Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sharia Britain: the paradox of tolerance

by Mark Durie

This week Baroness Caroline Cox launched a bill in the House of Lords to impose principles of gender equality upon the sharia courts of Britain.

This proposal reflects a growing groundswell of concern about the impact of these courts upon the lives of Muslim women.

This initiative is supported by a diverse coalition of human rights groups, including the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, whose director Dianna Nammi devotes much of her work to assisting British women who are intimidated and discriminated against by the rulings of sharia courts.

The sharia is a system of rules for all of life.

Developed by Islamic scholars in the first centuries of Islam, it not only regulates prayer and worship, but also family relations, welfare, criminal matters, food, financial transactions, politics and even warfare.

The new bill aims to outlaw such practices as valuing a woman's evidence at half that of a man's; it seeks to prevent the intimidation and victimization of women who come before sharia tribunals; it requires religious tribunals to inform women that their sharia marriage or divorce may have no standing in British law, leaving them without legal protection; and it makes it a criminal offense to falsely claim legal jurisdiction.

A study by the think tank Civitas reported in 2009 that 85 sharia courts were operating across Britain, some of which have legal standing as tribunals under the alternative dispute resolution provisions of the 1996 Arbitration Act.

In a pattern being repeated across Western societies, from Sydney to Ontario, Muslim communities have been asking for legal recognition of sharia law, in the name of tolerance and pluralism.

Critics object that sharia courts discriminate against women, and their expansion in Britain is entrenching a system of parallel societies divided along religious lines.

In 2008 the Lord Chief Justice of England, Nicholas Phillips recommended 'embracing Sharia law', saying there was 'no reason' why it could not be used to alternative dispute resolution, and the Archbishop of Canterbury commented, 'it's not as if we're bringing in an alien and rival system'.

On the other hand, the Grand Chamber of the European Human Rights court found in 2003 that a plurality of legal systems which accommodates sharia infringes rights to religious freedom, because a state would thereby pressure individual Muslims to live according to religious rules with which they may not personally agree.

A 2004 report by Marion Boyd, Ontario's former Attorney General, supported Canadian Muslim groups' call for the use of sharia to settle family disputes.

However it was Muslim women such as Iranian immigrant Homa Arjomand who spear-headed resistance to the move, arguing that sharia law denies women equality before the law.

Few governments have been as forthright as Australia, whose Attorney General, Robert McClelland, recently declared that 'Sharia law has no place in the Australian legal system' because 'men and women are equal before the law irrespective of race, religious or cultural background.'

British sharia courts are conducted behind closed doors. Reports indicate that women are severely disadvantaged by their rulings.

It is easy for a Muslim man to divorce his wife under sharia law, for no reason. For a woman divorce is much more difficult.

She must apply to a court, and only on the basis of a limited set of reasons, which do not include domestic violence or rape by the husband.

Often she must pay the husband money in order to be granted her divorce.

Furthermore, under sharia law a divorced woman has no right to a share in family assets, and a father has sole custody of any children after they turn seven.

Women are further disadvantaged by the sharia laws of inheritance and evidence, which value a woman's worth at half that of a man's.

Such principles are not an invention of marginal religious radicals.

The International Fiqh Academy is a group of distinguished jurists which operates under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

In 2009 it issued a formal ruling on domestic violence which endorsed principles such as those being applied in British sharia courts, including the right of a husband to use force to compel his wife to have sexual relations, even if she is 'unwilling', and the right of a man to discipline his wife by what it termed 'non-violent beating'.

It is an irony that a woman can be more vulnerable to discriminatory treatment in a legally authorized British sharia tribunal than she would be in some Islamic jurisdictions.

Islamic states often pass laws to lessen the disadvantage suffered by women under sharia conditions.

For example, since 2000, Egyptian law allows women to divorce their husbands without having to give cause – but not without a financial penalty – and in 2005 a law was introduced to extend the period of a mother's custody of a child beyond the age determined by the sharia.

In Britain tribunals with legal standing dole out a purer strain of sharia.

The proposed new equality bill represents a significant escalation of resistance to sharia creep.

It can only succeed with government support.

If it fails, this will mean perpetuation of second class legal status for many British women.

It is a paradox of tolerance that legal inferiority might to be deemed to be 'good enough' for Muslim women, in the name of minority rights.

Mark Durie is an Anglican pastor and author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom.

This appeared first on Jenny Taylor's Blog on 10th June 2011. 
Exclusive UK rights assigned to Lapido Media.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

European Court to rule on Christian discrimination cases - Christian Concern

European Court to rule on Christian discrimination cases

In a significant legal development, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has requested that the British Government state whether they believe that the rights of Christians have been infringed in recent cases where individuals have been penalised for expressing their faith in the workplace.
The request has come because legal action is being taken by four Christians who argue that their rights have been infringed.
The four Christians are: Gary McFarlane, a counsellor who was sacked by a counselling service for saying that he would not give sex therapy to homosexual couples; Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was banned from working on hospital wards for wearing a cross around her neck; Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee who was prevented from wearing a cross; and Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined by Islington council for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.
The Christian Legal Centre is representing Shirley Chaplin and Gary McFarlane.
The cases have been viewed by the European Court as being of such importance that they merit further investigation. Once British Government ministers have responded the Court will decide whether to hold further hearings. Many will be watching these developments closely, as the number of Christian discrimination cases in the UK appears to be continuing to rise.
It is hoped that the consideration of these cases will provide greater clarity as to how freedom of conscience for Christians can be preserved when it comes into conflict with UK ‘equality’ laws.
Earlier in the year, the ECHR ruled that crosses were allowed to be displayed on classroom walls after a case from Italy was heard. This decision appeared out of step with how British courts had ruled on the four cases, which were all lost on appeal.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said:
"These cases are massively significant.
"There seems to be a disproportionate animosity towards the Christian faith and the workings of the courts in the UK has led to deep injustice.
"If we are successful in Strasbourg I hope that the Equalities Act and other diversity legislation will be overturned or overhauled so that Christians are free to work and act in accordance with their conscience.
"People with orthodox views on sexual ethics are excluded from employment because they don't fit in with the equalities and diversity agenda. It is this which we want to see addressed. Such injustice cannot be allowed to continue."