Sharia courts in Britain are locking women into “marital captivity” and doing nothing to officially report domestic violence, according to an academic who gained unprecedented access to Islamic hearings.
Sharia courts are designed to help religious Muslims settle financial, family and marital disputes according to the principles of their faith, however judges at the courts “uphold the theory and practice of the strong hold men have over women”, and set out to frustrate and undermine women whose husbands do not want them to leave, according to the recent report ‘Choosing Sharia? Multiculturalism, Islamic Fundamentalism and British Sharia Councils’
Machteld Zee, a legal scholar at Leiden University in the Netherlands, wrote the controversial 200-page report after observing goings-on in two of Britain’s busiest Sharia courts in Leyton, London for three days in 2003. She was able to scrutinise more than a dozen cases, and interview an array of sharia experts including nine qadis – Islamic judges.
She wrote ‘In a toxic mix of religious fundamentalism, culture and tight-knit communities, Sharia councils uphold the theory and practice of the stronghold men have over women,’
During one controversial ISC case, for example, she says a qadi, or judge, refused to intervene even though a woman said her husband was blackmailing her by denying her a divorce unless she gave him £10,000.
In another, she claims that she observed a male judge dealing with an abusive husband. The man was not referred to the police, but instead told to put things right by swearing on the Koran not to mistreat his wife any more.
‘Sharia councils exist so that Islamic fundamentalists can promote their ideology whilst at the same time making money by letting women buy their freedom,’ she observed.
It should, at this stage, be stressed that the Islamic Sharia Council takes issue with many of Zee’s conclusions, and says it vigorously disputes her version of events with regard to several of the cases she witnessed. A representative denied that the ISC condones domestic violence, and said allegations that its judges favour men are ‘absolute rubbish’. She added that it intends to file a formal complaint with the University of Leiden, where Zee works, calling for her PhD to be withdrawn in light of ‘serious factual inaccuracies’ in her account.
Ms Zee criticises Dr Williams and Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the former Lord Chief Justice, for calling for sharia councils to be recognised. She says their views of multiculturalism are “based on a romanticised view of communal values”, and factual ignorance.
She proposes that the UK Government should consider Dutch laws that allow women whose husbands will not grant a religious divorce to pursue civil or criminal proceedings. Her book is being launched on 12 January.
There are now eighty five Islamic courts dispensing ‘justice’ across the UK according to research by the think-tank Civitas.