Women and Sharia Law
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Women and Sharia Law
17th October 2018 @ 6:15 pm - 7:15 pm
Human Rights activist and Arab scholar Dr. Elham Manea in her book Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK explored the effects of multiculturalism and legal pluralism in the West, offering a passionate critique of the growing ‘homogenising’ of cultures, and analysing the extent to which Muslim women suffer when liberal societies bow to pressure from Islamist voices. Building on her knowledge of the situation for women in Middle Eastern and Islamic countries, Dr. Manea undertook a first-hand analysis of the Islamic sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals in various British cities. She interviewed those closely affected by legal pluralism in the UK, from lawyers to activists and individuals working for women’s rights within the Muslim community, in addition to politicians and policymakers who are pleading for reform.
By kind invitation of Andrea Jenkyns MP, the Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to join Dr. Elham Manea – a political scientist, a writer, and a human rights advocate specialising in the Arab Middle East – in discussing the findings and implications of her study, and the interplay of religious and secular law in 2018 Britain.
PD Dr. Elham Manea is a writer, activist, and an associate professor at the University of Zurich where she specialises in the Middle East. She is a Fulbright scholar who holds a Venia Legendi and a PhD degree in political science from the University of Zurich, a master’s degree in comparative politics from the American University in Washington D.C, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Kuwait University. Manea worked for eight years as a journalist at the Swiss Radio International (Swissinfo) and was the deputy chief editor of the Arabic service of Swissinfo. She works now at the Political Science Institute at the University of Zurich and as an independent consultant for government agencies and international human rights organisations.
In 2010, the Swiss Federal Council appointed her as a member of the Federal Commission for Womens Affairs – a position she holds today. Manea is a vocal advocate for the separation of state and religion in Islamic countries, freedom of expression and belief, and the defence for civil, human, women’s, and minority rights in the MENA region. She is known for her defence of women’s rights within closed communities in Western democratic countries and as a harsh critic of the ideologies and policies of Islamist movements in their two forms, societal Islamism and political Islamism; a differentiation she introduced in her 2016 book Women and Shari’a Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK. She has published academic and non fiction books in English, German and Arabic in addition to two novels in Arabic: Echo (2005) and Sins (2008). Among her academic publication is The Arab State and Women’s Rights: The Trap of Authoritarian Governance. Her latest book Der Alltägliche Islamismus (Islamism Mainstreamed), was published in 2018 by Random House, Germany
On the 17th October, the Henry Jackson Society hosted Dr. Elham Manea, author of Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK and Associate Professor in the Political Science Institute at the University of Zurich. She is a Fulbright scholar and a consultant for Swiss international agencies and human rights organisations.
Emma Fox opened the event by contextualising Dr. Manea’s research. As both a scholar and human rights activist, Dr. Manea’s goal is to raise awareness of societal and political Islamism and the harm it inflicts. Her book explores the effects of multiculturalism and legal pluralism in the West. Its focus on Sharia law goes to the heart of the problems with Islamism in the United Kingdom. She chose Britain as a case study after the government in Switzerland proposed creating a parallel legal system to implement Sharia Law, modelling their ideas on the British. Dr. Manea’s book reveals the falsities that lie within the claim that legal pluralism in Britain yields positive results.
Dr. Manea explained that Sharia courts in the U.K. in fact bar vulnerable Muslim women and children from the rights they are owed under British common law. Whilst conducting research for her book, Dr. Manea undertook a first-hand analysis of Islamic Sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals within various British cities. She found that factors such as the homogenisation of culture, the outsourcing of government functions to religious communities, the impact of political Islamist movements and the rise of self-segregation are just some of the conditions that have allowed a harmful, divisive legal pluralism to thrive in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Manea explained that the British government, over a period of time, has effectively legally sanctioned the unequal application of different legal rights to different communities. Dr. Manea elaborated on the issue of Muslim arbitration tribunals, which were accepted in British civil law under the British Arbitration Act of 1996.
Dr. Manea argues that the greatest victims of this are vulnerable women and young girls, who are pressured to turn to Sharia courts in order to obtain a religious divorce. Once they enter the system, they face extreme challenges and severe legal discrimination. Sharia councils in the U.K. typically apply more conservative, patriarchal and literalist interpretations of Islamic law than many councils in the Middle East and North Africa region. Dr. Manea gave examples of Islamic countries that recognise the validity of civil divorce, in accordance with the rulings of Islamic legal scholars. Yet in Britain, women are pressured by members of their communities to use Sharia courts instead of the common legal system. Oftentimes, they are simply unaware of their rights and opportunities under British civil law. A curious contrast has emerged between the U.K., a supposedly progressive country, which nonetheless accepts literalist interpretations of Sharia law, and some countries in the Middle East, which have outlawed polygamy and child marriage in spite of their basis in Sharia law.
Emma Fox closed the event by explaining that we should not turn a blind eye to women and girls who are suffering at the hands of a discriminatory legal system. Britain prides itself on the values of equality, liberty and religious pluralism and has a duty to uphold these principles equally for all its citizens.
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