Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports that at least two Muslim men in the country have attempted to obtain divorce through digital means, according to comments by Shaikh Amer, a lecturer in Shari’a Studies at Rotterdam’s Islamic University. Amer notes cases in which men repeat the word “talaq” three times in an email, msn or text message. Critical Islamic scholars doubt whether the use of electronic media is secure enough. And under Islamic law, the paper notes, divorce is not legal until confirmed by a judge or imam.
A growing number of young Muslims in the UK are entering marriages that are not legally recognized. This is because couples are having an Islamic wedding (nikah) without the civil ceremony needed for the marriage to be recognized under British law.
Family lawyer Aina Khan says that she is dealing with an increasing number of cases where mostly young Muslims have a nikah, planning to have a civil ceremony later, but then never to it. She said: “‘My colleagues and I are having to deal with hundreds of cases where things have gone wrong because the wedding has not been registered.”
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the head of Britain’s Muslim Parliament, says the lives of many Muslim women are being ruined because their Islamic marriages are not legally recognized. “This allows Muslim men to control their wives because they can threaten to leave them and end the Islamic marriage by just saying the words ‘divorce, divorce divorce’ to her,” he said. He furthermore claims that this practice fosters polygamy.
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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A Muslim woman requested an Islamic divorce on the grounds that her husband physically and emotionally abused her, and told her that he wanted her dead. Her husband was opposed to the divorce, and when an Islamic scholar adjudicating the case seemed opposed to the divorce, the wife brought in her father as a “secret weapon.” The judge reversed his position and promptly recommended divorce.
The case is paradigmatic of the limits and ways that religious tolerance, Shariah law, and the pre-eminence of British law are applied to everyday cases across the country. Critics and proponents of allowing a space for Shariah courts and decisions in Britain cite this case as an example of the larger debate of when, how, and why Shariah can be applied in Britain.
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A Muslim college in Warwickshire is running the UK’s first official sharia law court. The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal has used sharia law to settle more than 100 civil disputes between Muslims across the UK since it opened last December. The tribunal, which runs along side the British legal system, was set up by scholars and lawyers at Hijaz College Islamic University in Watling Street, Nuneaton.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, recently said there was no reason why sharia law, derived from several sources including the Koran, could not be used for contractual agreements and marital disputes. Cases already heard in Nuneaton include an inheritance dispute between three sisters and their two brothers, a divorce and a neighbour dispute. In the inheritance case, the men were given double their sisters’ inheritance. The divorce hearing ruled that a Somalian woman should be granted an Islamic khula (annulment) despite her husband’s strong objections. And in the neighbourhood dispute, the tribunal ruled that the losing party – a group of young Muslim graduates – should teach the winning party, who had young children. Les Reid reports.
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Tonight, at the City Circle, the Muslim Institute will launch a radical marriage contract (pdf) it hopes will change the face of British Muslim family life. Currently, the Islamic marriage ceremony (nikkah), performed by an imam in the presence of two witnesses, is not recognised by British law and often involves little or no paperwork. If things go awry and the couple divorce, the woman – and it is almost always the woman – experiences great difficulty securing the financial rights guaranteed to her under sharia law. The terms and conditions of this new contract, signed at the nikkah, clarify both husband and wife’s rights and obligations in all eventualities. For example, it ensures that the right to divorce (talaq-i-tafweed), is automatically delegated to the wife, something that is practised in most Muslim countries. The contract is not just about divorce, though. It seeks to establish healthy relationships by highlighting difficult scenarios the couple may encounter in the future. Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of the Muslim Institute explains: “By laying out the terms and conditions of the marriage it encourages both parties to establish consensus on issues such as where they will live.” Many couples bring to a marriage a certain amount of cultural baggage. They can find they have vastly differing approaches to lifestyle, such as the division of housework and personal finances. The architect of the contract, Mufti Barkatulla, has spent the past 25 years presiding over thousands of divorce cases at the Islamic Sharia Council. “Problems arise when couples don’t know what to expect. The lack of respect for each other’s personality and choices is shocking,” he says. The contract is the culmination of a four-year consultation process to address the pervasive gender inequality in Muslim marriages across the UK – inequalities based not in theology, but in culture. A major fault line is the role of in-laws. Sharia law explicitly states that a wife has the right to a separate living space, yet some Muslim communities in the UK, such as those from the subcontinent, cherish a rigid cultural attitude that living with in-laws is an Islamic convention. Polygamy is another contentious issue the new contract clarifies, illegal under British law and subject to strict conditions set down in the Qur’an. Samia Rahman reports.
After the wife of a Pakistani man filed for divorce in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Irfan Aleem responded to the move in writing in 2003 – and not just in the courtroom. Aleem went to the Pakistani Embassy in the nation’s capital, where he asserted that he was divorcing his wife, Farah Aleem. Irfan performed talaq – an exercise of Islamic religious and Pakistani secular law that allows husbands to divorce their wives by declaring I divorce thee three times. However, this month, Maryland’s highest court has stated that talaq can’t be used in the state. The state Court of Appeals issued a unanimous 21-page opinion declaring that talaq is contrary to Maryland’s provision giving women and men equal rights. In Islamic tradition, talaq can only be invoked by the husband, unless he grants the same right to his wife. Irfan Aleem, who worked for the World Bank and is worth an estimated $2 million, may have to give Farah Aleem half of this under Maryland law. Farah has stated that over the years, the lack of financial support from her husband has been a hardship for her and her daughter, currently a college student.
Last week, the Finnish League for Human Rights released new study on how Muslims balance Islamic law with Finnish law. Kristiina Kouros, the head of the organization, said that the study was launched after they noted that some Muslim women were unable to get an Islamic divorce, even though they had been divorced under Finnish law. Nearly half of the 75 Muslims who participated in the study said that Islamic law should be followed in cases where Finnish and Islamic law contradict. Kouros emphasized however, that the Islamic faith is remarkably diverse, and that there is no single Islamic law, and many more interpretations – most importantly, legal protection for those in need ought to be offered by the state.
Most critics of Pope Benedict XVI’s University of Regenburg speech draw attention to his misrepresentation of Islam; these criticisms overlook his more passionate dismissal of European secularism–an area ironically in which he and many Muslims may find common ground. Muslims in Europe have brought to the surface the anti-religious nature of European secularism. Both struggle against the hostility of European secularism; there is a sense in which Christians and Muslims in Europe see themselves as being in the same boat. Many Catholics act sympathetically toward Islam. The Vatican, as protector of the weak, supports churches which have provided refuge to Muslim asylum-seekers. Ratzinger’s positions on Islam are mixed: on one hand, he scathingly compared contemporary Europe with resurgent Islam as examples of extremism; on the other, he seems to admire the omnipresence of Islam in the lives of most Muslims. Islam today is capable of offering a valid spiritual basis for the life of the peoples, a basis that seems to have slipped out of the hands of old [declining] Europe.” The pope’s eurocentric vision involves faith and reason coming together; the Catholic Church, as a tradition filtered through the Enlightenment, will be a bridge between “godless rationalism and religious fundamentalism.” In this vision, the Church sits between rabidly secular Europe and violent, zealous Islam. This seeming jealousy may reflect sensitivities of a Catholic Church in decline that is increasingly upstaged by the prominence of European Muslims. Many are looking to the Catholic Church as the only Institution to restore the credibility of religion in Europe; sexual abuse scandals of the past decade and the tension between Church hierarchy and modern individualism have created a crisis of authority. Sexual abuse scandals, high divorce rates, and the social acceptability of homosexuality and birth control are indications of a church having long lost its grip. The pope’s efforts to revitalize European society by integrating faith and rationality may be compromised by his assertion of the absolute authority of Rome. The suppression of discussion and debate and anxiety about orthodoxy and loyalty make his end goals that much more difficult to achieve.
Politicians and Muslim leaders denounced a German judge for citing the Quran in her rejection of a Muslim woman’s request for a quick divorce on grounds she was abused by her husband. Judge Christa Datz-Winter said in a recommendation earlier this year that both partners came from a “Moroccan cultural environment in which it is not uncommon for a man to exert a right of corporal punishment over his wife,” according to the court. The woman is a German of Moroccan descent married to a Moroccan citizen. The judge argued that her case was not one of exceptional hardship in which fast-track divorce proceedings would be justified. When the woman protested, Datz-Winter cited a passage from the Quran that reads in part, “men are in charge of women.” The judge was removed from the case on Wednesday and the Frankfurt administrative court said it was considering disciplinary action. Court vice president Bernhard Olp said Thursday the judge “regrets that the impression arose that she approves of violence in marriage.” While the Quranic verse cited does say that husbands are allowed to beat their wives if they are disobedient, Germany’s Institute for Islamic Questions noted that such an interpretation was no longer standard. “Of course not all Muslims use violence against their wives,” the group said in a statement. Olp said the judge thought she was protecting the woman, who had been granted a restraining order against her husband. She had seen no reason to grant help in paying court costs for a fast-track divorce. Olp said her reasoning was unacceptable, but insisted it was a “one-time event” that would not have an effect on other cases, or on the final ruling in the divorce proceedings. The latest uproar comes amid an ongoing debate in Germany about integrating its more than 3 million Muslims, most of them from Turkey. A decision last year to cancel an opera featuring the severed heads of the Prophet Muhammad and other religious figures out of security concerns caused a furor and was later retracted. Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries condemned the judge’s decision. “Every so often, there are individual rulings that seem completely incomprehensible,” she said. Lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats said traditional Islamic law, or Sharia, had no place in Germany. “The legal and moral concepts of Sharia have nothing to do with German jurisprudence,” Wolfgang Bosbach, a lawmaker with the Christian Democrats, told N24 television. “One thing must be clear: In Germany, only German law applies. Period.” Ronald Pofalla, the party’s general secretary, told Bild: “When the Quran is put above the German constitution, I can only say: Good night, Germany.” Representatives of Germany’s Muslim population were also critical of the ruling. “Violence and abuse of people – whether against men or women – are, of course, naturally reasons to warrant a divorce in Islam as well,” the country’s Central Council of Muslims said in a statement. The mass-circulation Bild daily asked in a front-page article: “Where are we living?” The left-leaning Tageszeitung headlined its Thursday edition: “In the name of the people: Beating allowed.”