Organisers call on women’s rights campaigners and organisations to boycott the Sharia law inquiry

We are writing to you because you signed a letter of women’s rights advocates calling on the Home Secretary of the UK, Theresa May (and soon to be PM) regarding the inquiry into sharia law.

We called on the Home Secretary not to have a theological inquiry but an impartial human rights inquiry, to appoint a Judge able to compel evidence to lead it and to stand down Imams who should not be advisers to the Inquiry. We called instead, for women’s rights advocates with knowledge of equality law and gender-based violence and laws and struggles in other countries to support the inquiry.

We have had no response from the government since the letter was published, although the current panel Chair has issued a call for evidence.

We call on you now to boycott the inquiry until such time as the government has responded to our concerns and established a proper inquiry with the right terms of reference. You will recall that the historical child abuse inquiry needed several changes of Judge before the victims’ rights groups were satisfied. Theresa May has listened to the concerns of advocates and victims before, in the Hillsborough and historical child sexual abuse inquiries, so we urge you not to undercut the letter that you signed by giving evidence to an inquiry which is looking increasingly dangerous and ill thought out.

The campaigning is gaining publicity and we are still getting requests from very prominent women’s human rights defenders to sign the letter. Women across the world are watching what the government will do in this case; and what women’s groups will do. ( See below for press responses.)

Responding to press attention, Prof Mona Siddiqui has rejected our concerns calling campaigners ‘arrogant’. She could not respond on the substance of the complaint but launched a personal attack instead.

She has also said that Imams are necessary to advise the panel because ‘they have the ear of the community’. This is an extraordinary comment to make! It betrays a complete lack of understanding of the reasons why BME women’s organisations, especially those addressing violence against women, set up in the first place. They exist precisely because community and religious leaders have never represented the interests of women and social justice. They are not trusted by a large majority of BME women.

Her remarks have made clear that she is not willing to take on board any of our concerns and that, as it stands, the inquiry is dangerous to vulnerable participants. Siddiqui has issued a call for evidence which like the inquiry is restricted to women who have used sharia councils and sharia providers; but shows no awareness of working with groups who advocate for victims of sharia bodies, or their needs.

Instead of providing evidence to the inquiry we urge you to write to the Home Secretary with further supporting evidence on the need to correct the terms of reference, and to have a Judge-lead inquiry, which examines the problems of legal pluralism rather than promoting it. Please send your responses and we will publish them. Please also provide information to the Home Affairs Committee which is examining this issue. The deadline for submission is midday 20 July 2016.

Secular campaigners who drafted the original letter will be doing a series of responses on the issues of sharia councils and other parallel legal systems. We do not think that creating a regulated system is the answer. We will share our information with you and we hope you will share yours with us, so that we develop strong common responses.

We will also be organising a public meeting very soon. Please watch this space.

To those who signed from abroad: we are deeply grateful and will be calling on your knowledge and experience to show the British government that colonialism is at an end and minority women will expect nothing less than their full rights.

Warm wishes and in solidarity
Diana Nammi, Director of Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, UK
Gina Khan, Women’s Rights Campaigner, UK
Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space, UK
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson of One Law for All, UK
Nasreen Rehman, Co-Founder and Chair of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, UK
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, UK
Rayhana Sultan, Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, UK
Yasmin Rehman, Centre for Secular Space Board Member, UK