Non-Muslims make increasing use of Islamic law to settle disputes

A spokesman for the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) said that there had been a 15% rise in the number of non-Muslims using Islamic law arbitrations in commercial cases this year. Last year, more than 20 non-Muslims chose to arbitrate cases at the network of tribunals, which operate in London, Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester, Nuneaton and Luton. “We are offering a cheap and effective service for Muslim and non-Muslims,” said MAT spokesperson Fareed Chedie.

The cases mainly deal with settling business disputes without going to court, but lately also include family law and divorce. The increase in marriage and divorce cases comes as one law firm has begun offering advice on civil Scots law and sharia law, making it the first in Britain to offer both civil and Islamic law as part of one service.

“The media get this out of context and hyped up,” said Dr Saba Al-Makhtar, from the Arab Lawyers Association. “Under English law there is room to settle disputes on any ground that it is acceptable to the parties involved, provided it doesn’t conflict with English law… it is an extremely good idea.” Critics like Maryam Namazie, a spokeswoman for the One Law for All Campaign, claim that sharia law particularly discriminated against women and neglects the universality of human rights.

Muslims to be offered shari’a-compliant pensions by government

The plan to provide retirement funds for millions who do not already have a company pension is likely to include a special option that would not invest in companies deemed sinful under Islam.

Ministers are keen to get Muslims saving with the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority, as many who have low-paid jobs or who have moved to Britain in recent decades are unlikely to have put away much for their old age.

The prospect of some aspects of shari’a law such as divorce proceedings and dispute resolution being enshrined in the English legal system – raised by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chief Justice this year – remains highly controversial because of fears that the system discriminates against women and that a two-tier approach would be divisive. But more and more financial products are being tailored to cater for Britain’s population of 2 million Muslims. The religion’s holy book, the Koran, forbids Muslims from making money from money, so they cannot use products that involve the charging of interest nor invest in traditional financial services firms. Gambling, drinking, and pornography are also seen as immoral under Islam, so Muslims cannot put their money into companies that promote these activities.

The Islamic finance market is estimated to be worth £500million already and is growing rapidly. Families can already get shari’a-compliant baby bonds under the Government’s Child Trust Fund scheme while the UK is likely to become the first Western country to issue Islamic bonds in order to raise money from the Middle East.

The decision to provide a shari’a-compliant pension fund is another sign of the growing influence of Islamic law in British public life and in particular the country’s finance industry.

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