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On BBC Panorama Programme on Sharia Courts: It is enough now

This week’s BBC Panorama programme “Secrets of Britain’s Sharia Councils” confirms why One Law for All has been campaigning against the discriminatory parallel legal system running counter to British law for nearly five years.

As has been repeatedly stated, including in “Sharia Courts in Britain: A Threat to One Law for All and Equal Rights”, women are being held to ransom, told to remain in violent situations, blamed for the violence they face, refused divorces over many years, and placed under undue pressure including with regards child access and welfare.

The programme confirms this. The undercover reporter is told not to contact police when she asks a senior cleric Suhaib Hasan (who has advocated stoning and amputation) whether she should report the violence she has suffered at the hands of her husband.  Mr Hasan also wrongly tells her that if she were to report the violence to the police, she “will have to leave the house”.  This is entirely untrue.  In fact, an abused spouse may apply to the Court for an Occupation Order, which can remove a violent spouse from the home – or a defined area surrounding the home – and can impose criminal sanctions if the order is not obeyed.  Mr Hasan’s advice is misleading and deliberately aimed at frightening women in to adhering to the Sharia Council’s authority.  Hasan also repeats the Sharia position that a man has the right to hit his wife provided he leaves no marks. He asks if her husband beats her “severely”.  When she questioned what was meant by “severely”, Hasan asks “it leaves some bruises on your body?”.

Mr Hasan goes on to advise the undercover reporter to question herself as to what she had done to provoke this violence.  He suggests she ask her husband “is it because of my cooking?”, “is it because I see my friends?”.

Women’s rights organisations have for many years been working to end this disgraceful victim-blaming when women are abused, and great strides have been made.  These strides, however, do not seem to apply to Muslim women.

Whilst Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Northwest, Nazir Afzal, asserts that “most of them are absolutely fine but there are some clearly, like this one, who are putting women at risk”, One Law for All believes that all Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals put women at risk. This is because the problem lies not with rogue councils or judges disrespecting the tenets of Sharia but is the result of a strict adherence to the Sharia.

Under Sharia law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, men have unilateral rights to divorce whilst women have very limited rights to divorce. Women must give up their dowry if the husband refuses a divorce. Child custody goes to the father at a pre-set age and violence is not considered so if it leave no marks. The Sharia councils have made this very clear as have proponents such as Women for Sharia.

Sharia Councils continue to deceive the public by asserting that they adhere to protections available under British law when exposed; however in practice much of their rulings contravene available protections under civil law.  They also attempt to intimidate those who expose or question their rulings. The Sharia Council has accused the Panorama programme of libel, reminded them of the lessons of the Leveson enquiry, and accused them of feeding into racism against Muslims. Clearly, though, the women whose rights are being violated are also Muslim and a demand for equality and one law for all aims to put an end to the racist practice of having separate and different standards and laws for those deemed to be “different”.

Whilst all people have a right to religion or atheism, Sharia courts have nothing to do with the right to religion and everything to do with political power.  Saying Sharia Courts are a right is like saying discriminating against women is a right. There is no right to oppress and discriminate against.

Nonetheless, the Councils have managed to get away with murder.

Both the previous government (which allowed them to evade investigation) and the current one, which asserts that existing legislation is sufficient to address this matter have shown nothing but moral cowardice and betrayed a large segment of British society.

It is enough now.

The British government must put the rights and equality of all citizens over and above any religious laws and put an end to this human rights scandal once and for all.

The public are urged to continue to exert pressure on the Government. Clearly our message is getting through. We must keep fighting till we win.

You can also sign One Law for All’s petition against Sharia law, which has 29000 signatories.

Support Baroness Cox Equalities Bill, which was inspired by One Law for All, here.

For more information, contact:
Maryam Namazie
One Law for All
BM Box2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK
tel: +44 (0) 7719166731

Company limited by guarantee and registered in England and Wales under company number 8122621.

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