One Law for All co-spokesperson Anne Marie Waters has just sent off a letter to the the ACLU criticising its support or sharia law. In the letter she asks: ‘I am interested to know how the ACLU intends to square the circle on this, and how you can simultaneously support the application of sharia law in US Courts while claiming to stand up for the rights of women and fight against gender-based violence and discrimination.’
Here’s the letter in full.
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street
January 13th 2012
Re: Sharia Law
I write this open letter on behalf of the One Law for All campaign. We campaign for an end to discriminatory religious laws in the UK and for all people to be treated with equality under the law regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.
I read with interest your position on a case, originating in the state of Oklahoma, in which a Federal Appeals Court upheld an injunction against a ban on the use of Islamic sharia law in that state. Several important questions are raised regarding your support for this injunction and I would be grateful if you could lend me your thoughts on the following issues.
Here in the United Kingdom, sharia courts have been operating for several years with the full backing (or at least without the disapproval) of successive Governments. Their decisions are enforceable in UK law under the Arbitration Act, arbitration being used until now almost exclusively for the resolution of commercial disputes. One Law for All is deeply concerned about this, and aims to reverse the situation, for the following reasons:
1) Under sharia law, as it is practised in Britain, a woman’s testimony in family matters is worth only half of that of her husband. In practise, this means that a woman must provide a witness to back up her evidence, but her husband is not required to do the same. In family law, where a wife almost always finds herself in opposition to her husband, this places her at a distinct disadvantage. If you are minded to argue that this is not true, I refer you to the words of the Islamic Sharia Council, which operates the largest network of ‘mainstream’ sharia courts in the UK. It states: “(Surah Al-Baqara 2:282) which requires two female witnesses in place of one male witness, gives a clear reason for it i.e. “if one of them forgets, the other reminds her.”” In her evidence to a fact-finding group facilitated by Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the British House of Lords, “Sania” – who experienced sharia law first-hand – stated the following: “The Sharia Council then insisted that I brought along two Muslim witnesses to attend the Sharia Council with me to confirm that I was telling the truth. However, [my husband] did not require any witnesses because he is a man”.
2) Under sharia law, a man has a unilateral right to divorce, whereas for a woman obtaining a divorce is extremely difficult; she needs either the permission of her husband or of a sharia judge. Again, I refer you to the words of the Islamic Sharia Council on this: “the right of divorce is vested in the hand of the man while she is allowed to ask for divorce either directly or through a Qadi (Judge). Why? Because the women are kind-hearted human beings who are governed by their emotions, a character strongly needed for bringing up the children.” In her evidence to Baroness Cox, “Fozia” stated: “Despite all the time, money and emotional energy and the fact that Abdul is remarried with a child, the Islamic Sharia Council still refused to give me an Islamic divorce”.
3) In sharia law, women are not party to their own marriage contract – it is a contract between her husband and her male “guardian”. In her evidence to Baroness Cox, “Sami” said: “Khaled [Sami’s intended husband] travelled to Jordan to gain written permission from my 11 year old son, who represented my guardian according to the Imam”.
4) Domestic violence is trivialised in sharia law, and does not constitute grounds for divorce. Indeed, many sharia judges in Britain consider domestic violence to be the ‘right’ of a husband. Violence within marriage is a serious offence in Britain which can, and does, result in the imprisonment of offenders. However, the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (the UK’s second largest network of sharia courts) takes a rather different view. In an interview with the Telegraph newspaper, Sheikh Faiz-Ul-Aqtab Siddiqi said that in the cases of domestic violence heard by his tribunal, judges had ordered husbands to take anger management classes, with no further punishment. Sheikh Siddiqi also told the BBC that his organisation wants full jurisdiction over domestic violence cases involving Muslims in the UK, and has openly called for this. He also said that his group intends to expand and to cover “smaller” criminal cases in the future. (He confirmed that women receive half the amount of men in inheritance cases as well).
5) In October 2010, Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, president of Britain’s Islamic Sharia Council, told the Independent newspaper that rape within marriage is “impossible”. Marital rape is a criminal offence in the United Kingdom and carries the same prison term as rape under other circumstances. The president of the Islamic Sharia Council – who acknowledged that his council deals with these cases – stated: “Clearly there cannot be any rape within the marriage. Maybe aggression, maybe indecent activity… Because when they got married, the understanding was that sexual intercourse was part of the marriage, so there cannot be anything against sex in marriage.”
6) Under sharia law, custody of children is awarded to fathers from a preset age regardless of the circumstances of the case. Not only does this deny women custody and access rights to their children, but it represents a danger to the children themselves. On this issue, the Islamic Sharia Council’s statements are too long to outline here, but please see the following page http://www.islamic-sharia.org/children/islamic-perspective-on-child-custody-after-divorce-3.html. You will note that the “period of female custody” (i.e. the mother’s custody rights) ends when the children are around 7 – 9 years old. In her evidence to Baroness Cox, “Miri” stated: “Then I was sent a letter to say that I had to give him full access if not hand over my children for him to raise – I thought my life had ended and I was thrown in to deep water and there was no way out”. “Miri” had applied for divorce alleging that her husband was both physically and emotionally abusive.
Apologists often claim that opposing sharia law represents an attack on Muslims. However, both in Britain and across the world, it is Muslims – or those living under Sharia laws – who are at the forefront of the fight against sharia law and who suffer most from its application. All of the women who testified to Baroness Cox above are Muslim women and all of them are seeking a ban on this law in the UK. Indeed, our campaign is widely supported by Muslim groups.
I should also point out that the sharia law I describe above – again as apologists state ad nauseum – is not sharia’s criminal code that hangs gay teenagers (as in Iran) or stones adulterers to death (as in Saudi Arabia) but its civil code that is practised openly here in the west.
Given the above, I am interested to know how the ACLU intends to square the circle on this, and how you can simultaneously support the application of sharia law in US Courts while claiming to stand up for the rights of women and fight against gender-based violence and discrimination.
I would also be grateful to know precisely which amendment to the US Constitution guarantees a citizen’s right to be governed by a separate – and deeply misogynist – legal system.
As you know, the first amendment of the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…. “ While we do not claim to be experts on the US Constitution, is there not an argument that in allowing sharia law to be applied in the Courts of the United States, this amendment is in fact breached as it represents an “establishment of religion”? Can you also tell me the ACLU’s position on where the right to the free exercise of religion ends, and where a woman’s right to live without violence (see the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, Articles 3 and 5) begins? Do you agree that the right to practise one’s religion does not provide a right to commit violence or exercise sexist discrimination in the name of that religion, nor does it provide a right to have such discriminatory laws enshrined in a country’s legal system?
I await your response to the issues raised above with great interest. Failure to respond can only lead me to conclude that you concede on the points raised and you acknowledge that the ACLU supports a misogynist legal system at the expense of the rights and equality of Muslim women in the United States (and we will publish as such).
Anne Marie Waters
One Law for All
BM Box 2387
London WC1N 3XX
www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2010-2012/0072/2012072.pdf (House of Lords)
Evidence of How Arbitration Tribunals Operate in the UK (Baroness Caroline Cox – confidential)