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Islamic wills draws more criticism

Islamic wills draws more criticism

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday April 09 2014

The Independent provides further coverage on the Law Society’s new practice note on shari’ah compliant wills. Last month, the Sunday Telegraph’s response to the publishing of the note was overdramatized when it incorrectly reported that the Law Society was ‘promoting’ shari’ah law and a parallel legal system by publishing the guidance.

The Law Society produced the practice note to offer advice to solicitors who have been instructed by clients to prepare a will which follows shari’ah rules on inheritance and bequests. Its note makes clear that solicitors “are not required to follow them… Practice notes are not legal advice.

Yet Matt Rowland Hill writes in the Independent that “The Law Society’s move doesn’t just encourage the spread of such practices, it grants them respectability – in a country that has had a Sex Discrimination Act in place since 1975”. He further critiques the Law Society for “effectively issuing a declamation on behalf of a regressive, reactionary version of Islamic jurisprudence”.

Moreover, Charlie Kledijan of the Lawyers’ Secular Society stated that the Law Society “has effectively legitimised sharia in the eyes of the legal world” by publishing the note.

The Lawyers’ Secular Society in reaction to the practice note issued an open letter asking the Law Society to answer why it adopted a guidance that “assist[s] in drafting wills which treat women far worse than men, and non-Muslims far worse than Muslims?”

The Lawyers Secular Society is further organising a protest on 28 April to condemn the practice note and is demanding for its withdrawal through an online petition which has reached 2,000 signatures.

Dispelling the bluster of Rowland Hill and the Lawyers’ Secular Society, Ismaeel Waseem from Carter Law writes in The Law Society Gazette, that “Both a Muslim and a non-Muslim alike can make a will which expresses their wishes on how they would like their estate to be divided. You can legally divide your estate however you wish, and there are no limits on restricting certain parties of favouring certain family members over others.”

He observes that the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 can be used to bring a claim against the estate for financial provision, if inheritors feel their bequest is unfair but the law is founded upon the individual’s right to leave their estate as they see fit.

While Ismaeel Waseem rightly points out that it was wrong for the Sunday Telegraph to suggest that the Law Society is ‘promoting’ shari’ah law in its practice note, his criticism apllies to other papers which have supported the insinuation.

He adds “Contrary to what is implied in the Telegraph piece, Muslims are free to include non-Muslims in this one-third share. Muslims are encouraged to give money to charity, the orphans and poor.

“A Muslim can divide one-third of the estate however they wish. This has been allowed in order that the testator may fill any voids such as the above. It allows for flexibility.”

As to the notion of gender equality, Waseem demonstrates that it is possible for men and women inheritors to receive equal shares using this one-third of property.                       

Similarly, Neil Addison, a Barrister at New Bailey Chambers, in a letter to the Sunday Times following its article “Law body’s guide to sharia ‘backs discrimination’”, corrects the paper’s misrepresentation of the note and its implications for Muslim families (as he did with a letter to the Sunday Telegraph the previous week).

Addison discerns that the person making a will is allowed by English law to give less to daughters than sons, to bequeath to only persons of a specific religion “whether Muslim, Mormon or Methodist” in the same way that they can refuse to include a child in their will for any reason they wish.

Addison makes clear that it is not the job of a lawyer to draft a will that “shows respect for diversity” because “the Equality Act does not extend to the dead – yet.”

As for Matt Rowland Hill’s claim that the Law Society was “effectively issuing a declamation on behalf of a regressive, reactionary version of Islamic jurisprudence”, who does he hold up as a ‘liberal-minded Muslim’? Dr Usama Hasan. The same Usama Hasan who is alleged to have conspired to prevent a Muslim speaker addressing a gathering of Muslims at Nottingham University. The same Usama Hasan of the Quilliam Foundation whose staff, through their involvement with the Henry Jackson Society and Student Rights, have sought to block various speakers from speaking at campus events at universities across the country. Curious form of ‘liberal-minded Muslim’ wouldn’t you say?


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