Every 7 seconds a girl under 16 is forced into marriage… 16 years ago I was that girl, forced
into marriage, literally at gunpoint, by my uncle in Kashmir.
The attitude of the British Government now is exactly what it was 16 years ago.
They say Sharia has no basis in English law, so there’s no need to declare it illegal.
In which case how did what happened to me … actually happen?
After my forced marriage, on returning to the UK, immigration services told me that if my
marriage was not registered in this country, it would not be valid. It was never registered.
And yet after a long fight against the UK legal system, including my own solicitor, at the age
of 21 I had no choice but to accept a divorce through the UK courts. This was despite my
attempts to get the marriage annulled, as it should have been.
Therefore, in this instance, Sharia clearly took precedence over UK law.
The local police force in Nottingham did not enforce UK law. Before the divorce was issued
my husband took another wife to secure his stay in the UK. Bigamy is illegal under UK law.
But the police told me it was allowed in Islam, so they refused to arrest him.
Another instance in which Sharia had a basis in English Law.
My first visit to a Sharia court was with a friend of mine about 13 years ago. Despite being in
an abusive relationship, my friend was ordered to make her marriage work. She was told it
was her duty as a wife. She was told divorce was against Islam and God.
I tried to speak up for her and I was told to be quiet by the imam. He demanded to know my
family name, and if my father knew I was there. He told us that what he said was final.
The Vice Chair of the UK Board of Sharia Councils stated before the select committee last
November that it is un-Islamic to discriminate against women. And yet Sharia courts
discriminate against women every day.
Sharia is run by men, largely self-appointed from within the Muslim community. It dates
from the seventh century, when Sharia-prescribed punishments such as beheading, flogging
and stoning were part of everyday life. Indeed these practices continue to this day in some
countries who have failed to move with the times.
Sharia started to be promoted in the UK in the 1980s and its influence is growing, both here
and throughout many Western countries. Its incompatibility with Western democracy and
equality has led to it being banned in an increasing number of countries, including Muslim
countries such as Turkey and Tunisia.
When it is seen there is no need for Sharia in modernising Islamic countries, the question I
ask myself is why would a non-Islamic country continue to allow these illegal courts to
operate alongside the British legal system?
The longer this issue is ignored and brushed under the political carpet, the less the
government will be able to control it. Left unchallenged, we’ll have to start giving legal
concessions to Sharia law and in time we will end up with two legal systems.
And the irony is that Islam itself tells us to abide by the laws of the country in which we live.
Islam states that the law of the land takes precedence over religious law.
Sharia courts degrade women. They are incompatible with European human rights
legislation. Sharia law legitimises law breaking. If we let it thrive this law breaking will grow
beyond the mere abuse of women.
Sharia courts cannot continue as a parallel Judiciary. They cannot be allowed to provide
marriage and divorce certificates. We cannot allow rulings which are incompatible with
laws, values, principles and policies of our country. Sharia does not operate within the
framework of the English legal system. It has its own legal system which continues to
oppress women. The only way to end discrimination against women in the Muslim
community is to make Sharia courts illegal.
I believe the ongoing select committee enquiry into Sharia law is a sham. It is designed to
give the impression of probity, but is avoiding any useful investigation in case its findings
would prove to be politically inconvenient.
During my recent visit to give evidence to the select committee, I was the only one out of
about 25 women who had been invited who was in support of banning Sharia law in the UK.
Indeed, I felt ‘ambushed’ by the whole thing. Some of those I spoke to were in favour of
regulation. But you cannot regulate something that is unseen. The UK Board of Sharia
councils stated last November that they themselves have no idea how many Sharia courts
currently operate in the UK.
I was also shocked at the lack of incisive questioning on 1st November 2016 at the Select
Committee at which 3 panels were convened to answer questions about Sharia courts, or as
they would prefer to term them, ‘councils’, in the UK.
In particular, the testimony of the third panel, comprising the Chairman and Vice Chairman
of the UK Board of Sharia Councils and a member of the Islamic Sharia Council, was
remarkable in its level of disingenuousness and contradiction, which was totally
unchallenged by the select committee.
Some of the nonsense which was unchallenged by the committee:
The Vice Chairman of UK Board of Sharia Councils said “if Sharia Councils are banned … we
will have back street and not transparent” Sharia councils.
The Chairman of the UK Board of Sharia Councils said “we don’t know how many Sharia
Councils there are.” “some people talk about 80, some people talk about 30, or 50, I don’t
know. There are no records for this and no studies”.
He went on to say “small shops, who are doing the marriage and divorce, maybe hidden in
the basement or somewhere”.
This total contradiction was UNCHALLENGED
The Vice Chairman said “We can regularise and standardise” Sharia councils.
The Chairman said “we cannot force the Sharia councils to be members”
This was UNCHALLENGED
The Vice Chairman stated “None of the Sharia councils are overstepping the mark” “Sharia
councils train people to know the law of the land”
The Chairman said “we don’t know how many Sharia Councils there are”
Khola Hasan of the Islamic Sharia Council said “we are a religious organisation that is
answerable to God, nobody else”
But then she also stated “We know that English law takes precedence”
This was UNCHALLENGED
Then she said “As far as polygamy is concerned…..they are actually not guilty of bigamy
because the marriage is not registered in the civil legal system. There is no bigamy going on.
It’s the same as a man having a mistress”.
It was then stated “if you have a wife in Pakistan and a wife in the UK potentially you could
be arrested for bigamy”
Another contradiction UNCHALLENGED!
Indeed, the Chairman of the Select Committee appeared to want to move on when anything
controversial was being said!
In closing, I would like to repeat that Sharia law prescribes punishments such as beheading,
flogging and stoning. In comparison there are less worrying aspects of Sharia law, such as
that which allows a man to grant himself a divorce by saying the words “I divorce you” three
times, whilst a woman has to jump through hoops and over obstacles designed to keep her
firmly in her second class citizen status. However, I believe we are at the thin end of a very
dangerous wedge. If we allow Sharia law to fester and spread its influence, in years to come
we could find ourselves in a position where serious crimes are no longer tried by UK law
because the perpetrator is able to cite his religion and be heard in a Sharia court.
- Fozia Rashid’s website
- Fozia Rashid on Facebook
- Fozia Rashid on Twitter
- Home Affairs Committee, UK: Transcript of oral evidence on Sharia councils, November 01 2016
Fozia Rashid supports the work of MARIAS (Mothers Against Radical Islam & Sharia)