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Paved with Good Intentions

This is a cross-post from Islam Surveyed via The LibertyPhile

“Sharia law compatible with human rights, argues leading barrister” was the headline in The Guardian (16 January, 2012).

The article continued “Sadakat Kadri told the Guardian that so-called “sharia courts” …. were good for “the community as a whole” by putting Sharia on a transparent, public footing and should be more widely accessible to those who want to use them.”

“…. they played a role in safeguarding human rights: “It’s very important that they be acknowledged and allowed to exist. So long as they’re voluntary, which is crucial, it’s in everyone’s interests these things be transparent and publicly accessible. If you don’t have open tribunals, they’re going to happen anyway, but behind closed doors.” See here.

One’s first reaction might be if something is wrong, it is wrong, and the fact that it might go on behind closed doors is no excuse for allowing it. No doubt fewer people would be involved and in time they too might be stopped.

Sadakat Kadri, the barrister in question, is of half-Finnish, half-Pakistani origins, and his book “Heaven on Earth – A Journey Through Sharia Law” had just been published by Bodley Head. See here.

The book reveals why he thinks as he does but ironically it provides some of the best reasons why he is talking through his hat (or should that be his wig?).

His argument for sharia comes in the closing chapters of his book. The book is in two parts, a highly readable mini-history of Islam with reference to Sharia, the larger part, and an account of Muslim attitudes today concerning modernity, criminal justice and religious tolerance, especially based on his recent his travels in Pakistan and Iran.

Kadri says: ”Those states that have gone furthest in [applying Sharia] trail the rest of the world when it comes to children’s rights, gender equality and religious freedom – and score highly only in terms of lethality.”

”In the light of [this] it would be easy to take fright at the extent of support for the sharia [30 to 40 per cent of UK Muslims regularly tell pollsters that they support its introduction] that exists in the West.”

”And fright is being taken. Alarmed by the existence of four minarets within its cantons, the population of Switzerland voted …. to ban the construction of any more. Belgium, France, Italy and the Netherlands have moved to criminalise women who wear veils in public.” (p248)

”…. nervousness is not just explicable, but to some extent justifiable. Intolerance and discrimination exist within the Muslim community.” (p250)

That seems pretty clear.

Discussion of who specifically is “taking fright” and some detail on why is limited. He mentions a book he read recently, “While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within”, by Bruce Bawer.

Kadri says: ”…. [Bawer] explained that Europeans – not least, those of the British variety – were straining to appease Islamic extremists, giving ground to the sharia and yielding up their freedoms at every turn.” (p248)

”…. Bawer’s world was not one I recognised, but the ripeness of his rhetoric certainly reflected a trend. The Muslims who stalked his pages, harassing and hoodwinking their way towards global domination, have become a tabloid staple.” (p249)

It’s all very well to mention Americans and the headline writers of the Daily Mail and Sun, but concern emanates from authoritative sources which Kadri completely ignores.

For a start: the “One Law for All” campaign, the Civitas report “Sharia Tribunals in Britain—Mediators or Arbitrators?” , Baroness Cox’s parliamentary Bill that would stop sharia courts claiming that they have legal jurisdiction over criminal or family law in the UK. He could read the overwhelmingly negative comments on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website every time they publish anything at all sympathetic towards Islam or Sharia. See here.

Regarding gender equality he could have noted it was Muslim women in Canada who spear-headed resistance to the use of Sharia to settle family disputes, arguing that sharia law denies women equality before the law. Many had gone to Canada to get away from sharia law and the coercion that it embodied. As a result of a referendum on the issue the Province of Ontario abolished all use of religious arbitration.

He mentions children’s rights where Sharia rules on child custody are rigid – custody of children automatically goes to the father – and were described by judges in the House of Lords as “arbitrary and discriminatory”.

Other reasons for taking fright which miss his attention are:

Sharia councils are applying arbitration methods to Family matters: They are offering “mediation” services that in fact lay down sharia rules, which both parties present to the family court pretending that it is a mediated agreement.

Undue pressure on women: The reality for many Muslim women, who may know nothing about English law, is that Sharia courts are part of an institutionalised atmosphere of intimidation. The threats they can make are not trivial, being accused of apostasy, for example.

Sharia councils are involved in criminal matters: In one study regarding domestic violence, four out of ten women attending Sharia courts were party to civil injunctions issued against their husbands on the grounds of violence and threatening behaviour. Sharia councils were ignoring not only English law intervention and due process but providing little protection and safety for the women in question. In some cases of domestic violence, the Sharia council has disclosed the location of women to their husbands.

Kadri says: ”Any discussion about Islamic law’s relationship to a country such as the United Kingdom should …. begin by acknowledging a few basic facts. The chicanery and coercion that has attended claims to enforce God’s will abroad throws very little light on the status of Islamic jurisprudence at home.“ (p251)

Really! He clearly thinks that what Islamic scholars in other countries do and say DOES have a bearing on the understanding and practice of Islam in the UK. If he doesn’t, why has he written his book?

In addition to his early history of Islam in the Middle East, one third of his book is an account of his travels in Pakistan and Iran and the understanding and practice of Islam that he found in those countries by talking to scholars, imams, madrasa students, Shia seminarians and Sunni jurists

Nowhere in his book does he talk to or talk about British Muslims.

At various points he draws attention to the impact of modern communications technology giving the popularity of Internet fatwas as an example. And it is most unlikely that he is unaware of the huge number of British Muslims who come from Pakistan, the large number who maintain family links, the importation of brides, and of imams.

Kadri says: ”The only study to explore what that support [for Sharia] actually entails – a 2008 poll of Muslim students – suggests that many believers are not at all sure. A full 50 per cent of respondents were unable to express a view even on whether Islam allowed legal interpretations to differ according to time and place.”

”Calls to impose the sharia are a slogan and an aspiration rather than a political programme …. “ (p251)

”Were a pollster one day to ask British Muslims not simply if they have faith in the sharia, but also what they mean by that faith, the point would be proved.”

”…. Insofar as some express enthusiasm for life under ‘the sharia’, they are saying that they believe in doing God’s will. …. the overwhelming majority want nothing more sinister than those intangibles that are missed in their absence: things like solidarity, status and dignity.” (p257)

Solidarity, status and dignity! That’s it! Well, you might ask, if that’s the case, what is wrong with British solidarity, status and dignity? After all we have Muslim MPs, Peers, and a Muslim chair of the Conservative Party.

He seems unaware, willfully or otherwise, that there are surveys that investigate exactly what Muslims believe. What would he make of this?

Q. “The following is a list of laws that are defined in most scholarly interpretations of sharia law. Please say if you personally agree or disagree with the law mentioned” (% of Muslims who agree or disagree with statement.)

A Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim: Agree, 51%; Disagree 42%;
A Muslim woman cannot marry without the consent of her guardian: Agree, 43%; Disagree 51%;
A Muslim male have up to four wives: Agree, 46%; Disagree 48%;
Muslim conversion is forbidden and punishable by death: Agree, 31%; Disagree 57%;

[Source: Policy Exchange study “Living Apart Together” 2007, based on a survey of 1003 Muslims conducted by Populus]

Kadri says: ”…. Women whose husbands have left them without speaking the words of release required by the Qur’an might approach a scholarly body such as the Islamic Sharia Council for an annulment.” (p257)

This is very bad advice. Muslims seeking a divorce through the Islamic Sharia Council pay a fee, and as if to rub in the inferior position of women, the fee for a man is £100 and for a woman it is £250 because (they say) it is more work to process a woman’s application as her word has to be corroborated.

This is the Islamic Sharia Council that publishes on its website the reasons why a woman’s testimony is worth less than a man’s (see here) and whose leading council members hold views such as:

On divorce: “When a woman applies (and) the husband agrees, the matter is settled, but if not, we invite both for an interview, and we do emphasise reconciliation. If she is seeking the divorce, she has to return the dower to him, if not, no divorce.”

On punishment: “Even though cutting off the hands and feet, or flogging the drunkard and fornicator, seem to be very abhorrent, once they are implemented, they become a deterrent for the whole society. “This is why in Saudi Arabia, for example, where these measures are implemented, the crime rate is very, very, low”

“If sharia law is implemented, then you can turn this country into a haven of peace because once a thief’s hand is cut off nobody is going to steal” (Dr Suhaib Hasan, Secretary of the ISC) See here.

On rape: Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, the president of the Islamic Sharia Council insists that men who force themselves upon their wives should have immunity from prosecution for rape.

It is “not Islamic” to classify non-consensual marital sex as rape and prosecute offenders “to make it exactly as the Western culture demands, is as if we are compromising Islamic religion with secular non-Islamic values.” See here.

On death for apostasy and adultery: “Capital punishment in Islamic law is permissible … for those [such as] the one who leaves his religion … just as the married adulterer, is a “criminal eligible for the death penalty”, according to the Islamic legal principle of consensus.” (Sheikh dr. Haitham al-Haddad)

In a discussion on stoning adulterers, Al-Haddad claimed that he had been approached by European women who had committed adultery and wanted to go to a Muslim country to be stoned for their bad deeds. It is available online. Stoning adulterers is at ~34:00 and killing apostates at about ~37:30. See here and here.

Well, there you have it. Every good reason to encourage Muslims to take their problems to the Islamic Sharia Council!

Kadri says: ”One of the most popular targets in recent years has been a body known as the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal [MAT]. It was set up in August 2007 by a group of Deobandi muftis … and it offers arguing parties the option of having their commercial and family disputes resolved according to Islamic law, for a reasonable fee.” (p257)

”…. Arbitration is a voluntary procedure open to everyone from Anabaptists to Zoroastrians …..”

”The Muslim tribunal has no jurisdiction over criminal matters or cases involving children, and its own rules require a barrister or solicitor to sit on all panels. And every decision is subject to judicial review – meaning that it is subject to reversal if it discloses unfair procedures, human rights violations or any step that ordinary courts consider to be against the public interest.” (p258)

See above regarding criminal matters and the “voluntary” nature of Sharia Councils. There may be some confusion about what is meant to happen at Sharia councils and what actually happens, and indeed who is involved, and are they tribunals, councils, courts, or what?

It was revealed last year that the UK Government commissioned an exploratory study of Sharia councils in England with respect to family law, but apparently the Sharia courts failed to co-operate and nothing was published. See here.

But what of these Deobandis? What does Kadri have to say in his book?

”…. Deoband’s founders were committed to the notion that the most fundamental principles of jurisprudence were fixed into place about eight hundred years ago, when ‘the gate of interpretation’ closed, and madrasa rules replicate that hierarchical assumption. Students are obliged to assume that previous and current generations of teachers are possessed of greater wisdom than themselves.” (p174)

”…. their collective approach towards education was resolutely unadventurous. They had no expectation that fresh ideas might resolve contemporary problems. Any new answers that might emerge would flow only from redoubled contemplation of what was already known.” (p176)

”…. Everything I saw of Pakistan’s [Deobandi] madrasas left me convinced …. that they were manifestations of a malaise rather than a signpost towards solutions. … and they often seem to acknowledge the outside world only on their own very rigid terms.” (p178)

In credibility defying leap Kadri concludes:

”- its operation [the MAT] might throw light on any number of intriguing questions. Will it appoint female arbitrators, for example, as some jurists thought permissible in Baghdad a thousand years ago or will it claim instead that there is no valid precedent?”

”…. How will they deal with the Qur’anic rule specifying that two women are required to offset a man’s testimony in commercial disputes, or the very man-made theory that female witnesses count for 50 per cent across the board?”

”Allowing conservatives to answer such questions involves compromise to be sure, but it does not constitute capitulation to extremism. And if Britain’s muftis are ready to develop human-rights-compatible interpretations of the sharia, only a fool would stand in their way.” (p259)

It is interesting that he makes such clear reference to a woman’s evidence being worth less than a man’s (in commercial matters, so no joy for Muslim business women). Many Muslims try to wriggle out of this one with all sorts of qualifications. He hasn’t mentioned female inheritance rights are equally inferior.

To him all these questions may well be “intriguing” but to everyone else the answers are obvious. The evidence is all around us in our newspapers, on our computer and TV screens, as well as in his book.