Sharia, translated from Arabic as ‘God’s divine law’, is the name of Islam’s legal system. Sharia law (a set of rules derived from the Quran and Hadiths) dictates all areas of a Muslim’s life; from how to dress, to when and what to eat, to instructions relating to family, charity and prayer. In many Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, Sharia law lays down strict punishments for crimes such as homosexuality, consuming alcohol, adultery and theft. Sentences for these crimes include amputation of the hands and/or feet, up to 1000 lashes, and death by stoning (usually done in front of an audience).
In Muslim-majority countries, it’s not a rare occurrence to read reports of women being brutally lashed for “crimes” such as standing too close to a man.
In an image provided by Islamic State, a burka-clad woman is read her final charges before she is stoned to death for adultery.
Make no mistake that these punishments are not only permissible according to Islamic scripture, but they are actively encouraged, too. Take a look at the following passages from the Quran:
Quran (5:38): [As for] the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they committed as a deterrent [punishment] from Allah.
Quran (5:90): O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination of Satan’s handwork.
Quran (24:2): The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes.
It’s certainly not unusual for us to read stories of brutal, inhumane punishments being carried out in Muslim-majority countries; but does Sharia law govern in the UK, too?
In a word; yes.
The Extent of Sharia Law in the UK
In the UK, Sharia law is dictated through Sharia councils (sometimes called Sharia courts). Muslims visit these councils to request guidance on financial and family disputes.
So how many Sharia councils do we have in the UK? This is where things get a little tricky. A study carried out by the University of Reading in 2012 identified 30 Sharia councils operating in the UK. It’s important to note here, that this list was formulated using directories and online searches, making it more than feasible that the list is not exhaustive. In a 2009 report by Civitas, a figure of “85 at least” was given. Anne Marie Waters; Director of Sharia Watch UK, has subsequently backed up this figure.
Some critics furthermore believe that, as most councils operate from within mosques; however many mosques you have in the country; this is how many councils you have, too! This is quite a scary thought considering we have around 1750 mosques in the UK, with more on their way.
Islamic activist and chairman of the UK Board of Sharia Councils, Dr Ahmad al-Dubayan, advised us last year that Sharia councils exist “everywhere in the country”, including shop basements. Dr al-Dubayan went on that; Muslims have the right to use Sharia law as much as they wish to in the UK, without interference from the Government.
Muslim women protest in London, 2013, against the consumption of alcohol in the UK.
Examples of Sharia Law in the UK
It’s a shame that the University of Reading’s study failed to investigate to any real depth the accountability of the Sharia councils they looked at. According to the study, the councils all offered “reconciliation and mediation services, although further details of what this entailed were not explored.” Although it was reported that the advice given to the councils’ visitors was “based upon Islamic interpretations”, this point wasn’t further elaborated. Unfortunately, this means that we haven’t really been given much to go on from what was, perhaps, the UK’s only formal investigation into Sharia councils in the UK, thus far.
What we know from visiting the councils’ websites, is that they claim to specialise mainly in areas of family law. Around a third of UK Muslim marriages are not legally recognised under British law. Sharia councils can help here, by offering divorce certificates for couples that want to part ways.
A lot of the criticism we often hear of Sharia law centres around how women are treated unfairly in comparison to men. Marriage under Sharia law, is a perfect example of this. Under Sharia law, a husband need only say “I divorce you” three times in order to terminate the marriage. A wife however, must seek the approval of a Sharia council, and pay a hefty fee.
Women and Children
Aside from marriage, Sharia councils in the UK also specialise in other aspects of family law. The word “family” hardly conjures up images of danger or injustice, which is perhaps why Sharia councils in the UK have gathered very little investigation from our Government to date. This is however, when we consider Islam, something we should be wary of.
FGM is a major concern of Muslim children in the UK at present. One case of FGM is reported to the NHS every single hour in England. Strangely enough, we’re yet to have made a single conviction. Why, if Sharia law is redundant in the UK because British law prevails, is this the case? The mutilation of a child’s genitals is certainly illegal under British law, yet we seem to be ignoring this at the risk of offending.
In addition to FGM (which is sanctioned in the Bukhari Hadith), there are further family-related concerns when we look at the Islamic scriptures. I have given a few examples below:
- You’re not allowed to associate with non-Muslims (Quran 3:28, 3:118, 5:51, 5:80, 9:23).
- Women in Islam are worth less than men (Quran 2:228, 2:282, 4:11, 5:6).
- A wife cannot refuse her husband sex (Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari).
- A wife can be beaten by her husband (Quran 4:34, 38:44).
In the UK, there are a constant number of examples of ruthless Sharia punishments being carried out. These range from Muslim men divorcing their wives over the phone because they gave birth to a girl; to death penalties being administered to “disrespectful” children.
What we have to ask ourselves is, are actions such as the cases above, one-off examples of mentally-ill individuals carrying out despicable crimes, or are acts such a forced marriages and FGM a common occurrence when we look at Islam in the UK? It certainly seems like the latter. According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, every single year 17,000 Muslim women in Britain become victims of forced marriages, rape and FGM. It is estimated that these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg.
The number of Muslims is undoubtedly increasing in the UK; up from 50,000 in 1961 (0.11% of the population), to almost 3 million in 2011 (5% of the population). The larger our Muslim population grows; the more mosques and Sharia councils we inherit, too. Muslims that were born here face enormous cultural pressure to seek advice and settle disputes in Sharia councils. Immigration is also a concern, especially when Muslims relocate from countries where Sharia law operates. Are we really to believe that these individuals change their views on the journey over here?
23% of Muslims in Britain already believe that Sharia law should replace British law in areas with large Muslim populations. We even have cases of Muslims declaring areas as “Sharia Controlled Zones”, where “Islamic rules [are] enforced”. Perhaps most famous of these is Waltham Forest (North London), which; in 2011, was “converted” by Muslim activists Anjem Choudary and Jamaal Uddin. Of course, these zones aren’t legally binding, and non-Muslims aren’t required to suddenly give up alcohol and music. It does, however, give a prominent example of individuals wanting Sharia law to dominate.
Jamaal Uddin sticks up a poster which warns passers-by that they are entering a “Sharia Controlled Zone”.
There are no amputations or brutal public executions happening in the UK just yet, but if we allow Sharia law to govern in our country at all, where do we draw the line? Do we turn a blind eye to FGM, as long as we’re not killing non-believers? Do we allow polygamous marriages to continue, as long as we’re not punishing homosexuality?
The truth is, we shouldn’t be allowing any of it. There is no place for Sharia law in the West. If we begin to accept aspects of Sharia law, then we end up with parallel legal systems, where it’s one law for one, and another for someone else.
British law, and British law alone, should rule in the UK, under a “one law for all” principle.
What Can We Do?
Unfortunately in the UK, we don’t seem to have a leader who has researched Islam and Sharia law quite as well as Le Pen and Wilders have done. In May 2016, then Home Secretary, Theresa May, launched a review into Sharia Law in the UK. The review, however, is yet to be completed, and there’s concern surrounding the eligibility of the review, either way. Upon launching the review, May remarkably claimed that many people “benefit a great deal” from Sharia law in the UK, and, in order to reassure Muslims, insisted that the inquiry will not look into the legality of Sharia law operating here.
As citizens in a democratic country though, we do have a choice. We can refuse to speak up about the inhumanity of Sharia law at the risk of upsetting people, or we can choose to communicate what’s happening. Sharia Watch UK offers guidance on what we can do as individuals to spread the knowledge that we have, ranging from simply speaking up, to writing to the media and your local MP.
At the time of writing this article, Theresa May’s review into Sharia law in the UK is incomplete. Assuming the review hasn’t been scrapped, results are expected late 2017.