Non-Muslims turning to sharia ‘courts’ in Britain to resolve disputes

Growing numbers of non-Muslims are turning to Sharia “courts” to resolve disputes in Britain, it has been claimed. Up to five per cent of cases heard by the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) involve people who do not follow the Islamic faith, it has been estimated.

The body operates court-like arbitration hearings in London, Bradford, Birmingham, Coventry and Manchester, mainly dealing with disputes between business partners and mosques. Those who use the service agree voluntarily to submit to its adjudication but its rulings are considered to be legally binding and can be enforced in county courts under the 1996 Arbitration Act. A separate body, the Islamic Sharia Council, has been operating for several years, hearing divorce cases with a panel of seven “judges” based in London.

The MAT said that the greater weight attached to oral agreements in its hearings than the courts was making its service attractive to non-Muslims in Britain, who it estimates are now involved in one in 20 of its cases. “We put weight on oral agreements, whereas the British courts do not,” said Freed Chedie, a spokesman.

85 sharia courts in UK, says Civitas report

There are as many as 85 sharia courts operating in Britain, according to a new report, published by the think-tank Civitas. Academic Denis MacEoin, the report’s author, said the existence of the courts practising Islamic law could lead to different legal standards being applied to Muslim and non-Muslim citizens. He said many of the courts operate out of mosques and their rulings are closed off to non-Muslims.

In previous reports it was claimed there were only five sharia courts in the UK, working in London, Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham and Nuneaton. His report includes a list of previous sharia judgements which he believes give an indication of the type of ruling being handed down by the courts working in the UK.

Perspectives on Sharia: On the Plurality of Islamic Law

There are very few comprehensive studies of Sharia around. German lawyer and Islamic Studies expert Mathias Rohe has just written one where, among other things, he argues that the historical and global perspective has always produced a multiplicity of interpretations. Martina Sabra has been reading it

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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Britain grapples with role for Islamic justice

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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Dutch minister investigates Islamic marriages

Dutch Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin is considering whether measures against ‘Islamic marriage’ ought to be introduced. Islamic weddings in the Netherlands are generally unofficial, non-government sanctioned ceremonies based on Islamic law. Contracts in Islamic marriages are not legally recognized under Dutch law. As such, there will be no alimony if a couple divorces, and an Islamically bound spouse is not automatically eligible for inheritance if one member of the marriages dies. Labour Party politicians have repeatedly expressed concern that such religious weddings may be forced for some, and may involve polygamy. Ballin condemns the practice, and said that he is not ruling out future criminal proceedings for people who enter into Islamic marriages (without making the marriage legal under Dutch law).

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Islamic finance makes a move into the mainstream

There has been a substantial Muslim community in the UK for at least 300 years, so UK financial companies may have been a little slow to cater for their monetary needs. But mainstream financial groups are quickly waking up to the fact that there are some 2 million Muslims in the UK whose financial needs must be met, as well as many more non-Muslims who agree with the ethics promoted by Islamic law, or sharia. Sharia governs, among other things, a Muslim’s economic and social life, dictating how believers should conduct themselves. It forbids certain activities and transactions: those involving alcohol and pork-related products, but also armaments, gambling, pornography and other activities deemed socially detrimental. Crucially, Islam places no intrinsic value on money, so earning or paying interest (riba) is prohibited – ruling out the majority of traditional mortgages, investments, savings and insurance products. So financial providers have had to do some creative thinking. The result, however, has been the launch of a wealth of new interesting and innovative products – some of which are now starting to capture the attention of non-muslims as well.

The Muslim Market

With a buying power roughly equal to that of the entire state of Indiana, the growing Muslim population in the United States – estimated between six and eight million – is an attractive segment of the population for marketers. Ann Mack of the JWT advertising agency describes the interest of Muslim Americans to be support products and brands that they can related to. Muslims are more interested than most Americans in seeing advertising that acknowledges them says Mack. Using sex to sell is a common marketing strategy in the United States, but this strategy often has the adverse effects for Muslims. Foods, tailored financial services, modest clothing, and household goods in accordance with Islamic law are among some of the facets of relatability that are important for many Muslim consumers.

Finland: Muslims Aim to Balance Finnish and Islamic Law

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.

Fatwas and Modernity

By Sheikh Ali Gomaa {Sheikh Ali Gomaa is the Grand Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt – the second highest religious position in the country. He oversees the premier institution in the Muslim world for religious legal direction, Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah. This essay is distributed by Common Ground News Service.} Almost two years ago the citizens of London were victims of a great atrocity. Those who perpetrated those crimes would like you to believe that they were inspired by the religion of Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing in Islam that could ever justify these blatant acts of aggression. Islam calls on Muslims to be productive members of whatever society they find themselves in. Islam embodies a flexibility that allows Muslims to do so without any internal or external conflict. This is why we see a vast variety of cultural, artistic and civilisational phenomena all of which can be described as Islamic, ranging from the Taj Mahal in India to the winding streets of Fez to the poetry composed by English converts that represents not only the rigor of English verse, but also encompasses the beauty of Islamic piety. This flexibility is not just present in the cultural output of Muslims; it is an integral part of the Islamic legal tradition as well. In fact, you could say it is one of the defining characteristics of Islamic law. Islamic law is both a methodology and the collection of positions adopted by Muslim jurists over the last 1,400 years. Those centuries were witness to no less than 90 schools of legal thought, and the 21st century finds us in the providential position to look back on this tradition in order to find that which will benefit us today. This is one of the first steps in the issuing of a fatwa (religious opinion/ruling).