needed job of protecting those who, hidden behind the veil of Sharia or other religious ‘courts’, risk injustice, abuse, and deprivation of rights.’
During the rally, Bahar Milani and Richard Francis of Iran Solidarity led an act against child executions. The Islamic Republic of Iran is the only state that continues to execute minors. At least 130 juveniles are on death row in Iran, including for homosexuality, apostasy, sex outside of marriage and involvement in school or street fights that have resulted in murder.
Throughout the event, there were performances from poets AK47, Lilith and Christine from the Anti-Injustice Movement and Selina Jus1jam from Yorkshire as well as musician Fari B and singer/songwriter David Fisher.
On the day, many others took part in simultaneous acts of solidarity with the rally and its demands in 23 countries across the globe, namely Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro, Sweden, Switzerland and USA. In Serbia and Montenegro, Women in Black held a number of film events in support of women’s rights in Afghanistan. In Baghdad, 500 leaflets were distributed in defence of secularism and universal rights. In Canada, several acts took place, including a rally and a column written in a local paper. The Secular Humanist League of Brazil, The Peace and Freedom Party of San Francisco, and the Brussels Humanist Society amongst others issued press releases and an artist in the Netherlands contributed their artwork to the campaign. In Ibadan, Nigeria, leaflets saying ‘no to faith-based laws’ were distributed on the streets and at markets. In Pakistan, those trying to take part in an act were brutally beaten.
Photos and video footage of the rally speeches and performances can be seen here.
The protest was covered by several media outlets including on BBC Radio 4′s Sunday programme and in an article entitled Just say no to Sharia by Peter Tatchell in Guardian’s Comment is Free.
One Law for All will continue to push for an end to Sharia and religious laws in Britain. In the coming year, the campaign aims to conduct a survey of women who have been to Sharia courts here, will hold a fundraiser dinner on January 28, 2010 to raise money for the campaign; will host a March 8, 2010 seminar with legislators, lawyers and campaigners to recommend the legal and legislative avenues to ban Sharia and religious courts in Britain; will organise a June 20, 2010 rally against Sharia law; and will hold an October 10, 2010 conference on Sharia Law and Apostasy amongst other activities.
To support the campaign, please send a cheque made payable to One Law for All or donate via Paypal by visiting our website.