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Government announces ‘review of Sharia courts’

Government announces ‘review of Sharia courts’

Categories: Latest News

Friday May 27 2016

The Independent was among several newspapers yesterday reporting on the announcement by the Home Secretary of an “independent review into the application of Sharia Law in England and Wales”.

The review, which was noted in the Government’s Counter Extremism Strategylast October, has been established “to explore whether, and to what extent, the application of Sharia law may be incompatible with the law in England and Wales. It will examine the ways in which Sharia may be being misused, or exploited, in a way that may discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values and cause social harms.”

The Home Office discloses names of those who will be involved in the review including the chair, Professor Mona Siddiqui, and scholars who will advise on proceedings, Imam Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi and Imam Qari Asim.

The full terms of reference have not been explicitly set out though the Home Office announcement explains the panel reviewing shari’ah councils will announce a call for evidence in due course.

The announcement, of course, doesn’t address more serious questions about the establishment of a review with such a narrow focus.

For example, why would the Government’s intention to conduct such a review be mentioned in a Counter extremism strategy, unless there is an implicit assumption that views on gender have some bearing on extremist attitudes? And were this to be the case, what are we to make of general assessments on the state of gender equality in the UK with the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Rashida Manjoo, claiming the UK has a “boys’ club sexist culture” and the recently launched Reclaim the Internet initiative revealing the extent of misogyny on social media?

Does such a culture and the prevalence of online misogyny not also “discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values and cause social harms”?

And then there the assurance given by the Home Secretary that the review will be a review of “Sharia courts” only and not religious courts in general. Is this to suggest that shari’ah councils are a problem when it comes to gender equality but Jewish Beth Din courts are not? The evidence certainly doesn’t bear out such an assumption with the Jewish Chronicle having published several articles on the discriminatory treatment of Jewish womenat the hands of Beth Din courts. Why the singular focus then on “Sharia courts” unless, again, there is an implicit bias at play that regards Muslims as a problem but not other faith traditions.

The discriminatory treatment of Muslims under counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies is well documented with the recently released Council of Europe’s annual report 2015 noting, “Many Muslims feel unjustly under suspicion and complain about racial profiling in policing, counter-terrorism operations or border controls. Furthermore, already existing stigmatisation and discrimination of Muslims in various areas of social life, such as employment, housing and access to goods and services, are exacerbated. While Muslims in general suffer from this, those who choose to lead a life in accordance with strict religious rules, for example concerning their dress code or diet, are particularly affected.”

The announcement on the review presents a delicious irony with the Government setting out its objectives as understanding how the courts might “discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values and cause social harms” with little regard for its role in announcing policies which do exactly the same. Can we have a review that will examine that?


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