A GOVERNMENT review of sharia in the UK has said that a “culture change” in Muslim communities is required in order for women’s civil rights to be acknowledged.
The Independent Review into the Application of Sharia Law in England and Wales, chaired by Professor Mona Siddiqui and published on Thursday of last week, also recommended that marriage laws should be changed to ensure that civil marriages were conducted before, or at the same time as, Islamic weddings, as happen in the case of Christian or Jewish weddings in the UK.
There are 30 to 85 sharia councils in England and Wales which offer advice on divorce and marriage within Muslim communities, but have no legal jurisdiction.
Professor Siddiqui wrote that “it soon emerged that religion, culture, and gender relations are inextricably intertwined especially when it comes to family matters and personal law.”
Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he did not think that sharia law should be part of the English legal system, contradicting his predecessor Lord Williams (News, 29 September). Archbishop Welby told LBC Radio: “I don’t think that we should have elements of sharia law in the English jurisprudence system.
“We have a philosophy of law in this country, and you can only really cope with one philosophy of law within a jurisprudential system. The English courts always have to prevail, under all circumstances, always.”
In 2008, Lord Williams said that some form of “constructive accommodation” should be found between English law and sharia (News, 8 February 2008).
The new report says that the closure of sharia councils is not a “viable option”, but “it is hoped that the demand for religious divorces from sharia councils will gradually reduce over time” with the implementation of the review’s proposals.
The review recommends that amendments are made to marriage law “to ensure that civil marriages are conducted before or at the same time as the Islamic marriage ceremony, bringing Islamic marriage in line with Christian and Jewish marriage in the eyes of the law. . .
“By linking Islamic marriage to civil marriage it ensures that a greater number of women will have the full protection afforded to them in family law and the right to a civil divorce, lessening the need to attend and simplifying the decision process of sharia councils.”
The report also says that “cultural change is required within Muslim communities so that communities acknowledge women’s rights in civil law, especially in areas of marriage and divorce.”
The final recommendation is the creation of a regulatory body to be set up to allow councils to regulate themselves, and which would “design a code of practice for sharia councils to accept and implement”.
The report also says that the misrepresentation of councils as courts led to “public misconceptions over the primacy of sharia over domestic law and concerns of a parallel legal system”.