Creeping Sharia: An Affront to Equal Rights in the UK?
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Creeping Sharia: An Affront to Equal Rights in the UK?
6th October 2021 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
In recent weeks we have seen the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan and return to a rigid enforcement of sharia law – a system of Islamic jurisprudence which many believe structurally disadvantages women. Could it ever be accepted as a legally valid basis in a country like the UK, where our law embodies the equal legal status of everyone, regardless of race, gender or religion? Sharia councils have proliferated here in recent years, and while there are many ways to interpret Islam on a scale of liberal to conservative, there is no doubt that fundamentalist groups and doctrines have gained more influence in UK circles. As a result, more Muslim women than ever are submitting to the latter’s rulings regarding marriage, divorce and inheritance, often unaware that this leaves them without recourse to British civil law. Some have been trapped for years in miserable marriages, lost their homes and custody of their children, been left destitute and even suicidal.
The Independent Review into the Application of Sharia Law in England and Wales presented to parliament in February 2018 has resulted in no action from the government. On 30 June 2021, Crossbench Peer Baroness Cox re-introduced into the House of Lords the Marriage Act 1949 (Amendment) Bill which she believes will improve Muslim women’s access to marital rights and benefits. Might the debate around this issue finally unlock a commitment from the government to examine the subject further?
The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to this important discussion on a topic that is all too easily misunderstood and misrepresented as being about criticism of religious law in general, as opposed to the specifics around forms of religious law being practised currently in the UK.
Elham Manea is a Swiss-Yemeni Associate Professor in the Political Science Institute at the University of Zurich. Elham authored a powerful study ‘Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK‘ (2016). She is a Fulbright Scholar, Senior Lecturer at the University of Bern’s Institute for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and consultant for Swiss government agencies and international human rights organisations. She is the author of ‘The Perils of Nonviolent Islamism‘ (2021), which details how Islamist groups have exploited the openness of democracies and multiculturalist attitudes in order to create closed Islamist communities and ‘The Arab State and Women’s Rights: The Trap of Authoritarian Governance‘ (2011), among other titles.
Baroness Caroline Cox is a cross-bench member of the British House of Lords dedicated to humanitarian and advocacy work focussed on the rights of women and children and minorities, particularly in conflict zones. She is the Founder of ‘Equal and Free’, a campaign committed to improving Muslim women’s access to marital rights and benefits in the UK. Baroness Cox was created a Life Peer in 1982 for her work in education and was a Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords from 1985 to 2005. She is the Founder and CEO of the charity HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust), and is an Honorary Vice President of the Royal College of Nursing. She is the co-author of the 2003 book ‘West, Islam and Islamism, Is Ideological Islam Compatible with Western Democracy?‘.
Paigham Mustafa is a British Author and Entrepreneur who has researched and studied the Quran since 1988 and in 2016 published the book, ‘The Quran: God’s message to mankind: An Exegesis for the 21st Century‘. He is a Director of The Oxford Institute for British Islam, an independent Muslim public policy research institute founded in 2019 whose aim is to ‘theologically empower British Muslims to resist intolerant fundamentalist indoctrination’. Paigham has first hand experience of falling foul of sharia law in the UK: his work as an editor and publisher resulted in a written fatwā against him in 2001 by the Glasgow Central Mosque. He is the author of the pamphlet ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About Radical Islam But Were Afraid To Ask’.
Hannah Baldock is a Research Fellow within the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society. A former journalist and risk consultant with 15 years experience of researching, analysing and interpreting complex, evolving events, Hannah has also worked as a risk consultant assisting multinationals, government bodies and financial institutions. Since the summer 2017 terror attacks she has been researching Islamist extremism, its origins, goals, methods and the risk it poses to Western secular democracies, as well as its symbiosis with Far Left and Far Right extremism. She has an MA in Spanish and French from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism from City University, London.
On the 6th October 2021, HJS research fellow Hannah Baldock chaired a panel to discuss the impact of Sharia Law on Muslim women in the UK. The speakers were esteemed author and researcher Dr Elham Manea, dedicated campaigner Baroness Caroline Cox, and Director of The Oxford Institute for British Islam, Paigham Mustafa. The panellists agreed that Sharia Law was deeply problematic because of the inequality in its provisions, which Dr Manea described as systematically discriminating against women. Baroness Cox agreed, highlighting her long-running campaign in the House of Lords to ensure that all marriages are registered, since women who are only married via Sharia Law do not actually have the legal protections that a legally registered marriage offers. Paigham Mustafa emphasized that Sharia Law is ultimately based upon Hadith, which are ‘fabrications, supplementary texts, and Latter-Day interpolations’ rather than the word of the Quran itself. The discussion concluded with a bleak warning from the panellists that action was urgently needed, and that the worst-case scenario of women’s suffering might well already be here.
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