Woman and Sharia Law

Woman and Sharia Law

17th October 6:15-7:15 pm

Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House

Dr. Elham Manea

Emma Fox


Emma Fox:  Hi welcome everybody thank you so much for coming. I just need to make a couple of apologies first. Unfortunately, Andrew Jenkins MP cannot make it tonight, her son has been taken ill and sadly cannot make it so apologies for that. Of course we hope that her and her family are okay. We are absolutely delighted to have Dr Manea with us today who is a human rights activist and academic. She is an associate professor at the political science institute at the University of Zurick. She is a fullbright scholar and consultant for Swiss government agencies and international human rights organisations. She is the author of several books, including the Arab State and Woman right: The Trap of Authoritarian Governance, Regional Politics in the Gulf: Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. She has an upcoming book on Islamism which is currently published in Switzerland but we hopefully be published in the U.K. soon. And of course she has published Women and Sharia Law which she will be discussing today. In that book Dr Manea explores the effects of multiculturalism and legal pluralism in the West. She offers a passionate critique of the growing homogonising of cultures and she analyses the extent to which Muslim women suffer when Western societies bow to pressure from Islamist voices. Building on her knowledge of the situation for women in the Middle East and Islamic countries, Dr Manea, undertook a firsthand analysis of the Islamic sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals in various British cities. She interviewed those most affected by legal pluralism from lawyers to individuals working in the Muslim community in addition to politicians and policy makers who are pleading for reform. So without further ado, I would like to welcome Dr Manea.


Dr Manea: That you very much for the invitation and the opportunity to speak here I am very grateful. I thought I would start by first giving a glimpse into my personal research background and why I wrote this book. After I will talk about the British context which allowed the application of Islamic laws in family affair. Then I will talk with more focus on the context when it comes to the Islamic sharia councils and Muslim arbitration courts. Now if I start say in 2011 when I published a book with the title “The Trap of Authoritarian Governance”, my interest was basically to look at the features of the authoritarian states and how these features reflected on the policies affecting women’s lives. The book entailed travels, fieldwork in several Arab countries and I realized when it comes to family laws we have a situation you would called legal pluralism where different family or religious laws are applied on different religious groups. This is the legacy of the Ottoman Empire and this legacy has a direct impact on our society until today which we are still living with. The most important thing is the political function which intersects with divided societies in the post-colonial era. This legal pluralism occurs and exists when the state fails to treat it citizens, who are divided among sectarian or religious lines, as equals before the law. I realized that the religious nature of the family laws perpetuate the social fragmentation within society. It has kept societies divided and hindered intermarriage between Sunni’s, Shia’s, Christians, and Jews, superior and inferior tribes. It has sabotaged the development of a coherent national identity. These laws served, this is the most important political dimension of this, to keep elites in power over a divided base. In these countries, looking at it, you see, citizenship is stratified at the top of which the group with the most control you see it at the top of it. At the same time you have double discrimination syndrome where women are sandwiched between their own needs for equality and they are kept hostage by the own needs of their society and religious community. I saw the political dimension of this type of situation, I also got to know the consequences of the application of religious laws in family affairs regardless of which religion we are talking about. But when it comes to Islamic law these ramifications are dire. So you imagine this, I finished this research then people started a discussion to apply Islamic law in Switzerland for the family affairs of the minority living there and guess what? They wanted to use Britain as a good example of this. I had a different position given my background and I thought why don’t I just go to Britain and research this “positive example” and the result was Women and Sharia Law. One has to understand the context here in Britain, we are talking about diverse communities, you have 3 million Muslims who are very diverse in their denominations their culture and languages etc. We know two thirds of them come from south Asian countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Within that context they are hugely diverse cultures, communities, regions these are diverse communities. Yet we speak of the Muslim as singular. There was a construction of the British Muslim community and there are different reasons for this and the factors which led to the construction of the British Muslim community. We can start with specific features of the British context. First, the legacy of history where the colonial legacy within the former colonies one treated, one used intermediaries in controlling these areas and at the same time left these groups with their tradition, with their family laws and with their legal pluralism intact. One would say that by extension here, with the new migrants coming from the commonwealth countries. Second you have a different British understanding of nationality where you have several nationalities existing side by side and by extension this took place with the migrant group who came here. You also have certain policies which have enabled the rise of certain practices and the work together with Islamic or Islamism groups claiming to represent the Muslim community in the singular. This is regardless of which party has been in power; the Tories for instance during Margaret Thatcher had this idea of rolling back the state and outsourcing public services to civil society actors which led by extension to outsourcing these activities to faith groups. Faith groups were basically these Islamic society organisations. With the Labour party we’re talking about voting, getting the Asian vote, it was called the Asian vote which later was called the Muslim vote. The labour party payed its part in constructing the Muslim community in order to attain votes. Finally the role of Islamism where here we see different form of Islamist movements, whether societal Islamism like deobandi Islamism for example or political Islamism like jamaat-e-Islami who work together, on the one hand, to separate Muslims from the Muslim society and at the same time insist on participation while demanding Islamist exception. All of this took place and was shaped by an essentialist paradigm where people are being reduced to their religious identity. It is an essentialist paradigm shaped by cultural relativism and white man’s burden. Shame, regarding the colonial and imperial past. This led to a de facto monoculture. We’re not talking on multiculturalism based on respect were talking about multiculturalism based upon group identities and based upon a politics of difference which divides people upon cultural, religious and ethnic lines designing policy which enshrines these differences and not what brings us together and leading as a consequence into a reality of segregation. I think everyone knows the outcome of the Dane Lewis case about a certain pattern of segregation in different communities.


Now this is the boring part of what I have to say. I’ll talk about the type of what I would call weak legal pluralism because until today the policy makers are not acknowledging that there is parallel legal systems here. I would say you have two forms of the application of Islamic law. The first is sharia councils, these are the numbers are not really well known. Samia bono said thirty, CIVITAS’s report said 85 in 2013, many of those who I interviewed said the number was much higher, but I can’t give you a number because I didn’t do real research in this question. The focus was on family disputes, it’s not subject to any supervision and deny access to legal advice and assistance and appellation is excluded. The second type or form is Muslim arbitration tribunals. This is more problematic from my perspective because from my perspective the application of Islamic jurisprudence is based upon the British arbitration act of 1996 and that makes the judgement legally binding. Of course both parties must agree to the arbitration and through my interviews, what they told me when they realized there are parallel legal structures there, they don’t only educate in terms of financial affairs, no family dispute, and violence in marriage and child sex abuse. If we ask the question who turns to sharia councils? What type of Women? The majority are woman. A woman seeks a religious divorce because she believes a civil divorce does not suffice. This is indication of a wide spread belief, I would call it an extremist perception, a religious kind of perception regarding civil divorce. If you look in countries like morocco or Pakistan, civil divorces are accepted as religiously valid. Here one is told they are not religiously valid, specifically in closed communities. Women who are married outside of the UK don’t know that international private law makes their marriages valid here, acknowledged they don’t know that. They think if they want a divorce they have to go to sharia councils. The majority are women who were married here in the UK but not recognized under civil law. They only had a religious marriage. They don’t have a civil marriage they end up in a situation where they have to go to a sharia council. There are many reasons why women fail to register their marriages, one has to do with ignorance about the states of religious marriages, they don’t know that a religious marriage will not suffice to be recognized by common law. You have husbands who make deliberate attempts to trick their wife of registering a civil marriage in order to deprive them of the rights which civil law affords to women. You have another reason here where entering into a polygamous marriage, from that perspective it’s important not to register it because he is violating the law who want to test a relationship before committing to a real civil marriage. The majority of women who turn to the sharia councils are women who are married here, who don’t have a civil marriage I’m not sure if you’re aware of the channel 4 programe where they did a survey in 2017 which revealed that 60% of Muslim marriages were not registered…60%. 78% of the women interviews said we would like our marriage to be registered so they are aware of the problem and would like to be protected by the law and again. The issue is complicated by lack of awareness or their rights, the type of marriage they have and the mainstreaming of fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, propagated the false assumption in UK Islamic communities that a Muslim women is only divorced through a Islamic divorce which contradicts the established practice in Muslim countries. It is interesting to see how most conservative practices are practiced here and you have other practiced practiced elsewhere.  I emphasize it is important to recognize women are not seeking religious arbitration. They’re not going to these councils to get arbitration or mediation. They want a religious divorce and they find themselves trapped in that web which can lead to great abuse as I showed in my book. If we would like to ask the question what type of law is being implemented in sharia councils, what type of Islamic law? I would say the classical Islamic law with all its contradictions and discriminations. Now how do I define Islamic law? You have people who say that Islamic law is justice. I believe a better way of defining it is how it is being implemented in Islamic states and within Muslim family laws. That means we are talking about a selection from the corpus of legal opinions of jurists between the 7th and 10th century who promoted a corpus of opinions which are being applied. Once you define it that way, you highlight the limit and the problematic nature. We are not talking about the theoretical potential to provide justice. We are taking about an actual implementation and its obvious limitations and how it contravenes modern concepts of human rights with impunity. What matters is how it is being interpreted and used today. Not how it could be used a century from now. That said please don’t forget when we talk about Islamic law. Consider the historical context which brought about this corpus of jurisprudence. Here the sharia position on women rights has been formed by its historical context. 7th century has no concept of universal human rights, slavery was an established institutions, a person’s status and rights were determined by his/her religion, women are not recognized as people able to exercise their capacities equal to men and full citizenship is restricted to men of certain ethnic and racial traits. This is the context and given its historical context and the worldview behind it, classical Islamic law does not correspond to the 21st century concept of universal human rights where a human being enjoys equality and human rights by the mere fact that he or she is born human. This brings me to the question. What type of Islamic law is being implemented here? Here you see a kind of legal ruling that set from the outset the husband and wife in aa hierarchy, at the top of which the husband stands and from which the wife is disadvantaged. I’ll give you just some of the examples, there is a whole chapter on this and family affairs, bit ill give you some examples from my interviews. In many Islamic counties you have differences, Sudan the minimum age of marriage is 10 years, in Yemen  you don’t have a minimum age in Iran it is 13. If you move further it is 18, Tunisia is 18 then you realise there is a difference from one country to another. Classical Islamic law will tell you that nine years old or with puberty. You look at the Sheik Sadiri, the head of the Muslim arbitration tribunal, the one whose rulings are legally bindings. I asked him, what do you think should be the minimum age of marriage? He said and I quote, “puberty is the right age”. The next decision is of the guardian. You need a male guardian. He has to make the decision because in some societies a 12 or 1 year old girl is more or less fully fledged. They are fully functional and you in western societies are having sex and babies and are fully mature. There are some which aren’t in this condition which is why we have to leave the decision to the guardian. Ask about the guardian. According to Islamic law you need a male guardian to contract a marriage. A virgin can be forced into a marriage which is why I showed actually using these rulings can lead to not only forced marriage but child marriage. If the guardian says yes then it’s okay. Of course you have exceptions with certain jurisprudence for example the (inaudible) jurisprudence, here in the Muslim welfare house. I asked the sheik about the guardian and he said that he demands that the bride and the groom and the guardian be present at the wedding ceremony. He wanted to make sure that no forced marriage is taking place. But to contract the marriage the guardian has to approve so one example he gave is a woman in her 30’s wanted to marry, the guardian lives in Jordan. The sheik called him to get his approval and insisted we have to call him to get his approval and his answer was the guardian say yes. You also have the issue of Kaffa, in one jurisprudence the (inaudible) there is the possibility a woman can marry herself, she doesn’t need a guardian. But the same jurisprudence gives the guardian the right to cancel her marriage if that marriage was not socially compatible for the family. It has been implemented in the sharia councils. In the Shaira councils, every time I asked if they were doing this they said yes. If you have a sharia council that is more on the side of the women they will find a way out of it and on the other side if you are in a sharia council that is taking a really extreme view that you are a minor regardless of whatever then they will cancel it. We are taking about an arbitrary system. Arbitrary because the treatment depends on the Sharia court applying this law. You have form the outset a law which discriminates against women. But at the same time the way it is being applied is kind of arbitrary it can be interpreted in a fundamentalist way or try to make the lives of women easier by seeking the most lenient interpretation. The mindset is framed by the perception that the Sharia is God’s law, you can’t change it. Regardless of the fact that it is shaped by all these rules which contravene human rights with impunity. They take it as you don’t question them. Some of them would tell me in their interviews that this is what Islam commands, this is what god commands and we are following God’s law. It was interesting to see that from their perspective, what is being implemented in a country like Tunisia where the laws were reformed in 1947 were polygamy was prohibited and all according to a certain progressive reading They don’t consider that valid, what is valid is what is being implemented in a country like Saudi Arabia or my country of origin Yemen. The treatment of women is nothing but (inaudible) an attitude of illiterate adherence to restrictive parochial worldview of women. One interviewer was himself a religious scholar told me, these extremist clerics will say a woman can never marry on her own accord, she can never divorce of her own accord, she can never have equal inheritance with men let alone more than men and they are all basing this on a literalist interpretation of the Qur’an which is one characteristic of fundamentalism in my understanding. There is a political dimension which doesn’t seem to make people happy when is say that. We tend to ignore those Muslims within the west who call for the introduction of legal pluralism and Islamic law are often affiliated with either forms of Islamism; either societal or political Islamism. The issue is not only about conservative clerks and imam’s who are using the law in ways they have always known about. The issue is more significantly political, if you look at the first sharia council which was made here in London, the biggest one in 1982 you see the organization affiliated with salafi islam, with neobundi Islam with the Muslim Brotherhood, with Jamat-e-Islamii. It is not out of sheer coincidence that this is taking place. The connection you see also in the membership. The two types of Islamism often control British Sharia councils. Their ideology, those working on the sharia councils often display the ideology and political features os Islamism and the cooptation framing the use of these sharia councils as obligatory and religious necessity and  presenting a decontextualized patriarchal interpretation of Islamic law as a standard which must be used.


I’m coming to my last remarks, I won’t talk about the social context of closed communities where the talk about exit option seems to be more theoretical than anything else. Let me just say, if I ask the question why legal pluralism is not an answer is not an answer to minority’s protection. We must look at the context of legal pluralism, its actual practice. We must also consider the consequences of special laws for specific groups because it is these consequences that should matter from the point of view of this book. If you look closer you see a outcome with cements the differences between ethnic and religious communities in the UK. Most importantly within society in general we are talking about two types of citizen, those women who enjoy the rights stipulated by common law and those who were deprived of them. With all due respect, what we are allowing is a systematic discrimination of women and children. It is systematic discrimination. I am just going to make two or three recommendations. Just to come to a conclusion, I think it is about time we make it mandatory to have a civil marriage before contracting a religious marriage. It is about time to launch a nationwide campaign to register all Islamic marriages and this will ultimately reveal many polygamous marriages, it was estimated at 27% that you have polygamous marriages. The women who are party to these polygamous marriages must be protected but that protection should not entail recognizing polygamy as a form of marriage just be consistent. Just as you punish a Christian, Jewish or atheist man involved in a polygamous marriage, do the same thing for the Muslim man who is violating the law. Again launch a nationwide campaign which reaches women within close communities and inform them of their rights. As the survey has shown, once they realise that they are not protected under the common law, the first thing they want is to be protected. That’s about it. Thank you very much.

Emma Fox: Well, thank you Dr Manea. Fantastic talk. Definitely food for thought for all of us. I just wanted to quickly say on behalf of the Henry Jackson Society, we simply had to have Dr Manea here today because we also raise awareness of societal and political Islamism and the harm that that can have on society with regards to both extremism and social cohesion and I think the issues like Sharia really do go to the heart of the problem with the cultural sensitivity before speaking out, how we’ve bowed in the past and continue to bow to Islamist pressures and we’ve simply turned a blind eye which has allowed minorities within minorities to suffer. I was thinking about this today and there’s a quote – I’m not sure who said it, it may have been Michelle Obama but she said: “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.” And reading Dr Manea’s book that really came through. We are simply failing huge sways of our communities with regards of legal pluralism and of course through her research we have seen Sharia councils in the UK really are these conservative, patriarchal, literalist interpretations of religious law that had been heavily influenced by Islamist ideologues and that’s something that we just can’t ignore and as just mentioned that is simply legally sanctioned discrimination against women. And I really strongly encourage everybody to buy Women and Sharia Law. It’s absolutely fantastic. Just to give a couple examples of Dr Manea’s research. There’s reconciliation sessions that occur in some of these councils where women are forced to sit next to their husbands who have domestic violence junctions already imposed through the civil courts. Juries permit polygamy, child marriage, they favour men with relation to custody, they insist on guardianship customs for women. There is of course the infamous case of Hamza Haddad, a controversial Salafi preacher who our team at the Henry Jackson Society actually helped expose in The Times recently with regards to his extremist views. And as spoken about in the book, some of his views with regard to child marriage and MFGM and lots of other extremist views.

Dr Elham Manea: As young as it gets, he says.

Emma Fox: As you it gets, well, yes.

Dr Elham Manea: The younger the better.

Emma Fox: The younger the better, that was it. The younger the better. So these are the types of clerics are in these Sharia councils and we really can’t turn a blind eye. We pride ourselves in British values of equality, liberty, and religious pluralism, and we can’t ignore the rights of the most vulnerable. So with that, I’d love to open the floor to some questions. Before you do, state your name and any sort of affiliation that you sort of have if you would like.

Audience Member: I have lots of questions. I’m concerned with (inaudible) and government in terms of allowing funding from the Gulf States to fund fundamentalism in our schools, particularly in the Islamic schools which have been more prevalent, certainly in the last 10, 15 years. And also the media who caters the most extreme form of Islam. You don’t hear moderate Islam. What you hear is the most extreme, the classic medieval type of Islam. Governments have encouraged funding because they haven’t done anything to stop funding from Saudi Arabia, from Qatar, from other Gulf States who allow Wahabism, the most fundamental type of Islamic literature to be taught in school and indoctrination of children. So you have the young population which are more extreme than their own parents. So we have widening extremism. And I’m also concerned with mass immigration of people coming in. You have a rise in funding by Gulf States. What you’re going to have is an increase in problems, not a reduction. I don’t know what you think about that.

Dr Elham Manea: Well, I agree actually that there is a problem there when it comes to funding coming from Gulf countries because we are talking about transnational movements of different orientation whether Salafi, whether political Islam. They play a very important role when it comes to spreading this type of Islam that I talked about in my latest book, not here particularly. And the question from my perspective is like, how can we stop the funding in a context where the political will is not there. I mean, we’ve that the countries like Britain, even Germany, the United States, they seem to be very much, when it concerns countries like Qatar or Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or after that Emirates – remember you also have Emirates that are funding, Kuwait is really a source of transnational Salafi movement – there isn’t the political will to stop that because of economic and political strategic relationships. I believe a civil society movement should be very much working on the issue. The media is playing an important role I see. Different countries in terms of exposing the problematic nature of cooperation and we have to stop it because as you correctly mentioned. One these attendencies in several countries, not only in Britain, you see it in Belgium, you see it in Germany, where there is the 2nd and 3rd generations are espousing views that their grand-parents didn’t. They seem to be more fundamentalist in certain areas than their parents and one has to ask the question ‘why?’ and once we ask the question why we come to the education, the type of curriculum that is being taught. It’s how you teach about religion that makes a difference.

Audience Member: If you would have advise on fundamentalism in terms of the rights of the women, they can be very much the norm and then ultimately – in time – an undermining of all human rights in terms for all, not just women and children.

Dr Elham Manea: But when they start, they start with women. That’s the pattern.

Audience Member: Exactly, and from this shutting down of debates, you know you’re called islamophobic if you have a discussion. So you can’t be critical of Islam here because they will attack you. They will say (inaudible). They treat it as a race and as you’ve pointed out there, Islam is not a homogenous group. They come from different cultures, from different backgrounds. My mother is from the Middle East, so I have some understanding. And they treat everyone the same, as one entity, and it seems to be the most extreme form that gets heard.

Dr Elham Manea: Yes.

Emma Fox: Okay, you, Sir.

Audience Member: I may upset some people here by saying that (inaudible) moderate Islam and fanatic Islam. I mean do we really have a moderate Islam and what is it, what are the pillars of moderate Islam? It’s just a concept I think to compromise, just to probably fantasise there is something there that haven’t defined. We haven’t really. If you look at the literature back to the Sahih al-Bukhari and (inaudible) which is the bases for all the Islamic teaching and ruling there. So do we really have a moderate Islam? And does it mean that that’s it’s just a step or and introduction in terms of talking about it as a step for really maybe a reformation of Islam. Do we need to expand it to the point where we say ‘moderate Islam’ because we say ‘reformation’.

Dr Elham Manea: Okay, I got your point and in my latest book – I wrote it in English by the way but it’s published in German – I dedicated a chapter to the arguments that you just basically mentioned. Because I talked about Islam, you said that those who say Islam is a religion of peace and those who say Islam is a religion of violence and you have the third argument that says you have both in that religion. The question is why is this form of extremist Islam as relevant today and once you put it there in that frame. You see the political dimension of it. Who made it that way. And from that perspective you see both of this religion and that’s why I call these forms, specifically these modern. Because they are modern,18th, 17th century modern movement, I am talking Wahabi Salafism and Deobandi Islam, but they are based on the seats of scholars, jurists of the 13th century. Good? But look what they do once they start to spread and mysticise in other communities. In Indonesia, people were living together, Ahmadiyya, all of these religions together. Once this type of Arabised Islam came in the area, it’s like a weed starting to get rid of what they call the bad form of Islam and the bad form of Islam and insisting on people you have to separate yourself from those unbelievers. And Ahmadiyya who lived in Indonesia for hundreds of years were asked to leave their islands or to convert to Islam. They lived before together and I saw it also in the country of my mother, Egypt, I was born in El Mahalla El Kubra. In that building we were Muslims and Christians together. Today you have walls separating us and that tells us something changed and once you look at what changes, it’s the political factor as mainstream as that violent form of Islam. I am not only talking about the political ideology, I am also talking about a reading of religion. And yes, there is a need for reformation in this religion.

Audience Member: Thank you very much discussing this difficult and controversial topic (inaudible) difficult to believe (inaudible) different society, I mean Muslim societies. Now you mentioned that woman before there (inaudible) because in most societies (inaudible) and they fear to go to a civil court, they go to Sharia. That Muslim council makes the marriage and the divorce, as you mentioned we have so many possible system, including inheritance because of Islamic law, this is different (inaudible). Now to advocate or I mean to compare laws or right, we have so many (inaudible) organisations and the media as well, as you mentioned. I (inaudible) community about this one. People, some of them refer to register medically (inaudible) but do you think that the scholars, the Muslim council, they themselves have a duty to advocate to women, to advocate the public, the Islamic people here and then to let choose whether to go for the civic court or the Islamic. Because unless the Islamic scholars themselves talk about it people may not (inaudible) get it.

Dr Elham Manea: I prefer a more direct approach because by giving the religious scholars and the Sharia councils, they have an interest in perpetuating this situation. They have power and through that power they control the closed communities, so from that perspective it’s very important to recognise the fact that a more direct approach would be better that is basically how you end this segregation while at the same time working with women, making them aware of their rights, making them aware also of the fact that you can have a civil divorce and will be recognized religiously. Because it’s interesting. What I see in Switzerland for instance, I have many friends who got a civil divorce. Some of the come from Morocco, they wanted to have a religious divorce but their embassy said you have a civil divorce, that’s enough. It’s religiously valid. Now how come we don’t apply this here. Do you understand what I mean? I understand it’s a very difficult context that we’re dealing with. Because the power of this religious extremism has become so mainstreamed that’s very important to try to find humane but direct approaches end these problems. And at the end of the day, if the state does not –  from my perspective I insist that the state has a duty to protect the weakest and the society and the weakest who are stuck in these communities, not upper-middle class, educated, independent, they can choose for their life, they know they can get a divorce, they have access to justice. But these women who are stuck in this system.

Audience Member: I think they have to get everyone who has a religious marriage to get registered. When you marry, you get registered in the church. Why can’t they do that when they get an Islamic marriage, why don’t they get registered at the time. I think the problem is going on if they go overseas, get married, and come back, then the government needs to be strong and say that’s a wedding we recognise and we treat it as a wedding and a divorce in court should be accepted. Problem is that they don’t treat it. Exceptional rights, exceptional privilege over and above everyone else and it’s going to be these people with special privileges. These extremisms. The problems like we have in this country and that we can’t debate it.

Audience Member:  My name is Ahmad Bakran. I’m a 100% of Dr Manea’s views. What I would like to add is that I don’t know how many people in the room have read about Marks & Spencer producing the hijab for young girls. I think this is a moral stance that the government along with civil societies from all areas should stand against and do something but I mean somehow religion that as you just mentioned and there are extremists, no matter how small a minority. But they are taking advantage of the government, of the system over here. Of course I would not sacrifice my liberty at all, but there should be a deep investigation in many things and not only this, there should be a research linking women’s rights and denying them the secular laws here and the connection with that to the creeping separation of societies and not being aware of what the secular systems is giving the woman. I mean there is no doubt that as a woman I would definitely go for a British system if I want a divorce or anything rather than going into any religious ones. Because in a religious divorce, I get stripped of all my rights. Not to mention that I’m not treated as equal in right from the beginning. On top of that I am denied my equality and our ownership what we have accumulated and we (inaudible) personally. As you have mentioned, custody of the children and the time when the husband could take the custody and give it to another woman, I mean, remarry another woman and she is supposed to look after them. But if I have the custody because they are underage, I am not allowed to remarry at all so long as I have the children. So that is a grave violation of my women’s rights. I think it’s about time to give a message to the government. Yes, that universal right as they are in the declaration of human rights is the thing that should apply to each and every British person, British woman regardless of her background. And this is how you can create a change, a positive change within the community, within the society to understand the value of being a British human being. You’re a human being before anything. But the British system or let’s say Western system, I agree with you there is no way of saying that they are Islam (inaudible) I mean there are so many interpretations for the same issue in the books, whether it be in the Quran or in the Bukhari or the Hadith or the sayings of the prophet. There are so many contradictory issues there and it’s about time for us as women from all over the world. What saddens me a great deal that women organization, powerful ones in the UK, they don’t want to listen about the grievances of Moslem women. It’s as if they don’t exist. They don’t want to because they are afraid of being called islamophobic and all of this. And this is a sad thing, because I am a British and equal human being like anybody. I happen to be born from that background. I happen to be born in Islam or anything but that should not deny my right, equal right. Thank you, everyone. (inaudible)

Emma Fox: Is there any final question, because we…

Audience Member: Very, very briefly. Thank you very much Dr Manea. Yes this is an Australian accent but I am British like the lady down there in the other part of the room. The (inaudible) I thought three points about what we need to pursue and I am interested in what jurisdictions that are similar to Britain, I’m thinking of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or maybe even a country like Germany, where there may be some indications of where other countries are tackling this more successfully, possibly with more urgency than Britain. Things tend to move a bit slowly in Britain sometimes, I’ve noticed, and is there an opportunity to possibly with the Scottish legal system to possibly set a standard so the English legal system catches up, so I thought I’d leave that.

Dr Elham Manea: Yes, it’s not because I’m Swiss as well. But honestly the law in Switzerland can be a model as well. It’s just as I mentioned before, it’s mandatory there. You have to have a civil marriage before you contract a religious marriage. There is nothing called Sharia councils there. It’s not allowed. But at the same time, that said, it’s not only Sharia councils that we have to focus on. Segregation is an issue here and it’s not only the Muslims who have their courts. The Hindu also have their own courts. And in that segregation you have to make sure to end that and again, in Switzerland you see a context because I interviewed similar integration officials in different cantons. I know it’s small, Switzerland is small, but there is a very clear strategy. They make sure with the new arrivals of migrants that no area has a concentration of one ethnicity or one religious group. Because they said we want to avoid the problems we’re seeing in other European countries. Germany is not to be emulated, with all due respect. They have their problems when it comes to this. They have an informal legal system, specifically with customary law clan, Lebanese clans and others. That makes the situation problematic. Yes, the Scottish system may be also a possibility there. I believe first of all you have a law here of 1949 that tells you that this mandatory action of registering a religious marriage into a civil marriage. This mandatory act is only covering Christians, Quakers and the Jews. But with all due respect, today we have a different social reality, different demographic groups, structures I’m sorry. So the law should be modernised to cover the others and with that we will avoid other questions we don’t want to open. With that you will also take the carpet from under the Sharia councils because women need the divorces and you need to give them the ability to get rid of that.

Emma Fox: Thank you so much everyone. Thank you to Dr Manea.



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