UK’s first-ever Sharia-compliant insurer launched

The UK’s first-ever insurer to comply with Islamic law has been launched today to enable Muslim motorists to secure cover for their vehicle. Salaam Halal insurance is targeting the 1.6 million British Muslims with its products, which differ from other cover in that the risk is spread between all policyholders registered with the company. Standard non-Sharia-compliant companies move the risk from the driver to the insurer. The policy works through the investors paying money into a pool, which is then invested in companies which do not contravene Islamic tenets, with money that is surplus at the end of the financial year is then distributed among policyholders. Abdulaziz Hamad Aljomaih, the chairman of Salaam insurance, told the AFP news agency: “The launch of Salaam insurance – the first independent, fully sharia-compliant Takaful operator available in this country – is a significant step for the growth of Islamic finance in the UK.”

Murcia Islamic Federation celebrates a Course to train Imams

The Murcia Islamic Federation will accept 50 Imams and candidates to participate in the 3rd training course, with the goal to develop skills for those in charge of this religious activity. The federation will present teachers, trainers and ulemas from Spain and France, experts in the field of Sharia and also have a significant presence in the religious sector of the Moroccan embassy in Spain.

Denmark: Danish banks offer Sharia loans

Three local banks in the Jutland region of Denmark are agreeing to offer mortgage loans which comply with Islamic, or Sharia law. Sharia laws forbid accepting or paying interest, to which Danish banks have created a leasing agreement of sorts for Muslims in the area; the bank will own property until the terms of the lease, usually a 30-year agreement, is completed. Several hundred Muslim customers have reportedly expressed interest in the prospective plan, called the new _Amanah Kredit’ mortgage. The plan will be offered by Sparekassen Fars_, Sparekassen Vendsyssel and Sparekassen Hobro in conjunction with Den Jyske Sparekasse.

Sharia insurance firm signs £87m Capita deal

IT outsourcing for British Islamic Insurance Holdings: A British Islamic insurance company is outsourcing its IT to Capita in an $87m deal. The eight-year deal will see Capita working with British Islamic Insurance Holdings (BIIH), which provides insurance compatible with the Muslim faith. It reflects a European shift towards Islamic-compliant financial services, which is seeing western banks offering services compliant with Islam’s Sharia law. Capita will provide front and back office services and an IT platform from which to launch and sell BIIH Takaful insurance products. The contract will be run from Capita’s existing office in Cheadle, which will handle customer sales, servicing and claims management.

Two charged after Canterbury Cathedral protest

Two men from South Yorkshire were charged with causing a disturbance in a church after a protest during the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter Sunday sermon. Police named the men as Kyle Spotswood, 26, of Dagenham Road, and Sidney Cordle, 52, of Knowle Lane, both Sheffield. They were arrested following an incident at Canterbury Cathedral. A spokeswoman for Kent Police said they had been charged under Section Two of the 1860 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act, which says it is an offence to disrupt a church service. The charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison if found guilty. The two men were released on police bail. They will attend Canterbury Magistrates’ Court on April 7. During the service two men with placards bearing the words “Support the persecuted church” and “No to Sharia law” stood in front of the pulpit as Dr Rowan Williams began to speak, but were swiftly removed by police. The men were protesting against recent comments made by Dr Williams regarding the adoption of Islamic Sharia law in Britain.

What Role for Sharia in the West

When the Archbishop of Canterbury announced last month that British authorities should accommodate Sharia, he placed the Anglican church in the middle of a heated controversy. For many Brits, sharia is associated with amputation, whipping and stoning for even small infractions. Though others reject these associations, the prospect of a “plural jurisdiction” in which Muslims could choose to resolve disputes in secular or Muslim courts is no less appalling. The Archbishop’s statements have triggered debate about whether individuals have the option to “opt out” of secular institutions, as would be the case with the establishment of a parallel sharia legal system in Britain. This debate is closely watched by other Western countries who will be affected by Britain’s precedent.

Teacher in jail in Sudan for teddy bear named Muhammad

A British teacher faces a jail sentence in Sudan for insulting Islam by letting her class of seven-year-olds name a teddy bear Muhammad as part of a school project. Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, has been accused of blasphemy – an offence punishable by 40 lashes under Sharia – and could be imprisoned for up to six months. Rob Crilly in Khartoum and Lucy Bannerman report.

Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules

From The Times April 14, 2007 Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules A Muslim scholar is rewriting history by revealing the extent of women’s influence on the formation of Sharia Carla Power Mohammed Akram Nadwi is an unlikely champion for a Muslim gender-quake. Soft-spo-ken and shy, he is a graduate of madrassas in his native India, and an unabashed religious conservative. But the current work of this Oxford-based alim, or religious scholar, could shatter the stock notions of Muslim women’s roles, both in society and Islamic scholarship. Hunting through classical texts, Akram, 43, a researcher at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, has uncovered a tradition of female Muslim scholars dating back to the 7th century. Muslim women’s religious scholarship is seen as sort of a cottage industry: if women study, it is pretty much in the purdah of their own homes or in segregated rooms in mosques or madrassas. If they teach, they usually teach only women. But trawling through centuries of biographical dictionaries, madrassa chronicles, letters and travel books, Akram has found evidence of thousands of muhaddithat, or female experts in Hadith, the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. He has found accounts of women teaching men and women in mosques and madrassas, touring Arabia and the Levant on lecture circuits, issuing fatwas, and making Islamic law. Who knew that in the 15th century, Fatimayah al-Bataihiyyah taught Hadith in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, and that the chief male scholars of the day, from as far afield as Fez, were her students? (Such was al-Bataihiyyah’s status that she taught at the grave of the Prophet, the mosque’s most prestigious spot.) Who knew that hundreds of girls in medieval Mauritania could recite al-Mudawwana, a key book of Islamic law, by heart? Or that Fatimah bint Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Samarqandi, a jurist in medieval Samarkand, used to issue fatwas and advised her far more famous husband on how to issue his? Presumably not the Taleban, who banned women from education while in power, and even now threaten administrators at Afghan girls’ schools. Nor, one imagines, Saudi Arabia, which bans women from driving or travelling freely. A few Islamic historiographers have known about a few women Hadith experts. A century ago Ignaz Goldziher, the Hungarian orientalist, estimated that about 15 per cent of medieval Muslim scholars were women. And Muslims widely acknowledge there have long been learned women, starting with Aisha, the Prophet’s favourite wife. It is less well-known that she narrated about a quarter of the laws forming the basis of Sharia, and was the preferred interpreter of Sharia by the founders of three of the four schools of Islamic law. Akram, himself a Hadith expert who has written more than 25 books, is shocked at the scope of his discoveries. When he started on the project, he expected to find 20 or 30 women, enough to fill a single-volume biographical dictionary. Seven years on, he has found more than 8,000, and his dictionary now stands at 40 volumes. It is so long that his usual publishers, in Damascus and Beirut, have balked at the printing cost. (An Oxford publisher, Interface Publications, will publish the preface to the book in English this summer.) And he is convinced that the women he has found only hint at the true numbers of working women scholars. If I can find 8,000 in the sources, he notes, it means that there were many, many more than that. Since Islamic knowledge is based on oral transmission through chains of scholars linking back to Muhammad, narrators’ reliability is crucial. Weighing Hadiths’ authenticity is itself a branch of Islamic science. Few muhaddithat have been accused of fabrication or inaccuracy, notes Akram. As women didn’t work, they had no reason to invent or embellish prophetic traditions. Hadith wasn’t a source of income for them, and they didn’t do it because they wanted to become famous, he observes. Purdah kept their accounts pure. After the 17th century, women’s scholarship dwindled. Colonial governments, favoring Western-style education, neglected the madrassa system, so custom flourished in lieu of solid Islamic scholarship. Weak leadership from the ulama, many of whom have busied themselves with politics rather than scholarship, has left Muslims ignorant of their own history. Akram believes that Islam’s current cultural insecurity has been bad for both Islamic learning and Muslim women: Our traditions have grown weak, and when people are weak, they grow cautious. When they’re cautious, they don’t give their women freedoms. Akram’s discoveries are particularly powerful because they have been made by a working alim, not a Western academic or a self-styled Muslim reformer. Muslim feminists such as the Dutch reformer Ayaan Hirsi Ali may make headlines in the West, but they often lack credibility among ordinary Muslims. Akram’s approach is fundamentally conservative. Uncovering past muhaddithat could help to reform present-day Islamic culture. Many Muslims see historical precedent – particularly when it dates back to the golden age of Muhammad – as a road map for sound modern societies. The way Muslim society is now isn’t the way it was in the time of the Prophet, observes Akram. Muhammad didn’t hide the accomplishments of his wives or daughters, which many Muslims still do today. When Akram lectures at mosques and madrassas around Britain, his research has met with cautious interest. Women are far keener on his research than men, he wryly notes. His audience is a conservative crowd, wary of teachings that unpick social mores. People think my work will change the structure of society, he says. Critics have accused him of championing free mixing between men and women. He is not, and believes that many segregations should be preserved. I’m not issuing a fatwa that men and women need to study together, he says. But Muslim women scholars are part of our history. And by looking at that history, we can bring Muslim society closer to what it once was.

First Islamic UK business account

Lloyds TSB is to offer the UK’s first business account by a High Street bank that complies with Islamic law The accounts, offered throughout the firm’s 2,000 strong branch network, will not pay interest in order to meet the requirements of Islamic Sharia law. In addition, money held in the accounts cannot be invested in certain industries such as gambling or alcohol.”

German Judge Condemned for Citing Quran

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.”