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Another baseless MacEoin report – this time on Shari'ah councils

Another baseless MacEoin report – this time on Shari'ah councils

Categories: Latest News

Monday June 29 2009

  Setting a new low for publications lacking in academic rigour, Civitas produces another questionable report by Denis MacEoin entitled: ‘Sharia Law or ‘One Law For All’?

The report is covered extensively in today’s press (Daily Mail, Daily Express, Telegraph), both in news items and leader columns (Daily Express, Mail), with the Mail splashing it across the front page. And the Daily Express follows its front page last week, ‘Ban the burqa in Britain’, with this poll question in today’s paper:


Firstly, on the report, matching the methodological rigour applied in his earlier report for Civitas, ‘Music, Chess and Other Sins’, and not to forget the fabricated research used to support a piece of work for Policy Exchange, (The Hijacking of British Islam), MacEoin has researched his current report on Shari’ah tribunals in the UK, according to the Civitas press release, by:

Reproduc[ing] a range of fatwas issued by popular online fatwa sites, run out of or accessed through mosques in the UK, and in some cases … from UK Muslim schools’, because, he claims, ‘It is extremely difficult to find out what goes on in these courts’ and ‘these online fatwas can give a good indication of the rulings of sharia courts in Britain’.

It might seem perfectly possible in our Wikipedia age to trawl through online fatwas and infer from them a summation of the operations of Shari’ah tribunals, but it would hardly stand up to scrutiny as a piece of serious, reliable work. Nor would it accurately reflect what Shari’ah tribunals mediate on and what sorts of mediated outcomes arise from their involvement.

Such would require proper investigation of the workings of the tribunals themselves. An exercise MacEoin doesn’t seem to have bothered with. One should recall here that never having visited a Muslim school didn’t prevent MacEoin from writing his report on Muslim schools in the UK.

It must be gratifying to be able to publish work without ever properly researching the subject matter. And it says something of any institute willing to even entertain the idea of publishing such poor quality work.

MacEoin argues:

The introduction of sharia law into this country is a recipe for a dichotomous legal system that holds Muslims and non-Muslims to different standards. This is not a matter of eating halal meat or seeking God’s blessing on one’s marriage. It is a challenge to what we believe to be the rights and freedoms of the individual, to our concept of a legal system based on what parliament enacts, and to the right of all of us to live in a society as free as possible from ethnic-religious division or communal claims to superiority and a special status that puts them in some respects above the law to which we are all bound.’

Which is all very curious given that (a) Beth Din courts enjoy the same status as Shari’ah tribunals and have done so for a very long time. Why no similar mention by MacEoin of the Beth Din courts and their alleged ‘communal claims to superiority’ and ‘special status’, or does this only apply to Shari’ah tribunals? (b) Jack Straw, the Justice Minister has already clarified the point of the supremacy of British law over religious tribunals:

The facts in the UK are these. If, in a family dispute, parties reach an agreement with the help of a Sharia council and want to have that decision recognised under national law, they can submit a consent order to an English court in the terms of the agreement. But it is ultimately up to the English court to decide whether the agreement complies with English law. In family cases, the court will consider a range of issues including the future welfare of the parties and their children. No court will endorse an agreement which conflicts with English law.

‘…Communities have the option to use religious councils to help them come to agreements about other personal disputes. But those agreements will always be subject to English law and cannot be enforced through the English courts, apart from in the very limited circumstances where the religious council acts as an arbitrator.

‘The statutory base for such arbitration in these cases is the Arbitration Act 1996 – and nothing has changed in the 12 years since that legislation was passed.

‘Crucially, any member of any religious community – or indeed, any other community – has the right to refer to an English court, particularly if they feel pressured or coerced to resolve an issue in a way in which they feel uncomfortable.

‘But given the fact that speculation abounds on this point, let me say once again: There is nothing whatever in English law that prevents people abiding by Sharia principles if they wish to, provided they do not come into conflict with English law. There is no question about that. But English law will always remain supreme, and religious councils subservient to it.

As we argued in our article critiquing Lord Tebbit’s likening of Shari’ah tribunals to arbitration practiced by the Kray brothers:

The supremacy of English law has always been the case with the very similar Jewish Beth Din courts that have existed and operated for decades in the UK. Never has the authority of English law been questioned in relation to the arbitration offered by the Jewish courts, so why then the fuss concerning Shari’ah tribunals that operate under exactly the same regulations? Sadly, for no other reason than that the latter are intended for use by Muslims. Rarely does one hear of the criticisms made of the Shari’ah courts similarly extended to the Beth Din courts though both essentially serve the same purpose.’ 

Something MacEoin’s new ‘report’ only reinforces.

See also Islamophobia Watch.


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