BBC Responds to Criticism of Panorama Documentary

8 May 2013

 

The Leyton Islamic Sharia Council, the institution which was the subject of a recent BBC Panorama documentary on sharia councils in Britain, has criticized the BBC for its undercover reporting and for editing the footage out of context.

 

The documentary features an undercover BBC reporter posing as a woman complaining of domestic abuse, and shows members of the Islamic Sharia Council staff urging her to go to the police only as a last resort. The documentary alleges that some women who turn to these sharia courts are not aware that their rulings on such matters as child custody disputes are not legally binding. The Islamic Sharia Council has challenged the impartiality of the BBC investigation, asserting that the Panorma crew had a “pre-determined agenda and stereotype of how shariah councils operate.”

 

For its part, the BBC has rejected accusations of impropriety, saying in a statement to the Guardian, “Panorama fully stands behind its investigations into the workings of some of Britain’s Sharia Councils.” The documentary, entitled: “Secrets of Britain’s Sharia Councils” has garnered the attention of many British politicians and was heavily referenced in a recent parliamentary debate on the role of sharia courts in the United Kingdom.

 

House of Commons Debates Sharia Councils

23 April 2013

 

On Tuesday, 23 April, the House of Commons held a debate on the role of sharia courts in the United Kingdom. With frequent reference to the BBC “Panorama” program on sharia councils which aired the previous evening, Kris Hopkins (Conservative MP for Keighley) sought clarification of the Government’s position on sharia councils and a guarantee that these council would not be allowed to constitute an alternative judicial system. Citing evidence presented in the BBC documentary, Mr. Hopkins raised particular concerns over the unequal treatment of women in matters of arbitration and divorce and called for the prosecution of those suspected of wrongdoing in these affairs.

 

Helen Grant, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, stated plainly that “Sharia law has no jurisdiction under the law of England and Wales and the courts do not recognize it” and that “there is no parallel court system in this country, and we [the Government] have no intention of changing the position in any part of England and Wales.” Both Mr. Hopkins and the Government were careful to emphasize Britain’s proud tradition of religious tolerance and voiced a strong determination to protect the rights of all British citizens.

 

Mr. Hopkins was motivated to broach the issue in Parliament at least in part by a statement from the Bradford Council of Mosques calling for the formalization of sharia councils. The MP expressed particular concern over calls for government recognition of sharia councils. However, local Muslim groups were quick to distance themselves from such a position. Mujeeb Rahman, a member of the Keighley Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, asserted that U.K. Muslims do not want a separate judicial system and that sharia councils in the U.K. would benefit from operating in a more rigorous legal framework.

Investigation Finds Women at Risk in Sharia Courts

7 April 2013sharia documentary

A Crown Prosecution Service investigation of a number of Sharia courts operating in mosques across the country found that these courts may be risking the safety of women by ruling in favor of possibly abusive husbands. Continue reading “Investigation Finds Women at Risk in Sharia Courts”

Florida State Senator: We Need to “Vaccinate” Against Shariah

As I reported in a piece for the print magazine last summer, Florida has emerged as sort of the Thunderdome of the anti-Shariah movement, with a host of lawmakers at the municipal, state, and federal level working hand-in-hand with a dedicated group of activists to combat the invisible spectre of Islamic law. Shariah isn’t coming to South Florida, but that hasn’t stopped the state legislature from trying—again—to ban it from being used in state courts.

 

On Friday, the South Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations blasted out this video, in which state Sen. Alan Hays, the bill’s Republican sponsor, compares stopping Shariah to getting a polio vaccination:

 

By all accounts, Hays considers the threat posed by Islamic law quite dire. The Miami Herald reported earlier in March that the senator had distributed anti-Shariah literature in the halls of the state capitol. Per the Herald, the fliers “present Islam as a threat to the United States,” and invoke lawmakers to pass legislation to “save us from an internal attack” and “protect our freedom.”

 

That is, if the pythons don’t get us first.

“If they get to the European courts they will rule in favor of the girl”

03April 2013

The president of the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE) Riay Tatary, said that the High Court of Justice of Madrid (TSJM) rule about the Camilo Jose Cela de Pozuelo de Alarcón school’s decision to prohibit a Muslim student, Najwa Malha, from wearing a headscarf in class,  will be dismissed in the case it goes to European Court of Human Rights. Tatary noted that “we need national dialogue” and a unification of the rules in this domain  and in other matters as “it is not about a girl or a particular garment, but about a fundamental right, the right to religious freedom. “

Inside Britain’s Sharia courts

This article describes a new BBC documentary that goes undercover in Britain’s Islamic courts. The documentary reveals some shocking discrimination suffered by women. In Leyton Islamic Sharia Council, the oldest and most active such council in the country, scholars hear about 50 cases a month, most of them marital disputes. Nine out of 10 cases brought forth are by women. No one knows how many there are in Britain today, although some estimate at least 85. Although they cannot enforce their judgments, these councils control the lives of many Muslims. But according to the article the pressure from Sharia councils and the community they serve is causing suffering as islamic rulings are not always in the interests of women and can run counter to British law. There are more worrying cases involving domestic violence and children. The court in Leyton is reported to have said that with children if a marriage ends, the question of access to both parents is crucial. Safety is paramount and any UK court order must be followed. Sharia courts are putting women at risk of violence from abusive husbands, the Crown Prosecution Service has warned. The courts, which issue rulings according to Islamic law, have been found to be giving Muslim women advice which experts warned may place them in danger. Nazir Afzal, the head of the Crown Prosecution Service in the north-west of England, who is a Muslim and who has spoken out against honour-based domestic violence, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by what he was shown.

Update- Controversy over Dutch-Turkish Child May Reach Courts

28 March 2013

 

A Turkish newspaper is reporting that the controversy over a Dutch lesbian couple providing foster care for a Turkish-Dutch boy may reach courts. The newspaper Sabah is quoted as saying that the Turkish government may take the case to court in an effort to have the boy returned to his family. The boy’s biological mother had asked Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to intervene, though Dutch courts have ruled that the boy should stay in foster care. The incident has sparked wider discussion regarding the acceptability for homosexual and Christian couples to care for Muslim children.

 

Foreign law ban proposal advances in Wyoming House Judiciary Committee

A proposal to ban Wyoming courts from considering foreign or international law narrowly won approval from a legislative committee Tuesday. The legislation under review is similar to an unsuccessful 2011 proposal that would have prevented courts from considering international law or Sharia law. This new legislation however does not specifically name Sharia, or Islamic, law. But During the January 22 hearings, it was said  that the possibility of Sharia law being considered in Wyoming is one of the things the resolution would prevent.Sharia-law-Billboard

Britain debates Sharia courts

19 November 2012

 

The implementation of the Sharia (Islamic law) in the UK has been a very controversial topic. Although certain aspects of Islamic law have been implemented in the UK for a decade, certain sections of the society seem to be resisting the idea.

 

Rulings under Sharia law are enforced through the 1996 Arbitration Act, which warrants any form of agreement provided that both parties agree to adhere to its decision. Since then practicing Muslims have been seeking remedies from the Islamic law at the Sharia courts to resolve disputes among themselves.

 

Sharia law was first brought to the attention of the public in 2008 when Dr Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, in a BBC interview remarked that adoption of some aspects of Islamic Sharia law in the UK “seemed unavoidable”. He then received some hostile reactions and his remarks were then followed by a report on Sharia courts. According to the report published by a think thank called Civitas in 2009, around 85 Sharia courts operate in Britain. The report claimed that the decision of these courts most of the time are incompatible with British common law and “inherently discriminatory against women in matters relating to child custody, domestic violence and divorce.”

 

The use of Sharia in the UK came under heavy criticism from the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), which is campaigning to stop its use in Britain:

 

”We have spoken to many women and all of them tell us the same story; sharia law is not providing them with the justice they seek. The councils are dominated by men, who are making judgements in favour of men,” said Diana Nammi, a spokesperson for IKWRO.

 

Further Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, has long opposed the use of Sharia in the UK, and argued the rule of law “must not be compromised by the introduction of a theocratic legal system operating in parallel”.

 

 

On 7 June 2011 Baroness Cox introduced a new Bill in the House of Lords that aims to outlaw the Sharia law where it conflicts with English law. In proposing the new Bill she said:

 

“Through these proposals, I want to make it perfectly clear in the law that discrimination against women shall not be allowed within arbitration. I am deeply concerned about the treatment of Muslim women by sharia Courts. We must do all that we can to make sure they are free from any coercion, intimidation or unfairness. Many women say, ‘we came to this country to escape these practices only to find the situation is worse here’.”

The Bill will receive a second reading later this year.

 

According to a BBC report however, increasing numbers of British Muslims are using these courts to resolve family and financial disputes. In the report Sheikh al-Haddad, a representative of the Islamic Sharia Council, the biggest Sharia body in the UK states that ”Our cases have easily more than tripled over the past three to five years, on average, every month we can deal with anything from 200 to 300 cases. A few years ago it was just a small fraction of that”.

 

Further, a leading UK barrister Sadakat Kadri supported the use of Sharia law in the UK. He told the Guardian that sharia courts were good for “the community as a whole” by putting Sharia on a transparent, public footing and should be more widely accessible to those who want to use them.

 

Kadri said they played a role in safeguarding human rights: “It’s very important that they be acknowledged and allowed to exist. So long as they’re voluntary, which is crucial, it’s in everyone’s interests these things be transparent and publicly accessible. If you don’t have open tribunals, they’re going to happen anyway, but behind closed doors.”

Justifying Sharia in Britain

In an East London office, British Muslims consult the legal talents of the Islamic Sharia Council’s (ISC) scholars. The dispute-solving Sharia body is the largest in the UK. The books on the waiting-room coffee table, bearing titles such as ‘Tolerance within Islam’ and ‘The Journey of the Soul,’ seem to prepare disputants for a mutually agreed solution.
Sharia law has been applied in the UK since 1982 facilitated by locally-appointed councils, known as Sharia courts. An estimated 85 Sharia courts are believed to be operating in Britain, according to a 2009 report by the think-tank Civitas. They have no formally recognised powers and therefore cannot impose legally binding penalties. However, it is estimated that thousands of UK residents use Sharia courts each year, and they voluntarily accept the rulings – mostly about family matters.
Although widely used, women’s rights groups such as the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation complain that Sharia courts discriminate against women. And, it was these complaints along with British activists who ran the campaign called ‘One Law For All’, that lead Baroness Caroline Cox to introduce The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill in the House of Lords on 7 June 2011. The bill, which is up for debate on 19 October 2012, is aimed at ensuring that Sharia courts operate within the realms of British law. Islamic scholars are noted for claiming they have legal powers under Sharia law.
According to Cox, many British Muslim women do not know their rights under English civil law: “A woman once told me that she came to this country to escape Sharia law, but that the situation was much worse here than that of the country she was from.”
One example of the inequality is the fee for divorce. The application for religious divorce costs 200 pounds for men and 400 pounds for women. The reason behind this is that the process is more complicated and therefore more expensive, while it’s easier for a man to get a divorce.
But the bill could benefit men too. Despite being legally divorced under British law Mizanur Rahman, whose wife applied to the council for a religious divorce, says the council is unfair. His wife has been demanding money from him through the ISC. The council has sent the Islamic divorce papers to him three times. So far, he has resisted signing: “It’s not me but her who wants a divorce, thus she needs to pay,” he says.
Anti-Sharia activists say the courts are incompatible with democracy and human rights and thus hard to incorporate into British life. A petition calling for the ban of Sharia courts organised by the ‘One Law for All’ campaign gathered twenty thousand signatures. Activists say “Sharia is the legal arm of a political Islamist movement wreaking havoc across the world and therefore is a threat to secularism”.
Defenders of the courts believe everyone, including devout Muslims, should have the right to settle personal disputes in front of the tribunal of their choice. They say they give Muslims a facility already available to Orthodox Jews under Beth Din courts. They claim that many Muslim women feel the need for a cleric’s reassurance that they can break a forced marriage. Financial disputes are also claimed to be resolved quicker and cheaper rather than within the British legal system. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, says he does not see Sharia courts as a threat to the harmony in the UK, either.
The Equality bill will not ban private religious courts, but will place a duty on public bodies to ensure women who have religious or polygamous marriages are made aware of their legal rights under the law. The Bill is also seeking to create a new criminal offence criminalising any person who purports to legally adjudicate upon matters that ought to be decided by criminal or family courts. Lady Cox also insists that the Bill is not aimed at Muslims, nor does it name them. It targets gender discrimination whenever the religion arbitration court makes the discrimination.
However, even is the bill is passed, it may face some opposition from the council itself. Furqan Mahmood, an Islamic scholar at the ISC says, not women but men need to be protected. He says that according to Islam, men have to pay women to get married, financially care for their wives, and support their children even after divorce. He says “Islam makes men slaves of women.”
Berza ŞİMŞEK – Contributor, Strategic Outlook
contact : berza.simsek@yahoo.com