We must break hold of pro-Islamist lobby on the Law Society

Please see an open letter to the leading Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir about her forthcoming talk at the Law Society, which has endorsed sharia-compliant wills.

Dear Asma Jahangir,

We are writing to you regarding your forthcoming conversation at the Law Society on Law, Gender and Religion on the 30th July. We are very pleased you are coming to London but are concerned that you may not have been informed about the Law Society’s issuance of guidance which endorses sharia law in Britain and the campaign against it.

One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, and LSE Atheist and Humanist Society have led a campaign asking the Law Society to withdraw its discriminatory and dangerous guidance on ‘Sharia Compliant’ wills. Recently, we won an important victory. Southall Black Sisters and One Law for All sought legal advice which resulted in the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority withdrawing its endorsement of the guidance. The Law Society, however, has still not withdrawn the guidance, and instead embarked on an aggressive promotion of Sharia Law using advocates of parallel legal systems such as the legal academic Maliha Malik, the solicitor Aina Khan and Tariq Ramadan.

Our experience with many prominent British institutions has been that eminent secular voices such as yourself are often used strategically to be able to claim that they have consulted legal experts who have endorsed their position. Indeed, the Law Society claims that they have consulted ‘sharia law’ experts, although they have refused to name them. The guidance on Sharia-compliant wills mentions as references Islamists which defend death by stoning amongst other things.

We would be very pleased if would use this opportunity as a way of supporting the work that we are doing against the increase of religious fundamentalism and its promotion by British institutions. We would be grateful if you would consider calling on the Law Society to withdraw its guidance and to name the ‘experts’ they have consulted as campaigners have demanded.

The Law Society’s Sharia Compliant guidance is relevant to the subject of your talk, since their partners argue that sharia councils and what they call sharia compliant law are essential to the religious freedom of women. The work of the Law Society and the lawyers and academics we mention usually ignore actually existing family law in Pakistan and elsewhere and all progressive judgements on these issues.

It may well be that you have been asked to speak by members of the Law Society who want to present an alternative view, and felt that someone of your eminence, could help to break the hold of the pro-Islamist lobby; and that is why they want you to speak. We hope that you will be able to find some way of publicly supporting our campaign.

We would be very pleased to provide you with any further information you that you require.

With best wishes

Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space
Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Chris Moos, Secretary, LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society

The Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority withdraws its endorsement of the Law Society’s discriminatory practice note on Sharia wills

1398734961-protest-staged-against-law-societys-decision-to-recognize-sharia-law_4591701 (1)PRESS RELEASE
11 July 2014

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and One Law for All welcomes the decision by the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority (SRA), the regulatory body for solicitors, to remove the Law Society’s controversial practice note(1) on drafting ‘Sharia compliant’ wills (2) from its ethics guidance on wills. The decision clearly demonstrates that the SRA considers it inappropriate to continue to endorse the note.

The SRA decision comes after threatened legal action on gender equality grounds and represents an important step in our campaign against the Law Society. On 13 March 2014, the Law Society issued a practice note for solicitors on drafting ‘Sharia’ compliant wills. The note, which was drafted with reference to conservative if not fundamentalist Muslim ‘experts’ (3) but not minority women’s organisations, said:

… illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs…The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir… Non-Muslims may not inherit at all…a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir…

This appalling institutional endorsement of direct gender and other forms of discrimination has been the subject of threatened legal action against the Law Society itself. We have demanded that the Law Society withdraw its guidance but it has resolutely refused to do so. In an extraordinary show of defiance, in a letter dated 4 June 1014, the Law Society stated that it had no intention of withdrawing the practice note and that ‘no equality and diversity implications’ arose from the note. Since receiving the SRA’s decision we have now written to the Law Society again demanding a reconsideration of their position. We are also taking further legal advice on the question of whether solicitors acting on the practice note might be themselves acting unlawfully.

Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors acting on our behalf said:

I am surprised that the Law Society considers that it did not have to consult with any women’s organisations or organisations working with Muslim women, despite the fact that there are significant disputes surrounding Sharia succession rules and a wide range of interpretations as to how they should apply. The Law Society should reconsider its position and withdraw the practice note now that the SRA has agreed to remove its own reference to it.

Pragna Patel of SBS said:

It beggars belief that the Law Society can see no wrong in issuing such blatantly discriminatory and offensive guidance. It shows a racist and callous disregard for minority women’s struggles for equality and Justice in the face of encroaching illiberal religious power. The Law Society should be encouraging and legitimising an equality and human rights and not Sharia compliant legal culture. We urge the Law Society to remove its practice note which is contributing to the disturbing creation of a culture of ‘Sharia compliant’ law and policy in the UK.

Maryam Namazie from One Law for All said:

There is no place for Sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere. Sharia – like all religious laws – is based on a dogmatic and regressive philosophy and a warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. It is not a rule for equals and has no place in a modern state or system of law. The Law Society must immediately withdraw its shameful guidance.

NOTES.

1. See SRA ethics guidance on drafting and preparation of wills.

2. The Reference notesaid: “If you are acting for clients for whom Sharia succession rules may be relevant you will find the Law Society’s practice note on the subject helpful.”

3. See for example: Inheritance – Regulations & Exhortations (2nd edition) by Muhammad Al Jibaly, published by Al-Hidaayah Publishing & Distribution Ltd.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, [email protected] 02085719595.

Louise Whitfield or Sasha Rozansky of Deighton Piece Glynn, [email protected]
[email protected] 02074070007.

Maryam Namazie of One Law for All, [email protected] 077 1916 6731.

Law Society, Gender Segregation, Islamism in Schools, our opposition to Sharia Watch campaign, October 2014 conference and new office space

ol4a2Dear Friend

I am writing to give you an update of our work.

Law Society Protest

One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space and LSE SUASH organised a successful 28 April rally at the Law Society to oppose the Society’s legitimisation of discriminatory Sharia-compliant rules. The rally finished with protesters tearing pages from a copy of the Equality Act and pinning them to the fence of the Law Society, symbolising its contravention of the Act.More details on the rally can be found here.

The Law Society has yet to back down and is even organising a new training course to “highlight some basic concepts and requirements of the Islamic Shari’a applicable to” wills and inheritance and family and children! How utterly shameful!

One Law for All will continue to demand the withdrawal of the Law Society guidance, which discriminates against Muslim women, “illegitimate” children and non-Muslims amongst others. The guidance sides with Islamist values at the expense of all others; some of the main references in the it are Islamists who defend death by stoning and gender segregation.

We urge you to write to the Law Society at the below address calling on them to withdraw!
The Law Society’s Hall
113 Chancery Lane
London WC2A 1PL
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7242 1222
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7831 0344
You can also contact them via their website.

As I explain in a recent editorial, Sharia law is pure madness and should have no place in a modern legal system.

Whilst some groups and individuals insist that the opposition to the Law Society is a whole lot of fuss over nothing, Southall Black Sisters’ Director Pragna Patel explains why ‘equality before the law’ is not just an empty phrase.

Gender segregation

The Law Society protest is reminiscent of the recent fight against Universities UK’s discriminatory guidance legitimising gender segregation at universities. UUK withdrew its guidance after our protests.

One Law for All is currently working on a survey and report on the issue. If you have information on gender segregation at universities in the UK, please get in touch with us at [email protected].

Islamism in Schools

We recently met with an advisor to Michael Gove at the Department for Education to discuss our concerns over Islamism in schools after the “Trojan Horse” plot came to light. At the meeting, One Law for All reiterated its concern about the increasing influence of Islamists at schools and universities and the adverse implications for children and the society at large. Given the Government’s misguided policies of multi-faithism and religion’s ever expansive role, it is not unsurprising that we are witness to increased segregation, discrimination and extremism.

One Law for All provided DfE with information on Islamism in schools and universities. If you know of any Islamist-influenced schools that should be brought to their attention, please email us the details as soon as possible.

Whilst it is crucial to battle Islamism in our schools, the lasting and effective option would be to end faith schools and ensure that schools (and universities) are secular spaces for all irrespective of the beliefs of parents.

One Law for All opposes new Sharia Watch campaign

As you all know, Co-Spokesperson Anne Marie Waters resigned in November 2013. What you don’t know is that her resignation followed more recent political disagreements on some key issues, including One Law for All’s refusal to collaborate with the members of racist and far-Right groups and our insistence on the need to distinguish between Muslims/immigrants and Islamists. “Walking a Tightrope: Between a Pro-Islamist Left and the far-Right” was written in response to the disagreements in question.

Given the context of Anne Marie’s resignation, her initiation of “Sharia Watch” and her leaving the Labour Party and joining UKIP as a candidate should be seen as an attempt at organising a “respectable” rightwing response to the issue of Sharia law and the furtherance of a politics that is diametrically at odds with One Law for All’s. As I mentioned in “Walking a Tightrope”, whilst frustration and a sense of betrayal at the Pro-Islamist Left is understandable, finding solace in and partnership with the racist Right and far-Right is not.

Since its establishment last month, Sharia Watch has publicised links like “Muslim Rape Culture” from the ghastly Frontpage Magazine, given updates on the far-Right Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller and the English Defence League, publicised videos like “Sacrificing our Daughters: On the Psychology of Islamic Rape Gangs”, and written a piece on how halal meat funds terrorism!

We want to make very clear that we have no links with Sharia Watch, UKIP or Anne Marie Waters and will oppose their brand of racist hate politics every step of the way.

One Law for All is proud of the broad-based coalition of secular Muslim, ex-Muslim, non-Muslim, atheist…  groups and individuals it has helped shape over nearly 6 years of organising and activism. As is very clear from our work, our fight is not just a fight against Sharia; it is first and foremost a fight against Islamism and the religious-Right as well as countering racism and for equality, universal and citizenship rights, international solidarity, and secularism.

11-12 October 2014 Conference

We are busy organising what looks to be a historic two-day conference in London with secular activists from across the world, and particularly the Middle East and North Africa, who are fighting – often on the frontlines  – for civil rights and secularism and against Islamism and the religious-Right.

Whatever you do, don’t miss the conference if you can help it. And get your tickets now before it is too late. You can register and pay for your tickets here.

For your information, on 11 October, there will be a banquet dinner and entertainment, including a performance from our Sounds of Freedom Music competition finalists.

New Office

Great news! We have moved into a new office space near Kings Cross, thanks to the fantastic support of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK. The office is shared with the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation.

We will have an official opening in the near future and will let you know about it when the time comes.

Keep Supporting Us!

If you like the work we do and want to help or continue helping us, please donate! Your support has been instrumental so far and will further our important work.

A huge thanks to those of you who donate on a monthly basis; it has made a world of difference being able to depend on regular support. We need a lot more help so please do join our small but important group of monthly donors or give us a one off donation if you can. Here’s information on how to donate. We also still need more volunteers if you have some time to spare.

We look forward to continuing – together – our fight for secularism, rights and equality and countering racism and cultural relativism in the months and years to come.

Warmest wishes

Maryam Namazie
Spokesperson
One Law for All
BM Box2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK
tel: +44 (0) 7719166731
email: [email protected]
web: http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/

Company limited by guarantee and registered in England and Wales under company number 8122621.

Press Release: Wills without bigotry – protest against the Law Society

1398734961-protest-staged-against-law-societys-decision-to-recognize-sharia-law_4591701 (1)About 70 protesters rallied outside the office of the Law Society to condemn their endorsement of discriminatory sharia law on April 28 2014.

The protest was organised by anti-racist, feminist and human rights groups, namely One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, and London School of Economics SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society.

Chris Moos was the master of ceremonies of the rally.

At the protest, Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters called upon the Law Society to withdraw its guidance:

Our message to you is this: Wake up: You are the Law Society and not a body advising on the compatibility of the law with religious principles! You have no business in normalising discriminatory religious principles in the legal culture and practice of this country. Your business is to ensure that the law is human rights complaint and not anti-rights compliant. Your business is to tear up the guidance. Your business is to stand with us on this side of the fence and on this side of history.

Maryam Namazie, founder of One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation argued:

There is no place for Sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere. Sharia – like all religious laws – is based on a dogmatic and regressive philosophy and a warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. It is primitive and patriarchal and based on inequality, retribution and religious [im]morality. It is not a rule for equals and has no place in a modern state or system of law. Law Society listen up: you must immediately withdraw your shameful guidance. Now! In the words of Algerian women singing for change: “We aren’t asking for favours. History speaks for us”.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said:

The Law Society is violating its own equality policies by providing guidance on Sharia-compliant wills and offering training courses in Sharia law for high street lawyers. It is colluding with Sharia law principles that discriminate against women, non-Muslims and children who are adopted or born to unmarried parents. This is a direct attack on the equal rights of many Muslims, especially women. The Law Society is supposed to uphold the equality values of British law. Instead, it is undermining them. The Law Society would never provide guidance to facilitate racist or homophobic-compliant wills. Why the double standards?

Kate Smurthwaite, comedian and activist, appealed to the Law Society:

Religious bigots are highly skilled at trampling on the rights of women, children and non-believers. They don’t need The Law Society to help them. The value of daughters is THE SAME as the value of sons. All marriages, religious, non-religious, gay or straight are marriages. And every child is legitimate. Faced with bigotry it is the job of all of us – including the Law Society – to challenge it. The protestors today did exactly that. When will The Law Society follow suit and rip up this ‘guide to discrimination’?

Abhishek Phadnis, president of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society, added:

I come from a country which has seen this divisive trend being taken to its logical conclusion – where a woman’s rights to, among other things, alimony and inheritance, depend entirely on her religion, there being different laws for each community. The resulting discrimination has visited appalling suffering upon Muslim women in particular. I have no wish to see it replicated here. A man may choose to be as spiteful and chauvinistic as he wishes, but it is not something our public institutions should encourage or condone. I hope the Law Society will withdraw this Note before it causes any further damage.

James Bloodworth, the Editor of Left Foot Forward, said: [Read more...]

Sharia law is madness

maryam-namazie-photo by Mallorie Nassrallah-smallThe below is Maryam Namazie’s editorial published in the April 2014 issue of Unveiled: A Publication of Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation.

Sharia law is highly contested and vehemently opposed in many places across the globe.

In Algeria, women’s rights activists singing for change label 20 years of Sharia in the family code as 20 years of madness.  They sing:

“I am telling you a story
Of what the powerful have done
Of rules, a code of despair
A code obsessed with women…”
“This law must be undone…!”

In Iran, after the establishment of Sharia law there, the Iranian Lawyers’ Association came out in full force against the new religious codes only to be met with arrest and exile; some opponents were even charged with apostasy, which is a “crime” punishable by death…

How tragically ironic, then, that the British Law Society, has decided to side with the Islamists and issue Sharia-complaint guidance which matter-of-factly endorses discrimination against females, non-Muslims and “illegitimate” children.

Rather than being at the forefront of defending equality before the law, they legitimise inequality and bring back patriarchal and archaic concepts of “justice” that deny rights to women merely because of their gender and children merely for being born out of wedlock! A recent film called “Bastards” shows single mother Rabha El Haimer, an illiterate child bride, in her fight to secure a future for her “illegitimate” child in Morocco.

Thanks to the Law Society, this will be the fate of British children and women too!

How very shameful!

“Muslim feminists” tell us that the Law Society has accepted de facto an Islamist interpretation of Sharia law – which is true. It is always those in power who determine the laws and rules, and when it comes to Islam, due to the power and influence of Islamism, it is their brutal version that affects innumerable lives.

“Muslim feminists” also tell us that there are more women-friendly interpretations out there, which the Law Society has ignored. That may well be the case (though I have never seen one that is favourable or fair enough). In my opinion, no religious law can ever give 21st century women and men the full equality they deserve.

In any case, a focus on interpretations misses the point: which is that religion is a private matter open to as many interpretations as there are believers. Once it becomes part of the state or law, it becomes a matter of repressive political power and control with women and girls as its first victims.

The real point is that religion – be it Islam or Judaism or Christianity or what have you – must be kept separate from the state and law if women and everyone else are to be protected and considered equal.

Clearly, there is no place for Sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere.

The fight against the Law Society is part and parcel of the fight against Sharia and religious laws everywhere. And don’t be mistaken. This is not just about opposing institutionalised discrimination. It is about 21st century humanity rejecting a code of law that belongs to the Middle Ages, that sees women as sub-human, that deems sexuality, sex and women’s bodies as illegal whilst legalising child marriages, stonings and misogyny.

Sharia – like all religious laws – is based on a 1400 year old dogmatic and regressive philosophy and its warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. Where Islamists have control over the state, Sharia law terrorises the population to submit by showing the damnable nature of dissent.  It is a primitive and patriarchal system based on inequality, retribution and religious [im]morality. It is not a rule for equals and has no place in a modern state or system of law.

Only a few days ago, a representative of Khamenei , Iran’s “Supreme Spiritual leader” (absurd titles that only come with religious rule) said: “Sadly, over the past three decades we have seen many working to establish a secular state [in Iran] which will undermine people’s Islamic values and culture”. Of course we have. No one opposes Sharia law more than those who have lived under, fled, or resisted it.

I am sure the Islamists are very grateful to the Law Society for upholding their values at the expense of the many others who demand equality and secularism.

Law Society listen up: you must immediately withdraw your shameful guidance. Withdraw it now!

In the words of Algerian women singing for change:

“We aren’t asking for favours.
“History speaks for us.”

Equality before the law is not just an empty phrase

Pragna-Patel-InterviewThe below is an interview with Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters published in the April 2014 issue of Unveiled: A Publication of Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation:

On the Law Society’s Discriminatory Guidance on Sharia-Compliant Inheritance and Wills

Interview with Pragna Patel

Maryam Namazie: British law already allows people to leave their estates to whomever they choose so why does a statement signed by a number of groups and individuals label the Law Society’s guidance on Sharia-compliant inheritance and wills discriminatory?

Pragna Patel:  The practice note (guidelines) issued by the Law Society is extremely problematic because what it seeks to do is to institutionalise a profoundly discriminatory approach to the question of property settlements, disputes and trusts concerning women and children in minority communities. It is at best a misguided response but nevertheless dangerous, because it is yet another way of reflecting the growing view that civil matters and disputes in minority communities are to be addressed within a religious framework.

The practice notes states: ‘This is the first time guidance has been published for solicitors to assist them with the intricacies of Sharia succession rules, which is the code of law derived from the Quran and from the teachings and examples of Mohammed’.

The immediate question that needs to be asked is why does the Law Society not leave it to clerics to clarify the ‘intricacies’ of ‘Sharia’ rules outside the law for those who want it? How can it possibly think that its role is to guide on religious matters? More importantly, why does the Law Society feel that it needs to support and be seen to publicly support the drawing up of discriminatory wills? Quite apart from the fact that it cannot possibly know what is and isn’t ‘Sharia compliant’ given the many contested interpretations of so called ‘Sharia’ law, it actually wades into religious territory and gives succour to the view that religious and secular laws can operate in parallel with the former applying to minorities and the latter to the white majority society.

The role of the Law Society is to promote legal professional standards so that the law is upheld in a fair and non-discriminatory way. The phrase ‘equality before the law’ is not just an empty phrase. Justice must not only be done but seen to be done. The law is symbolic and aspirational at the same time; it is an important means by which just and democratic societal norms are established. The Law Society has no business in normalising ‘Sharia’ principles in British legal culture. The Law Society also has no business in endorsing and promoting discriminatory religious norms and values for minorities because in doing so, it enhances profoundly patriarchal and unequal social arrangements in minority communities.

Maryam Namazie: If it’s not binding, how can it seriously undermine the Equality Act, citizenship rights and one law for all?

Pragna Patel:  Those who argue that it is ‘not binding’ and that it is ‘all a fuss about nothing’, miss the point entirely.  The guidance signals the view that no matter how discriminatory and abhorrent certain aspects of minority cultures may be, they must be tolerated and even supported! We cannot underestimate the ways in which religion is creeping into the very fabric of legal structures in our society and it is minority women and other vulnerable sub groups who pay the price. By issuing such guidance, the Law Society is helping to create a context that is conducive to the practice of patriarchal oppression and to the legitimisation of anti-human rights religious norms. Religious norms dictate strict gender roles and codes of conduct for women – codes that deny their right to freedom and equality in the family in a range of matters such as marriage, divorce, children and inheritance.

I have noted that the religious-Right (who have been in the ascendency in our communities since the 90s) have been quietly going about trying to create a parallel legal system in the UK. By engaging in a pincer-like manoeuvre, they have on the one hand, obtained official endorsement for the establishment and operation of alternative religious forums for dispute resolutions on family matters, such as Sharia councils and tribunals, and on the other hand, they have influenced the legal system from the inside by demanding ‘Sharia compliant’ approaches to civil and especially family matters. The Law Society’s response is an example of the latter category.

The guidelines remind solicitors that under ‘Sharia’ ‘…as a general rule, a male heir will inherit twice the amount that a female heir will receive, Illegitimate children are not heirs’. This is really extraordinary since it accepts without question, the inherent discrimination that exists in Islam (as indeed in other religions) against women and children born outside marriage.  What happened to the ideals of justice, equality and fairness embodied in the law? Far from promoting equality and justice, by its action, the Law Society is helping to arrest the development of justice born out of struggles for equality by women in minority communities. It is one thing to recognise that discrimination exists in all societies, but quite another for the Law Society to be associated with and be seen to promote relativism to questions of equality and justice. The demand for recognition of separate religious or ‘personal’ laws to address family matters are gaining momentum, but it has serious and even life threatening implications for minority women and children and other minority sub-groups. [Read more...]

Fitnah Unveiled: On Sharia Law

fitnah-UNVEILED28-apr14-A4_Page_01Unveiled: A Publication of Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
April 2014, Volume 2, Issue 4

Editor: Maryam Namazie. Design: Kiran Opal. Layout: Jim Sharples.

PDF VERSION OF FITNAH UNVEILED APRIL ISSUE: fitnah-UNVEILED28-apr14-A4

Editorial
Sharia law is madness
Maryam Namazie

Sharia law is highly contested and vehemently opposed in many places across the globe.

In Algeria, women’s rights activists singing for change label 20 years of Sharia in the family code as 20 years of madness.  They sing:

“I am telling you a story
Of what the powerful have done
Of rules, a code of despair
A code obsessed with women…”
“This law must be undone…!”

In Iran, after the establishment of Sharia law there, the Iranian Lawyers’ Association came out in full force against the new religious codes only to be met with arrest and exile; some opponents were even charged with apostasy, which is a “crime” punishable by death…

How tragically ironic, then, that the British Law Society, has decided to side with the Islamists and issue Sharia-complaint guidance which matter-of-factly endorses discrimination against females, non-Muslims and “illegitimate” children.

Rather than being at the forefront of defending equality before the law, they legitimise inequality and bring back patriarchal and archaic concepts of “justice” that deny rights to women merely because of their gender and children merely for being born out of wedlock! A recent film called “Bastards” shows single mother Rabha El Haimer, an illiterate child bride, in her fight to secure a future for her “illegitimate” child in Morocco.

Thanks to the Law Society, this will be the fate of British children and women too!

How very shameful!

“Muslim feminists” tell us that the Law Society has accepted de facto an Islamist interpretation of Sharia law – which is true. It is always those in power who determine the laws and rules, and when it comes to Islam, due to the power and influence of Islamism, it is their brutal version that affects innumerable lives.

“Muslim feminists” also tell us that there are more women-friendly interpretations out there, which the Law Society has ignored. That may well be the case (though I have never seen one that is favourable or fair enough). In my opinion, no religious law can ever give 21st century women and men the full equality they deserve.

In any case, a focus on interpretations misses the point: which is that religion is a private matter open to as many interpretations as there are believers. Once it becomes part of the state or law, it becomes a matter of repressive political power and control with women and girls as its first victims.

The real point is that religion – be it Islam or Judaism or Christianity or what have you – must be kept separate from the state and law if women and everyone else are to be protected and considered equal.

Clearly, there is no place for Sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere.

The fight against the Law Society is part and parcel of the fight against Sharia and religious laws everywhere. And don’t be mistaken. This is not just about opposing institutionalised discrimination. It is about 21st century humanity rejecting a code of law that belongs to the Middle Ages, that sees women as sub-human, that deems sexuality, sex and women’s bodies as illegal whilst legalising child marriages, stonings and misogyny.

Sharia – like all religious laws – is based on a 1400 year old dogmatic and regressive philosophy and its warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. Where Islamists have control over the state, Sharia law terrorises the population to submit by showing the damnable nature of dissent.  It is a primitive and patriarchal system based on inequality, retribution and religious [im]morality. It is not a rule for equals and has no place in a modern state or system of law.

Only a few days ago, a representative of Khamenei , Iran’s “Supreme Spiritual leader” (absurd titles that only come with religious rule) said: “Sadly, over the past three decades we have seen many working to establish a secular state [in Iran] which will undermine people’s Islamic values and culture”. Of course we have. No one opposes Sharia law more than those who have lived under, fled, or resisted it.

I am sure the Islamists are very grateful to the Law Society for upholding their values at the expense of the many others who demand equality and secularism.

Law Society listen up: you must immediately withdraw your shameful guidance. Withdraw it now!

In the words of Algerian women singing for change:

“We aren’t asking for favours.
“History speaks for us.”

 ‘Equality before the law’ is not just an empty phrase
On the Law Society’s Discriminatory Guidance on Sharia-Compliant Inheritance and Wills
Interview with Pragna Patel

Maryam Namazie: British law already allows people to leave their estates to whomever they choose so why does a statement signed by a number of groups and individuals label the Law Society’s guidance on Sharia-compliant inheritance and wills discriminatory?

Pragna Patel:  The practice note (guidelines) issued by the Law Society is extremely problematic because what it seeks to do is to institutionalise a profoundly discriminatory approach to the question of property settlements, disputes and trusts concerning women and children in minority communities. It is at best a misguided response but nevertheless dangerous, because it is yet another way of reflecting the growing view that civil matters and disputes in minority communities are to be addressed within a religious framework.

The practice notes states: ‘This is the first time guidance has been published for solicitors to assist them with the intricacies of Sharia succession rules, which is the code of law derived from the Quran and from the teachings and examples of Mohammed’.

The immediate question that needs to be asked is why does the Law Society not leave it to clerics to clarify the ‘intricacies’ of ‘Sharia’ rules outside the law for those who want it? How can it possibly think that its role is to guide on religious matters? More importantly, why does the Law Society feel that it needs to support and be seen to publicly support the drawing up of discriminatory wills? Quite apart from the fact that it cannot possibly know what is and isn’t ‘Sharia compliant’ given the many contested interpretations of so called ‘Sharia’ law, it actually wades into religious territory and gives succour to the view that religious and secular laws can operate in parallel with the former applying to minorities and the latter to the white majority society.

The role of the Law Society is to promote legal professional standards so that the law is upheld in a fair and non-discriminatory way. The phrase ‘equality before the law’ is not just an empty phrase. Justice must not only be done but seen to be done. The law is symbolic and aspirational at the same time; it is an important means by which just and democratic societal norms are established. The Law Society has no business in normalising ‘Sharia’ principles in British legal culture. The Law Society also has no business in endorsing and promoting discriminatory religious norms and values for minorities because in doing so, it enhances profoundly patriarchal and unequal social arrangements in minority communities.

Maryam Namazie: If it’s not binding, how can it seriously undermine the Equality Act, citizenship rights and one law for all?

Pragna Patel:  Those who argue that it is ‘not binding’ and that it is ‘all a fuss about nothing’, miss the point entirely.  The guidance signals the view that no matter how discriminatory and abhorrent certain aspects of minority cultures may be, they must be tolerated and even supported! We cannot underestimate the ways in which religion is creeping into the very fabric of legal structures in our society and it is minority women and other vulnerable sub groups who pay the price. By issuing such guidance, the Law Society is helping to create a context that is conducive to the practice of patriarchal oppression and to the legitimisation of anti-human rights religious norms. Religious norms dictate strict gender roles and codes of conduct for women – codes that deny their right to freedom and equality in the family in a range of matters such as marriage, divorce, children and inheritance. [Read more...]

The Law Society must withdraw its guidance on Sharia-succession rules

We, the undersigned, are appalled to learn that the Law Society, the representative body for solicitors in England and Wales, has issued Sharia-related guidance on wills, succession and inheritance.

The guidance says:

“Certain principles of Sharia are different to English succession laws. For example, it is not possible to inherit under Sharia rules via a deceased relative. No distinction is made between children of different marriages, but illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs.

“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class. Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised. Similarly, a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir, as the entitlement depends on a valid Muslim marriage existing at the date of death”.

Whilst not binding, the guidance legitimises rules which are highly contested by many Muslims themselves and which discriminates against Muslim women, non-Muslims, and ‘illegitimate’ and adopted children. The guidance seriously undermines the Equality Act, citizenship rights and one law for all.

Since individuals are already free to dispense of their estate as they see fit (as long as they provide for their dependants) such guidance unwittingly aids and abets Islamist attempts at subverting democratic laws and principles with a de facto parallel legal system where minority women and children have increasingly fewer rights than other citizens.

This scandalous guidance is similar to that which Universities UK published endorsing gender segregation at universities in Britain. UUK was promptly forced to withdraw its guidance after widespread condemnation.

We call on the Law Society to immediately and unequivocally withdraw its guidance.

Ahlam Akram, Founder and Director of Basira for Universal Women Rights
Ahmed Idris, Member of Lawyers’ Secular Society
Ali al-Razi, Ex-Muslims Forum Administrator
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, Egyptian Activist
Amina Sboui, Tunisian Activist
Behzad Varpushty, Activist
Caroline Fourest, Journalist
Charlie Klendjian, Secretary of Lawyers’ Secular Society
Chris Moos, Secretary of LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Christopher Roche, Chair of Bath Atheists, Humanists and Secularists
Elham Manea, Author
Fariborz Pooya, Founder of Iranian Secular Society
Farzana Hassan, Former Director of Muslim Canadian Congress and Writer
Fatou Sow, Senegalese Sociologist
Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space
Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize Winner
Ibrahim Abdullah, Muslimish
Imad Iddine Habib, Founder and Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco
Jackie Jones, Professor of Feminist Legal Studies, Chair of Wales Assembly of Women and President of European Women Lawyers Association
James Bloodworth, Editor of Left Foot Forward
Julie Bindel, Writer
Kate Smurthwaite, Comedian and Activist
Kiran Opal, Writer and Human Rights Activist
Lalia Ducos, Head of Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights
Lawrence M. Krauss, Physicist and Author
Lisa-Marie Taylor and Julian Norman, Co-Chairs of Feminism in London
Marieme Helie Lucas, Founder of Secularism is a Woman’s Issue
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson of One Law for All and Fitnah
Mersedeh Ghaedi, London Spokesperson of Iran Tribunal
Mina Ahadi, Coordinator of the International Committee against Stoning and Execution
Nadia El-Fani, Filmmaker
Nahla Mahmoud, Spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Nazanin Afshin-Jam, President and co Founder of Stop Child Executions
Nina Sankari, President of the European Feminist Initiative in Poland
Omar Kuddus, LGBTI / Human Rights Advocate and Director of GayAsylumUK
Pat Black, Immediate Past President of Soroptimist International GBI
Patty Debonitas, Spokesperson of Iran Solidarity
Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters
Raheel Raza, President of Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow
Reza Moradi, Political Activist
Richard Dawkins, Scientist
Rouhi Shafii, Executive Director of International Coalition Against Violence in Iran
Safia Lebdi, Conseillère Régionale EELV and présidente des Insoumises
Salil Tripathi, Writer
Sarah Haider, Co-Founder of Ex-Muslims of North America
Shelley Segal, Singer and Songwriter
Soad Baba Aissa, Head of Association pour la mixité, l’égalité et la laicité en Algérie
Sohaila Sharifi, Women’s Rights Activist
Soraya Chemaly, Writer and Activist
Sue Cox, Co-Founder Survivors Voice Europe
Syed Raza, Director of Forum for Learning
Tarek Fatah, Founder of Muslim Canadian Congress
Taslima Nasrin, Writer
Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner

To support the campaign calling for the Law Society’s withdrawal of its discriminatory guidelines, please sign the Lawyers’ Secular Society’s petition.

There will be a symbolic protest action on Monday 28 April at 5pm. More details to follow.

For more information, contact:
Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space, [email protected], http://www.centreforsecularspace.org/
Maryam Namazie, One Law for All, [email protected], www.onelawforall.org.uk, 07719166731
Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, [email protected], http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/, 07985399740 [Read more...]