On Sharia Council and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Updated 4 July 2016

The accommodation of arbitration systems to govern private and family matters had led, arguably, to the greatest human rights violations of minority women in the UK.

This document aims to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions about Sharia bodies in the UK. They are being published with an open letter by an unprecedented number of women’s rights campaigners and organisations to the government raising serious concerns about it limited inquiry into Sharia courts.

For more information on the testimonials, please contact Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters), Gita Sahgal (Centre for Secular Space) or Gina Khan and Maryam Namazie (One Law for All). Contact details below.

1. What are Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (MATs)?

  • As far as we know, the first Sharia Council was established in 1986, by a collection of different fundamentalist organisations such as the Jamaat e Islami, the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahle Hadith. Since then, their numbers have grown. Some are situated in mosques, others are run as independent bodies or charities. They charge for their services, which centre on adjudicating on family matters, such as divorce, child custody, and inheritance.
  • A new book, ‘Women and Shari’a Law, the Impact of Legal Pluralism in the United Kingdom’, by Elham Manea (I.B.Tauris, 2016 ) reveals that Sharia councils are applying fundamentalist versions of Sharia law, which they claim are mandatory for Muslims to follow. In other words, not only do their decisions undermine decisions made by courts in Britain, but they are also more fundamentalist than laws in their countries of origin.
  • Although they are not formally recognised as law making bodies, some Sharia councils have been given recognition as charities. They have therefore been endorsed by the state as providing a ‘public benefit’.

Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (MATs) are classified as arbitration tribunals under the Arbitration Act 1996 (UK). Accordingly, the decisions of MATs are legally binding, provided that both parties to the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case. In Canada, protests against the introduction of Muslim Arbitration Tribunals ensured that family law was ruled outside the jurisdiction of the Tribunals. As legal aid is shrinking and Sharia courts come under greater scrutiny, we expect to see more bodies promising arbitration, counselling and mediation services.

2. Are Sharia Councils and MATs a parallel legal system?

We define parallel legal systems as follows:

Parallel legal systems exist where the same people, and/or a variety of different disputes are subject to a variety of laws with potentially different outcomes.

Parallel legal systems are judicial systems that have different ‘personal laws’, for family matters for different religions. If Britain regularises Sharia Courts, it will have adopted one of the worst legacies of colonial governance.

The term may also be used for informal systems that claim that their decisions have the force of law. The government claims that Sharia Councils are not a parallel system as they are not recognised and their decisions do not have the force of law.   But we argue that the Sharia councils have created a parallel ‘legal’ system. Many of them call themselves ‘courts’, appoint ‘judges’, issue ‘judgements’, and give ‘orders’. They do not simply advise or give their opinions. They also issue documents such as divorce papers that many people think are legally valid.  They have encouraged the view that civil divorces are not sufficient, and that women must come before a Sharia council to receive a religious divorce.

Moreover, Muslim Arbitration Tribunal decisions act under the Arbitration Act 1996 (UK) and whilst their decisions should not oust the jurisdiction of Family courts in the UK, many women may not seek justice in civil courts due to pressure to conform and abide by religious rulings and due to lack of knowledge of their legal rights.

3. What is legal pluralism?

Anthropologists tend to use this term to describe different kinds of law – the law of the state and the customary laws and norms of ‘the community’.  Manea argues that the UK is a case of legal pluralism that has detrimental effects. She says that we must consider the consequences of introducing ‘special laws’ for specific groups. Some legal academics, anthropologists and even important figures such as the former Archbishop of Canterbury and the former Chief Justice have argued for a ‘weak pluralism’: that more space and recognition should be given to religious law in family matters.  They see no danger in legal pluralism or parallel systems as long as they are confined to family matters. However, many women’s rights advocates argue that legal pluralism leads to a stratified citizenship. Legal pluralists ignore structural discrimination. The existence of parallel ‘courts’ and tribunals which operate on different principles to English law will cause gaps in legal protection.  That is why it is important to examine the impact of parallel structures as well as what they do.

4. Aren’t Sharia Councils in Britain Compliant with British law?

As personal testimonies show, many women face humiliating, dangerous and discriminatory treatment at the hands of Sharia bodies. Even women who have received civil divorces under English law, are told that they need a Sharia divorce. The Sharia Councils often fail to inform their ‘clients’ that the English civil divorce is acceptable in many relevant jurisdictions (such as Pakistan and Bangladesh). Our personal testimonies show that a 2012 mapping exercise carried out for the Justice Ministry that stated that Sharia councils do not seek to replace civil divorce is at best, a half-truth. More importantly, gender discrimination is outlawed in Britain. Yet many Sharia bodies do not regard the woman as an adult; she has to have a male guardian who may be a small male child. Her testimony is worth half that of a man’s. Sharia courts do  not comply with the best practices of British family courts especially in relation to domestic violence and child protection.

5. What areas of law do Sharia courts regulate?

Sharia courts mostly deal with matters involving family law (such as divorce, inheritance, polygamy and repudiation). Some Sharia bodies also interfere in criminal law in matters related to domestic violence and marital rape risking further divergence from legal standards and good practice in the UK. They have also been known to deal with child custody. The involvement of the police, social services and other public bodies in working with Sharia courts should be investigated.

6. What laws are they following?

Our evidence and Manea’s findings suggest that the Sharia bodies are following some of the most regressive versions of Islamic law. One testimony suggests that they follow the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII) – Pakistan’s Sharia law body. Others may refer to decisions made by the Indian Personal Law Board. Both these bodies are trying to reverse gains made for women’s rights.

At this moment, for example, in Pakistan, there is a battle between the women’s movement who are trying to pass measures to protect women from gender based violence and the Pakistani CII which has proposed its own  ‘women’s protection bill’ following a campaign by the Jamaat e Islami. This Bill proposes beating women lightly and many other measures which severely curtail women’s rights such as freedom of movement and right to work.

The Indian Personal Law Board refuses to accept that the formal courts may adjudicate questions of Muslim law as they claim their source of law is divine. They have refused to end one of the worst forms of divorce ‘triple talaq’ where a woman may be divorced by a simple pronouncement of ‘talaq’ ( meaning I divorce you,) three times. In these examples, women are losing out because of the power and impunity of the Sharia enforcers who are part of a formally recognised parallel legal system.

7. The Councils say they are helping women who want a religious divorce. What’s wrong with that? That is not a threat to the United Kingdom?

We are sceptical that the Sharia bodies are simply responding to a need. Sharia courts which do not treat women as adults or as citizens and are highly prescriptive about women’s gender roles are not likely to be simply filling a gap. Rather, our testimonies show that they create a problem and then announce they have solution for it. In this way, they gain acceptance for Sharia law and make money in the process.

Many women do approach Councils for a religious divorce, as women’s rights groups report a rise in the rate of religious marriages. These women may be in ‘marital captivity’. They do not have a valid civil marriage, so cannot seek a civil divorce. The inquiry must look at the ways in which the Councils have encouraged religious marriages without civil marriage (thus contributing to trapping women in a marriage that they cannot end), have in effect encouraged polygamy and encouraged the idea women will face penalties for ‘zina’ or adultery if they do not obtain a  religious divorce.

8. What threat do the Sharia courts pose to the United Kingdom?

Our evidence shows that Sharia courts are discriminatory. Women are treated as minors without rights. Many of the principles of Sharia law are directly inconsistent with British law and public policy.  Even if some women choose to attend Sharia courts, many  are pressured by their families to go to the Sharia courts and adhere to their unfair decisions.  Other religious bodies will be demanded if the government endorses Sharia in any way. Religious fundamentalist organisations will benefit, while any sense that Britain is a society that abides by the rule of law will diminish. This poses a threat, not only to the future society of the UK but also to the national legal system of England and Wales, and also Scotland. That is why we support the retention of the Human Rights Act based on the European Convention on Human Rights and demand that legal aid be restored to family disputes. Without these measures, BME women will be at particular risk in cases of domestic abuse, marital breakdown and child custody disputes.

9. Are Sharia courts necessary in order for Muslims to abide by their faith?

No. In the same way that individuals decide to become a follower of Islam, they can decide to follow the sacred text of the Quran themselves. It is a personal decision. Religious leaders at Mosque are available for guidance. Involuntary imposition of laws is not needed for any other religion and should not be needed for Islam. Overall, the best way for the state to deal with religious differences is a morally neutral vocabulary that we all share: a morality that is not based on religion. This does not preclude individuals from following religious precepts in their personal, everyday lives. As Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council for Muslim Women said, ‘Sharia law is not the Sixth pillar of Islam’.

10. In this atmosphere of hatred against minorities and foreigners, why are you raising this issue?

As people from refugee and migrant backgrounds ourselves, we oppose racism and fundamentalism. They are both far right movements. Both movements promote hatred and inequality. We oppose gender apartheid as much as we oppose racial apartheid. Muslim women are the targets of both.

This was authored by Gita Sahgal of Centre for Secular Space.

For more information, please contact:

Pragna Patel
Southall Black Sisters
020 8571 9595

Gita Sahgal
Centre for Secular Space
079 7271 5090

Gina Khan and Maryam Namazie
One Law for All
077 1916 6731

Other Frequently Asked Questions

On Unite against Facism and the English Defence League, 10 October 2011

We received this email from Peter Flack, saying ‘As a supporter of One Law for all – a colleague and I attended the first demonstration and Maryam attended our union branch in Leicester – I was concerned at a picture circulating on Facebook showing what are clearly EDL supporters standing with One Law for All Placards. I have attached the picture. It appeared on the page of the local UAF Secretary, making no distinction between OLFA and EDL. Given the readiness of the SWP to join with Muslims against Crusades on the grounds they are ‘victims of Islamophobia’ i think it is important to get a clear repudiation of EDL out, while making it clear that opposition to Sharia Law, Female Genital Mutilation etc is neither racist nor Islamophobic but about the rights of women to be treated equally before the law. The page it appeared on was that of Tom Mycock, from Leicester.’

Here is my response: ‘We can’t stop people from downloading our materials and using them; we have posters and resources available for download from our website. But have a very clear position on the EDL and the far-Right – see our recent report entitled Enemies not Allies: the Far Right. We attack the far-Right every chance we get. After all, Islamism is our far-Right and we see no fundamental difference between the EDL, Stop Islamisation of Europe and America or the BNP on the one hand and the Islamists on the other.

‘Islamists also carry UAF placards. I saw it myself when they joined Al-Muhajiroun’s and Muslims against Crusades’ counter-demonstration against us at our rally against Sharia and religious laws and for secularism in June 2010 whilst shouting Allah-o-Akbar.

‘The difference though is that whilst we have a zero tolerance for the EDL and its likes, the UAF actively supports Islamic fascists against ordinary Muslims and others.

‘The UAF secretary may make no distinction between One Law for All and the EDL but that is due to political dishonesty. The reality is that the UAF is anti-fascist in name only.

‘We are today’s real anti-fascists – against the European far-Right and also its Islamist version.’

On Unite Against Fascism, 21 September 2010

The lead spokesperson for Leicester UAF has responded to a question on why they marched with Islamists in support of Sharia Law in London in June 2010. The Islamists were counter-demonstrating against the One Law for All campaign. He says:

‘If Jews were the primary target of the EDL and solidarity with them meant standing with hardcore zionists, would that mean there was total confusion within UAF on Palestinian rights, or simply that solidarity with groups who are faced with persecution by fascists is not conditional upon their acceptance of a certain political or religious line? Indeed in the resistance to the Nazis during WW2, communists and zionists often united on that very basis’.

Maryam Namazie: It is this sort of warped logic that puts ‘progressive’ groups in bed with fascists – albeit the Islamic kind. Basically this logic sees people as being one and the same with far-Right reactionary organisations and movements. Jew=Zionist or Muslim=Islamist. Muslim=Islamic regime of Iran… I suppose given this sad logic, I should have joined forces with the BNP after the terrorist attack on July 7 in London!?!? British=British Nationalist Party? In the world according to the likes of the UAF, Muslims, and people living under Sharia law are one and the same with the regimes and the Islamic movement that is repressing them and that they are struggling against.

In any case, is this the UAF’s official policy? We are still waiting for a response on our letter on your position.

How pathetic if this is it.

You don’t need to know Arabic to oppose Sharia, November 18, 2009

Usman writes: You don’t speak a word of Arabic. Your only understanding of the Holy Qur’an is through a man-made translation in a foreign language. Your understanding of the Shariah has been acquired through studying those who reflect your own ignorance of this institution. My dear, stop wasting your life trying to solve ‘our’ problem. Solve ‘your’ problem first. Your problem is not the Shariah. It is the fact that you hate the identity destiny gave you. You cannot help others find themselves when your own self is lost in the hatred of its own reflection.

Maryam Namazie responds: There are a lot of Muslims, ex-Muslims and atheists even who don’t speak a word of Arabic or who do. Obviously that is not a criterion for understanding, accepting, or as in my case rejecting Islam and religion.

Moreover, we aren’t talking about something centuries past or taking place on some other planet. Every day, all day, we live through and can see the misery, barbarity and cruelty that Sharia and political Islam are unleashing across the world. Not a day goes by without this movement hanging the likes of sweet 16 year old Atefeh Rajabi for ‘acts incompatible with chastity,’ stoning men and women to death for adultery, executing apostates like Ehsan Fattahian, throwing acid in the faces of girls who dare to go to school, imposing sexual apartheid and misogyny, and murdering our beloved Nedas in broad daylight.

Our opposition to Sharia is not about solving your problems (which seem far too great for that) but about standing up for humanity vis-à-vis this onslaught.

And by the way, people’s destiny is what they make of it and we are making ours.

And unlike Sharia and Islamism, it has nothing to do with hate.


As an aside on the issue of ‘the identity given by destiny’ and being born into Islam, the late Humanist and Marxist Mansoor Hekmat said it best: ‘The child has no religion, tradition and prejudices. She has not joined any religious sect. She is a new human being who, by accident and irrespective of her will has been born into a family with specific religion, tradition, and prejudices…’

To read more about my perspective on Islam, political Islam and women’s status, click here.

Nationalism is a regressive trend, November 17, 2009

Robin writes: Maryam, while I agree with your critique of those comments of Stephen Gash [of Stop Islamisation Of Europe], on some other points I think you are too unforgiving of human limitations. You have to judge people not only from where they are at at a particular moment but also in terms of where they have come from and could be progressing to. For all their faults the English Defence League, etc has arisen from “ordinary (lower class) people”, having direct experience of being oppressed by both Islamism and by a wider politically-correct anti-Britishness. Your own efforts are very much a realm restricted to only relatively posh ‘intellectualism’ sort of people, even though I appreciate that is not your intent. I think it is very sad that you fail to appreciate the need to at least try to engage with and build bridges with those of differing views and values, rather than find reasons to condemn them. It’s clear that most of the organisers of the EDL etc are naive people with zero experience of campaigning, or even of thinking about political issues. I would hope that you could be an inspiration to them to improve on their views and attitudes, rather than someone who spits in their face as if they are some sort of Untermenschen unworthy of your time. I think you’ll find there are a lot more of them than of you, and if you don’t exert any influence on them now, you will find the agenda moving on without your useful input…

Maryam Namazie responds: Political ideologies are not measured by the numbers of ‘ordinary’ working class people who subscribe to them, and anyway have you counted ours versus the BNP’s or the EDL’s to know?

Irrespective of numbers, ideologies and movements linked to them have to be judged not by the makeup of their supporters but their impact and effect on the lives of ordinary people everywhere. The nationalism that the EDL, BNP, SOIE and their likes promote is segregationist, divisive, anti- working class and inhumane; it denies universal human identity. In fact, nationalism is by its very nature discriminatory and a reactionary trend and incompatible with human freedom and progress.

So it is obvious then that we can’t build links with far-right groups that are antithetical to ours. Just as we can’t forge links with the Islamists. Our job is to criticize both of them, and mobilize people to oppose them and leave their ranks and to join us. That is politics and if people can’t take the heat, well there is always football hooliganism to return to.

Finally, Robin, you are sadly mistaken if you think there are a lot more of them than us – that will the day that we have lost and we don’t intend to.

Our campaign is a defence of human civilisation, November 16, 2009

Clive writes: ‘I feel quite powerless to convince people of the real threat that Western civilisation is facing, so it makes me feel more hopeful when I learn of initiatives such as yours. If there is anything I can do, let me know. I am willing to send money if you are in need of it. Keep up the good work.’

Maryam Namazie responds: Thank you! Donations are always appreciated as we rely solely on support from the public to keep us going. Any initiative like ours that gives people hope is an initiative worthy of support.

I do want to add however that it is human and not Western civilisation that is being threatened.

Though this may not have been your intention, when I hear of Sharia law framed as an attack on Western civilisation it makes it seem to me as if it is only those living in the West who deserve rights and freedoms. Also saying it is an attack on Western civilisation denies political Islam’s assault on people’s lives outside the West – and long before September 11. Similarly, the Islamists frame any opposition to Sharia law as Western as if people choose to live under that which is imposed with brute force and indiscriminate violence.

The reality is that a vast majority of civilised humanity are refusing and resisting the political Islamic movement day in and day out because rights, freedoms and lives worthy of the 21st century are a demand and desire of people across the globe.

I think this is an important point if we are to make links with and show real solidarity with people at the forefront of this battle in places like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.

I mean after all, who better to represent this human civilisation than the likes of 27 year old Neda Agha Soltan, killed on June 20 by the Islamic regime of Iran for demanding freedom?

* See more about Neda here and here.

* Join November 21 rally in London’s Hyde Park to oppose Sharia and religious laws and show solidarity with people languishing under and resisting it worldwide. For more information on the rally, go to One Law for All website.

* Join November 21 rally in London’s Hyde Park to oppose Sharia and religious laws and show solidarity with people languishing under and resisting it worldwide. For more information on the rally, go to One Law for All website.

What can we do to help? November 12, 2009

Secular Humanist League of Brazil asks: Do you think atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and sceptics from Latin America as ourselves could help you in any of your causes? How?

Maryam Namazie responds: Of course – I mean where would we be without the support of civilised humanity everywhere? There are so many ways to help too – and every act of support however small is appreciated and crucial for us. It could be anything from signing up to our campaigns, donating to our cause, volunteering, including by translating our materials, publicising our work in the Latin American media and amongst people and organisations there and so on. On November 21, we are organising a rally against Sharia and religious laws in Britain and in support of secularism and equal rights. We are asking people to stand with us in city centres across the globe to support our action. It doesn’t have to be very big – even a few people holding a banner or a placard saying no to Sharia and religious laws. We would post the various actions with any photographs on our website. Maybe some of your readers might be able to do something in support of our rally on November 21?

Islamic states are a threat to humankind, November 11, 2009

Secular Humanist League of Brazil asks: You witnessed the upsurge of two Islamic states – Iran and Sudan. Are these a threat for the future of humankind? Could there be an Islamic state in which human rights are respected?

Maryam Namazie responds: Islamic states are a threat to humankind though not the only one – US-led militarism is another. I do think the two feed off each other and need the other for legitimisation in the same way that Israel and Hamas do or the Soviet Union and the US did during the Cold War. But like any threat much depends on the resistance it meets. Worse threats have been pushed back by the working class and progressive movements and this will be too.

In my opinion, an Islamic state that respects human rights is impossible; in fact the two are antithetical. It is the same for any religious state where religious dogma and rules take precedence over rights and freedoms and real live human beings. In fact religion is at its best when it restricts and represses. Religious laws and states belong to an era of medievalism and brutality. The enlightenment managed to push back the Church’s role in public life to a large extent – the same is needed with Islam in political power.

Join us on November 21, November 9, 2009

See Patty Debonitas’ video on November 21 rally here below as today’s guest entry:

You should care about the people of the Middle East, November 4, 2009

Maurice writes: ‘Delete me from your contact list… I really don’t care about the Middle East and its people!!!’

Maryam Namazie responds: Maurice, you should care about the people in the Middle East because they are doing your dirty work.

You are most likely on my mailing list because of an interest in Sharia law. Well, the people there are on the frontlines of the battle against the political Islamic movement. They are the ones that are stuck in ditches and stoned; hung in city centres from cranes for being gay or for ‘acts incompatible with chastity;’ flogged for organising May Day rallies; tortured and murdered for being political opponents or apostates; and daily losing their children and loved ones to this machinery of terror.

All because of a movement that was incidentally brought to centre stage by Western government policy of establishing an Islamic belt vis-à-vis the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Despite the decades of repression, though, they continue to refuse and resist.

Today, Students’ Day in Iran is a good case in point. Tens of thousands came out onto the streets across Iran to demand an end to dictatorship and for freedom. Hundreds were arrested and many more wounded.

There are many video clips that you should see of today’s protests and many others that the western media fails to cover but I want you to see just one of them. In this one, a woman is hit in the face by a policeman; she falls to the ground. A man rushes to her aid and is beaten (remember he does this even though it is illegal for men and women who are not immediate family to touch each other because of compulsory sex apartheid). Another woman rushes to protect the young man who once again goes to the aid of the woman who had fallen to the ground.

This brief video clip captures a passing glimpse of the brutality of the Islamic regime of Iran but also more importantly the courageous resistance and humanity of the unfolding revolution that will bring the regime to its knees and herald a new dawn not just for people in the Middle East but for you as well.

A humanity that you would do well to learn from.

The right to asylum is a basic human right, November 3, 2009

Andy writes: I agree with your organisation on all aspects apart from “Defend the right to asylum for those who have fled Sharia.” This has already destroyed my culture and everything that makes my country England. I am white, Saxon and proud of it! I will not allow anyone to take that away from me. And I will go beyond the limits to stop my country falling into foreign hands!

Maryam Namazie responds: Andy, you couldn’t possibly agree with our organisation. You clearly don’t understand where we’re coming from though it is very clear where you are coming from.

We are opposed to Sharia law because it is unfair, medieval, brutal, and barbaric in the same way that Canon law or any religious law is. It belongs to another era. You are merely opposed to it because you think Sharia law is ‘foreign,’ not ‘white’ and not ‘Saxon.’ You most likely have no problem with ecclesiastic courts and bishops in the House of Lords even today and probably long for the days of the inquisition and crusades.

Moreover, we are opposed to Sharia law because it violates rights and freedoms – and not just of people living in Britain but everywhere. You are opposed to it because you believe it has ‘destroyed [your] culture.’ You couldn’t care an iota for the ‘Muslim minority’ in this country or the masses languishing under Sharia in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan. You think that ‘others’ don’t deserve the same rights and freedoms as you. And that is why you couldn’t begin to understand the need and right to asylum for those who have resisted or suffered under Sharia. In my opinion, Sharia law is so brutal, so inhuman, so intolerable, that every man, woman and child fleeing it deserves the right to asylum.

And by the way, it isn’t your culture being destroyed that we need to worry about – especially since you seem to have very little of a culture worthy of the 21st century. This progressive culture is something that has been fought for tooth and nail by the working class and progressive social movements in every corner of the world for centuries. It has been a battle fought for in Britain, Canada, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan… vis-à-vis the ruling class and very often vis-à-vis nationalism, ethnocentrism, fascism and religious dogma. It belongs to everyone and not just those who are ‘white’ and ‘Saxon.’

Also, I am not sure how long we – those of us who are not ‘white’ and ‘Saxon’ – will be considered ‘foreign?’ Is there a cut off date we should know about so we have something to look forward to?

Finally, you say you will go ‘beyond the limits to stop [your] country from falling into foreign hands.’ In this age of global capital where practically everything you eat, your football stadium, clothes and car are ‘foreign,’ an attack on vulnerable asylum seekers seeking protection is racism pure and simple.

Clearly, we too will do anything we can to build a vast social movement to stop this country and our world from falling into the hands of Islamists and fascists alike.

And we aim to win.

There’s no place for Sharia law in Britain
October 30, 2009

One Law for All welcomes the October 31 counter-demonstration organised by British Muslims for Secular Democracy against Islam4UK, which is demanding Sharia law for Britain.

Islam4UK is a another front organisation for Anjem Choudary’s al-Muhajiroun, which also includes Islamic Council of Britain, Islamic Sharia Court of UK, Society of Muslim Lawyers, London School of Sharia, Global Issues Society, Islamic Dawah Foundation and more.

According to One Law for All spokesperson, Maryam Namazie, ‘Islam4UK’s demand for the imposition of Sharia law in Britain is absurd. What is not absurd, however, is the fact that Sharia law is already being imposed on countless men, women and children for many years under the guise of multi-culturalism. If Sharia law isn’t good for Britain, then it isn’t good for Britain’s ‘Muslim minority’ either. I urge the organisations that have come to the fore against Islam4UK to join our efforts to get rid of existing Sharia councils and tribunals – that is the difficult but crucial task at hand.’

One Law for All calls on groups and individuals taking part in tomorrow’s rally to join us on November 21 from 1200-1400 hours in Hyde Park to demand an end to Sharia here in Britain and everywhere and in support of universal rights and secularism.

For more information, contact www.onelawforall.org.uk.

Laws should safeguard rights not violate them
October 29, 2009

Sanam writes: Aren’t Sharia courts in Britain only dealing with civil matters?

Maryam Namazie responds: Of course the Sharia councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals are not sentencing people to death by stoning for sex outside of marriage or hanging apostates like myself from cranes in Trafalgar Square. That is – according to Suhaib Hasan, one of the ‘judges’ at these Sharia courts or councils and a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, the job of Islamic states. This, however, doesn’t mean that he can’t dream: ‘Once just only once if an adulterer is stoned nobody is going to commit this crime at all. We want to offer it to the British society… If they accept it, it is for their good and if they don’t accept it they’ll need more and more prisons.’

Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, we are told that we need not worry. Ibrahim Mogra of the MCB says the Sharia councils only cover ‘small aspects of Sharia for Muslim families when they choose to be governed with regards to their marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children and so forth.’ Mogra implies that those who avail themselves of Sharia law will ‘choose’ to do so. It is interesting how pro-women’s ‘choices’ the political Islamic movement becomes when it is vying for power and influence in the west.

Despite their deceptive claims, in the real world, even ‘small aspects of Sharia’ increase intimidation and threats against the most vulnerable women and girls, deny them rights they have and deserve and leave them hostage in virtual Bantustans at the mercy of the likes of Suhaib Hasan and Anjem Choudary.

And for those rejoicing that Sharia law in the UK is a ‘moderate interpretation,’ I need to remind them that a ‘small aspect’ is not the same as a ‘moderate interpretation.’ As Hasan says to a woman who questions his ruling in one of these kangaroo courts: ‘there is no exception to this rule; in the Sharia there is no exception, you have to accept it.’

Marriage, divorce, child custody may be ‘small aspects’ to Mogra and the Muslim Council of Britain but they are important pillars in the oppression of women living under Islamic law. Much of the struggle for women’s rights has taken shape in countries like Iran against these very aspects.

And by the way, laws are generally meant to safeguard rights not violate them. Many of the laws that Sharia courts aim to avoid have been fought for by progressive movements over centuries in order to improve people’s, women’s and children’s position in society and often vis-à-vis religion in power.

It is dangerous to incorporate religious laws, October 29, 2009

See a video clip of my interview on Sharia Law UK for BBC Our World broadcast early October 2009 responding to why it is dangerous to incorporate religious law.

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It is not racist to criticise Islam, October 27, 2009

Laurie writes: ‘Great isn’t it! I sign your petition and sent the link to friends, liberal freethinkers (like me, I thought) requesting they consider adding their names. I might as well have asked them to join the BNP! If it’s not that then it’s a stony silence and clear indication that there is to be no discussion on this matter. Having read your last email I can see this is going to be your biggest problem. I think the only way out of this is a full open debate, with the headline “ISLAM IS A RELIGION – NOT A RACE!” unless we can separate these two fundamental issues there is no hope of moving forward.’

Maryam Namazie responds: You rightly say that Islam is a religion not a race. Therefore, like any religion or belief, it has to be open to criticism and even ridicule. This becomes even more important in this day and age give that it is the ideology behind a political movement that is wreaking havoc across the world. It must be criticised and ridiculed because that is how throughout history reaction has been pushed back. Our criticism is often all we have to fight this movement.

Islamophobia – and now by the way the Church has asked that Christianity-phobia also be included in UN rights terminology –are not racism because criticisms of a religion, idea, a belief and even the practices that result from beliefs – even a phobia and hatred against beliefs have nothing to do with racism against real live human beings. Just as an attack on the belief and practice of Female Genital Mutilation is not an attack on girls who have been mutilated, just as a criticism of Judaism or the Israeli government is not an attack on Jews and just as Monty Python’s Life of Brian is not an attack on or racism against Christians.

Saying it is racism is merely part of the effort to silence criticism of religion and the political movement that holds it up as its banner.

You can see a video clip of my response to an Islamist at a public meeting in Canada in 2004 where I talk about how Sharia law is Islamic law and why criticism is not racism. This was the first public meeting of the successful International Campaign against Sharia Courts in Canada.

You can also read more on this in my 2006 speech in defence of free expression here.

Having said this, though, I must add that this in no way means that racism does not exist. Or that because the BNP, EDL, the Stop Islamisation of Europe or Geert Wilders criticise Islam, they are not pushing forward a racist agenda. They are. But I have already addressed that elsewhere.

We will have nothing to do with the English Defence League, October 26, 2009

Tony writes on our website: This group should join forces with the English Defence League and help them in their fight against Islamic extremism and Shariah law in the UK.

Maryam Namazie responds: One Law for All will never ever join forces with the English Defence League. As I have said before, the far-right’s version of Britain is not very different from the Islamists’ one and we won’t stand for either.

I know the EDL tries to hide its true intentions – sort of like the BNP claiming not to be racist in order to join the mainstream. But even without a mission statement on its website and with a disclaimer on its forum, it isn’t hard to see that the EDL is a racist organisation.

First off, just their name makes me shudder. English Defence League reveals nationalism, exclusivity, segregation… I think it is very clear who they are – and are not – including in their version of ‘English.’

And it is also clear who they are from the hooligans and thugs who join their rallies. The EDL says it can’t be blamed for those it attracts but of course it can and it must. Send out right-wing messages of nationalism and ‘England for the English’ and you will get the racists and fascists doing Nazi salutes and demonising those perceived to be different.

And it is also clear who they are from their tactics, one of which is organising demonstrations in front of mosques and terrorising people passing by or entering. Look, if you are concerned about the political Islamic movement and mosques being funded by Islamic states to promotes Islamism, then by all means demonstrate but why not do it at the Qatar embassy (if you are concerned about the Burnley mosque for example) or for that matter Jack Straw’s office (who is thought to be responsible for the Emir of Qatar’s £1.5 million gift to the mosque). Yes I am opposed to faith schools but I wouldn’t stand with a group that brings out thugs in front of an Islamic school and threatens children going in who are sent their by their parents…

How you show your opposition is just as important as what you oppose – if not more.

Clearly, being opposed to Sharia is not nearly enough if it isn’t done within a framework of defending the rights of all and not just the ‘English.’

One Law for All is against the Beth Din too, October 23, 2009

James writes: ‘Just signed the petition, very much support it but there is a problem which is that the Jewish community already have the same idea [Jewish Beth Din] and it’s in place and [I understand] legally recognised … if they have it then the argument against Sharia is weakened, the battle needs to widen and include the Jewish law courts and get those stopped.’

Maryam Namazie responds: The One Law for All Campaign is opposed to all religious councils and tribunals including the Beth Din. If you look at our petition it calls for an end to all of them. But we’re focusing on Sharia because it is something close to our hearts and experience (at least for those of us who started the campaign), because Sharia courts are a tool of the political Islamic movement and also because Sharia courts are more prevalent.

The International Campaign against Sharia Courts in Canada did that too. They focused on Sharia though they were opposed to all types of tribunals and they succeeded in getting rid of them all. That is exactly what we aim to do here.

I was actually a speaker at the first public meeting against Sharia law in Canada. Here is my speech there:

Hope this clarifies our position.

The pathetic excuse of much of the European Left is no better, October 22, 2009

Diane writes: Whilst I agree with stopping any form of Sharia Law here, as far as I can see it’s the United Against Fascism group who are in bed with Islamists, not the far right. They defend radical Islam.

Maryam Namazie responds: Yes of course Diane, the Left such as the Socialist Workers’ Party and George Galloway defend Islamism – and of course some more than others. Even so, the far-right – my enemy’s enemy – doesn’t make a friend.

But that doesn’t mean that I think the sad excuse of much of the European Left is any better (even though I myself am on the Left).

It is an anti-colonial movement whose perspectives coincide with that of the ruling classes in the so-called Third World. This grouping is on the side of the ‘colonies’ no matter what goes on there. And their understanding of the ‘colonies’ is Eurocentric, patronising and even racist. In the world according to them, the people in these countries are one and the same with the regimes they are struggling against just as the ‘Muslim community’ here is one and the same with reactionary Islamic organisations, Sharia councils, and parasitical imams. Which is why at Stop the War Coalition demonstrations, they carry banners saying ‘We are all Hezbollah;’ at meetings they segregate men and women and urge unveiled women to veil out of ‘solidarity’ and ‘respect’.

This type of politics denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ justifies the suppression of rights, freedoms and equality under the guise of respect for other ‘cultures’ implying that people want to live the way they are forced to and imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class.

In this type of politics, the oppressor is victim and any criticism racist…

I suppose the whole point of the One Law for All Campaign is to create an alternative space for decent people to resist in a way that does not inadvertently bed them with the fascists or the Islamists and their apologists.

In all of this Diane, you need to choose where you will stand in the battle that lies ahead.

I hope you will choose to be out and about on November 21.


To read more of my criticism of cultural relativism, click here.

To read more of my criticism of the far-Right and European Left, see my open letter to anyone who will listen.

Of course Sharia affects both men and women, October 21, 2009

Nader from Iran writes: ‘With all respect, the pressure and fear from Sharia is both on men and women. Every man also has to accept and submit as every woman does. Islam is the only religion today that teaches fear as the first lesson. Rule number 1 is fear for all. As such it is even more dangerous than any disease or drug. Every word I write is stating a fact and in no way discriminating against anyone. I say discriminating is most when you know and do not say anything because of fear.’ Maryam Namazie responds: Thank you for your email. Yes Nader of course you are right. Sharia law affects men, women and children. Today for example 5 people (4 men and 1 woman) were executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Many of the minors on death row in Iran are boys. Men are also stoned to death for sex outside of marriage, are harassed for improper dress – for example if they are wearing a T-shirt, tie or have long hair and so on.

But you must accept that women are very often the first line of attack under Sharia and all religious laws. And the attack on them is usually most visible – for example the fact that they must be veiled in public, they must be segregated, they must enter via different entrances into public buildings and so on. Or here in Britain, women are a majority of those attending Sharia courts and councils because men have the unilateral right to divorce under Sharia and they don’t.

But having said that, just because we are highlighting the problems with Sharia by focusing on women or children doesn’t mean we are denying that Sharia is not a problem for men. In fact our demands are gender neutral – we are calling for an end to Sharia and all religious courts and councils (and not just for women). We are using the opportunity of Universal Children’s Day and the International Day against the Elimination of Violence against Women to do so. In the past, we have marked the International Day against the Death Penalty to highlight Sharia and apostasy and will continue to mark internationally known days to bring attention to this issue. I hope this better explains our position.


Just as an aside, given your comment on Islam, let me also add that I think all religions teach fear. Islam seems the most dangerous today because of the political Islamic movement. To read more about this, click on a speech I made on the subject here.

DJM writes: Would have liked to have attended [the November 21 rally] – but am highly aware of the problem that violence against MEN is deemed somehow acceptable – and cannot therefore attend the march. It is a well known fact that violence against men (even in the home environment) is at least as large a problem as domestic violence against women – and yet no organisation speaks out against the feminist propaganda that says that only men are violent. There are no shelters for battered men – indeed – no recourse against female violence against men at all – including the police who do not take these issues seriously. I totally support the elimination of violence – for everybody – but will not attend in support of a female only (the organisation of which is highly anti-male) anti male hate group.

Maryam Namazie responds: I think I have addressed your comments in general in the above response to Nader. But I must say one thing: I think it absurd logic that you find a defence of women’s or children’s rights to be ‘anti-male’ and our organisation an ‘anti-male hate group!’ If I am to be completely frank, I think the problem is not so much that we are – as you say – ‘highly anti-male’ but that you are highly anti-woman.

Moroccan rights activists deserve our support, October 20, 2009

‘I’m Betty- Ibtissame LACHGAR, rights activist in Morocco. You have maybe heard about our Movement for Defence of Individual Liberties (MALI) and the buzz in Ramadan? I really want to meet u.’

Maryam Namazie responds: Hi Betty, it would be wonderful to meet you. I’ll be sure to highlight the brilliant work you are doing there. It would be great if you could send a message to the November 21 rally protestors that we could read out on the day. I look forward to working closely with you and supporting you in any way possible. Best wishes, Maryam


In case you haven’t yet heard, Betty-Ibtissame and Zineb El Rhazoui are the co-founders of MALI. They have just been barred from leaving Morocco to attend a conference in Paris and were told by border police that they are on a ‘wanted’ list. Their crime? Organising a public daytime fast break at the city of Mohammedia during Ramadan (Sunday, September 13). Breaking the rules of fasting is forbidden for Muslims in Morocco and can be punishable by a sentence of one to six months in prison and fines of almost 100 euros, according to Article 222 of the Moroccan Penal Code. To protest against ‘this interference in private life,’ MALI organised a fast-breaking protest. According to Zineb: ‘Our aim was to show that we are Moroccans, but that we do not fast, and that we have a right to exist.’ They were besieged by the police. The Official Moroccan Council of Ulema (theologians) denounced the protesters and described them as ‘agitators.’ Some of the group members were arrested and subjected to death threats via e-mails.

This is for all of us, October 19, 2009

Sana from Pakistan writes: ‘How lucky u guyz are at least you can protest and voice your opposition against the injustice [of Sharia law]. Pity on us.’

Thanks so much for your email Sana. Our protest is just as much against Sharia in Pakistan as it is in Britain, Afghanistan, Somalia or elsewhere. The political Islamic movement is a global one; and opposition to it is global too. When we take to the streets in Britain, Iran, Afghanistan or elsewhere we do it for all of us – and not out of despair – but out of the hope and possibility for a better and different world.

In Pakistan, there are many who are protesting too. Below are some good contacts for you to have just off the top of my head – they will direct you to others who are organising. You can always begin by contacting them via email and the internet:

Women against Fundamentalism

A high court judge who is campaigning to get rid of state religion

Civil Society organisations that call for repeal of blasphemy laws

Shirkat Gah

Chay magazine on Sex, sexuality and Pakistan

Hope the above is useful. Please keep in touch and keep strong.

The battle against Sharia is against both the Islamists and the far-right, October 16, 2009

Anwar Rizvi writes: I am a muslim and and i remain fundamentally opposed to shari’a law anywhere in the world. My big worry is that your campaign is being hijacked by the extreme right in this country who are planning not only to attend your demonstration but use it as an “add on” to their violent anti-muslim campaign that is already under way in many parts of britain. I have already seem several messages on facebook where extreme right wingers are urging people to attend your event. I myself wont be there because of work commitments but i just urge you to be on the guard against these racists.

Maryam Namazie responds: Thanks for your comment Anwar. First off, if racists and fascists come they will be kicked out. Full stop. The few who tried to join our last March 7 rally were made to leave by organisers and they will be told to do so again. You can see video footage of our March 7 2009 rally and seminar here to see how well it all went off.

You are right in saying that the extreme right has hijacked this issue but NOT our campaign and there is a big difference between the two. The BNP, English Defence League, Stop Islamisation of Europe and all the other big and small racist and fascist groups are using Sharia in order to promote their racist, anti-immigrant and inhumane agenda. But that is doubly why we must take centre stage. We have to come to the fore because Sharia is unjust and because we need to make sure that in the ensuing battle human rights, dignity, and humanity are upheld. All demands for change involve social movements pushing for them. That is why the world today is better in many ways than that of the Middle Ages the Islamists are trying to drag us back into. But if we stay silent because of the far-right, we shirk our responsibilities and duties. And we leave the stage open for them and the Islamists. I am sorry but I just won’t allow that.

Let me put it this way, just because the pope is opposed to the death penalty, doesn’t mean I will stop opposing it because he is regressive. Just because Iran is against the US, doesn’t mean I will start supporting the brutal US militarism. We have to start by doing what is right and we have to make sure that we show the world that we are the majority. A society in which the far-right has the upper hand is not that different than the one in which the Islamists do. So I would hope you would take off from work on November 21, that you’d encourage people to come and that in any forum where you see the far-right encouraging people to come, you would send us the links so we can go there and tell them not to bother.

This rally is just as much against them as it is against the Islamists. It is just as much about a better society for us here in Britain as in the rest of the world.

Please don’t export your Islamists, deal with them! October 15, 2009

Lorraine writes: I saw something in the Daily Express today about a planned demonstration by an organization called Islam4UK for 31st October, in London.  It is in support of the demand that full sharia law be introduced throughout Britain, whether for non-Muslims as well as Muslims isn’t clear. I wondered if you had any views/further info’, and whether a counter-demonstration by One Law for All might be planned?’

Maryam Namazie responds: Thanks for your email. No we won’t be holding a counter demonstration. I don’t think that is very useful when it comes to dealing with fascists such as Anjem Choudary and the Islamists organising this rally. They have to receive a political response, which is what the One Law for All campaign and others are trying to do. The Daily Express article says they hope to bring 5,000 ‘Muslims’ to Trafalgar Square. As I have said before, it is not ‘Muslims’ who will be coming out but the Islamists. Despite Britain being a stronghold for that movement I doubt they could get so many even if they manage to mobilise the embassy staff of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia and so on.

Our response is not to counter demonstrate on the 31 – but to carry on doing what we are doing – building a movement, mobilising people (we already have over 18000 signatories to our petition), raising awareness on why Sharia law is a tool of political Islam and not the desire of ‘Muslims,’ organising rallies such as the November 21 one, and planning an upcoming seminar in March 2010 with lawyers, campaigners and politicians to draw up our recommendations for how we can get rid of Sharia law, as well as efforts at the European level by the National Secular Society and so on and so forth.

I do hope you will be coming to the rally and telling everyone you know about it – we need to show that the Islamists are a minority – we know they are – but we have to show it.

Just as an aside about a statement in the Daily Express article by Tory MP Philip Davies who said: “The simple solution is for these people to move to a country which already has sharia law.” I am sorry, but in countries that have Sharia – people there are busy trying to get rid of the Islamists in power – like in Iran. Please don’t export yours there too – deal with them here. Stop appeasing the political Islamic movement; stop political relations with Islamic states, stop funding Islamic organisations and stop fragmenting society into a million pieces and start treating everyone living here as equal citizens…

Secularism is an important vehicle to protect society, October 14, 2009

Danny writes in an email: I have been an avid supporter of your cause – not allowing Sharia law to affect our own. But in your previous e-mail, I felt you were encouraging your members to support secularism, I could not do this, given that I am a Christian… I am a definite supporter of your cause, but now I’m not sure what to think, or what you truly oppose! Hope you can clear a few things up for me, Thank you for your time and kindest regards.

Maryam Namazie replies: Thanks for your email. I don’t see why you cannot be a Christian and a secularist at the same time. There are many, including Christians and Muslims, who are both. Secularism is the separation of religion from the state. It has nothing to do with your private beliefs. In fact, often times, a secular state is the best guarantee that your freedom of religion or atheism won’t be violated. For example, if you live in an Islamic state, what happens if you are a Muslim who wants to drink and have sex outside of marriage, and or is gay? What about all the other religious groups or atheists living there? Even if you are of the same religion as the state, there is no guarantee that your version of your religion will be the one the state adheres to. So even in a place like Britain, which is still far from a secular society, the state allows religious groups exemptions to discriminate against those they don’t accept. A good case in point is a homeless gay man being refused entry into a church-run shelter. Of course Britain today is a very different place from the times of the inquisition but in my opinion the extent to which religion is part of the state, educational system, or judicial system – whatever religion – that is the extent to which people in general suffer.

The promotion of secularism is an important vehicle to protect society from religion’s intervention in people’s lives, especially in the face of religion’s rising access to power.

I know nowadays, secularism is often portrayed negatively and that comes out in your letter. But this is just not true. Religion excludes whilst secularism is inclusive and ensures that a sect or group does not impose its beliefs on all. That a person’s religion is a private affair.

This has also been clearly stated in our manifesto, which says: ‘Rights, justice, inclusion, equality and respect are for people, not beliefs. In a civil society, people must have full citizenship rights and equality under the law. Clearly, Sharia law contravenes fundamental human rights. In order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all those living in Britain, there must be one secular law for all and no Sharia.’

You can read more about my position on secularism in this article called Faith and State, getting the balance right.

Hope this helps clarify things.

Islam matters because of political Islam, October 13, 2009

Margaret writes: I wanted to sign your online petition against Sharia Law in Britain, but the wording has put me off. It says “all religious laws are arbitrary and discriminatory against women and children in particular.” In the case of my own religion this is not so. It may very well be true of some, or indeed many, religions but I cannot agree that it is true for all and do not feel that I can sign my name to something which says that, even though I would dearly love to sign a petition against Sharia Law in this country. I would be betraying my own beliefs if I signed something with such a sweeping blanket statement which I know to be untrue. Is there any way in which you could amend this statement?

Maryam Namazie responds: From our perspective, Islam is no different from other religions. You can find just as much misogyny, cruelty and inhumanity in the Bible, Torah or other religious books as you can in the Koran. And in my opinion Islam, Christianity and Judaism are fundamentally no different from Scientology or Moon’s Unification Church, which are considered cults endangering social and personal development.

Of course, today – as we speak – there is a distinction to be made between religion in general and Islam in particular but for no other reason than that it is the ideology behind a movement that is, in many places, part and parcel of the state, the law, criminal so-called ‘justice’ system, judiciary, and educational system.

It is the difference between Christianity during the inquisition to one we see for example in Europe today. A ‘moderate,’ ‘reformed’ or ‘cuddlier’ religion is one that has been pushed back and reigned in by an enlightenment. And not before.

To read more about what I think about this, click on a speech I made on the subject here.


The petition, which has already been signed by over 18000 people can’t be amended – the whole point of it is to focus on Sharia law but aim to get rid of all religious law in this country – just as the successful campaign against Sharia did in Ontario Province in Canada.

The affinity between the far right and the Islamists , October 12, 2009

Stephen Gash said in a comment posted October 12, 2009: How is it that Muslims voted for Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and the Malaysian Government, both of whom are Islamising their countries and bringing in sharia law? The people must want it if they voted these governments to power. Similarly in Egypt where the Islamic government is perpetrating genocide against the Copts. How can Muslim voters be labelled “victims”, if they are the ones electing governments to power that strengthen sharia law? Before the 7/7 bombings 60% of Muslims polled in Britain wanted sharia law. That figure dropped to 40% after 7/7, but even this is a significant amount. Many of us believe the first figure to be nearer the mark. Let’s hope your rally is not cancelled like SIOE’s looks like it is to be. Have you thought about inviting Geert Wilders to speak?

Maryam Namazie responds: Thank you for your comments and questions. I have received a large number of emails too and will try and respond briefly to one every day until our rally on November 21.

Let me begin by responding to the one from the Stop Islamisation Of Europe (SIOE).

Of course there is much to say about them and their racist politics – and don’t worry – I will.

For now, however, suffice it to say that I find it comic how they – and the likes of the English Defence League or the British National Party – don’t see their affinity with the Islamists and the political Islamic movement.

Stephen Gash’ statement is a great case in point.

The Islamists blame Westerners for Western government policies – no matter how many of them come out and say ‘not in our name.’ For the Islamists, all Israelis are fair game; so is every single man, woman and child in America and so on and so forth. That’s why they target buses and discothèques. They too say that the people in the West elected those governments and therefore must be held accountable. In the world according to them, the people in America elected Bush so they deserved September 11; the people in Britain elected Blair so 7/7 was fair game.

And in the world according to the likes of Stephen Gash, the millions languishing under and resisting Sharia law deserve what they get no matter how many are killed, tortured, burnt, stoned and hung from city squares…


As an aside, that is also why Geert Wilders will never be invited to speak at our rallies; he represents that very way of thinking that scapegoats and blames millions for a regressive right wing political Islamic movement that was actually brought to centre stage by Western government policy during the Cold War. For an analysis on his film, Fitna, see here. You can also see Fitna Remade by Reza Moradi here.

BTW if you want to read on, here is a good interview I did with Bahram Soroush and Fariborz Pooya on racist parties and racism.