Women's rights campaigners, not just of Britain but also US, Canada, western European countries, Egypt, Turkey, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, have written a strongly-worded open letter to the country’s Home Secretary raising serious concerns about the government's independent review into “discriminatory” Sharia courts in Britain.
The letter accused the independent review of having “limited scope” because of its “inappropriate theological approach”, adding, it would do nothing to address the discriminatory effect and intent of the courts on private and family matters.
Those who have signed the letter from India include Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece Nayantara Sahgal, a well-known writer and campaigner for secularism, who shot into prominence following her decision to return the Sahitya Akademi Award in protest against the NDA government’s failure to safeguard cultural diversity. Others from India are Bader Sayeed, founder-president of Roshni; Hasina Khan, feminist activist of Bebaak Collective; Kuljit Kaur, Women’s Rights Campaigner; Madhu Mehra, Partners for Law in Development; and the organization Partners for Law in Development.
The letter was organized by UK-based activists Pragna Patel of the Southall Black Sisters, Gina Khan and Maryam Namazie or the One Law for All, and Gita Sahgal of the (Centre for Secular Space.
The letter states that, rather than taking a human rights approach, the UK government has constituted a panel and terms of reference more suited to a discussion in theology than one which serves the needs of victims whose human rights are violated.
The letter states that by making these religious appointments, the government has lost a vital opportunity to examine the discriminatory nature of not only Sharia bodies but all forms of religious arbitration fora including the Batei Din.
Giving examples, Nizamie says in an email alert, “The panel chair, Mona Siddiqui is herself a theologian. One of the scholars, Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, is the joint secretary for Majlis Ulama-e-Shia, which sends delegations to the Islamic Republic of Iran. In his sermons, he has supported the death penalty in Islamic states, advised Muslims to go into government “and change the system” and says women dressed in "tight clothing" are "corrupted".”
Then, she says, there is Qari Muhammad Asim, who speaks of "men retain[ing] their wives in marriage" and sees women in relation to their male guardian: "Each women is someone’s mother, daughter, sister or wife". He also trivialises violence against women by saying "women as well as men can be victims of domestic abuse".
“Both the scholars advising the panel are on Imams Online”, the Nizamie says, adding, “Khola Hasan, a judge at the Islamic Sharia Council, is a contributing editor to Imam Online. Clearly, Imams and Islamic scholars cannot investigate themselves” (click HERE to see video).
Referring to "Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK" by Elham Manea published in May 2016, Nizamie says, it documents the “harmful” and “life threatening” consequences for vulnerable minority women in matters pertaining to the family.
“Testimonials gathered by campaigners highlight some of the emotional, mental and physical effects of the courts on women and children”, she adds.
The letter seeks to establish a thorough and impartial judge-led human rights investigation, which will fully examine arbitration in family matters, and whether violations of human rights are condoned or even promoted by Sharia bodies.
The violation of human rights being condoned, Nizamie says, include women's testimony being worth half that of a man's, marital rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse, the age of consent, guardianship, forced marriage, honour based violence, ritual abuse, child custody and child protection, polygamy, divorce, sexuality, inheritance, inter-religious relationships, female dress codes and abortion.
The letter says, “Broader issues such as the treatment of religious minorities including minority sects in Islam and decisions pertaining to apostasy and blasphemy must also be examined to understand the full range of threats faced by people affected by religious laws, and indeed, by the State promoting these laws.”
It adds, “The law and not religion is the key basis for securing justice for all citizens. Campaigners urge the government to do the right thing and ensure that the same principles of human rights, equality before the law, duty of care, due diligence and the rule of law are applicable to all British citizens.”