One-man Sharia councils are discriminatory to women, scholar warns

One-man Sharia law councils dealing with religious divorce cases are discriminatory to women, Islamic scholar warns

  • ‘One-man’ Sharia councils are discriminating against women, scholar warns
  • Khola Hasan says ‘good Sharia councils’ exist but they are ‘few and far between’ 
  • Ms Hasan, a scholar at the Islamic Sharia Council, warns of one-man rulings
  • She says she has heard stories of women made to return to abusive husbands 
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A growing number of ‘one-man’ Sharia councils are leading to discrimination against women, an Islamic scholar has warned. 

An independent review into Sharia councils raised the issue of discrimination last year as Islamic law grants men the right to divorce by simply declaring their marriage is over – whereas a woman must gain a scholar’s permission to divorce her husband.  

Khola Hasan, scholar at east London’s Islamic Sharia Council, told The Times that there are ‘good Sharia councils’ but some ‘could do a lot better’.

She said: ‘I have heard stories of women made to go back to abusive husbands. These complaints mainly relate to one-man [operations]. 

Khola Hasan, scholar at east London’s Islamic Sharia Council, said there are ‘good Sharia councils’ but some ‘could do a lot better’

‘It may be an imam of a mosque or a madrassa teacher who considers himself to be of a scholarly disposition who announces to the local community, “I am a Sharia scholar and if you have problems, come to me.” ‘

As many as 85 Sharia councils, which offer rulings and advice on Islamic law, were operating in the UK according to the review – which was commissioned by the Home Office. 

Ms Hasan added that some councils are operating in houses and in the back rooms of shops, along with some councils which operate entirely through post.  

The scholar added that women have visited her Sharia council in order to ‘redress’ rulings of one-man operations, and she has written to ‘these so-called Sharia councils’ telling them their practice is against Islamic law.

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Ms Hasan said people must be aware that good Sharia councils ‘are few and far between’ and have websites, trained people and are open and honest.

The Islamic Sharia Council’s website explains that the council formed in 1982, in the Jami’a Mosque of Birmingham, where ‘representatives of ten leading Islamic centres’ met and ‘decided to establish the first Islamic Shariah Council for the United Kingdom’.

It adds: ‘The Islamic Sharia Council was formed to solve the matrimonial problems of Muslims living in the United Kingdom in the light of Islamic family law. 

‘The Council comprises of members from all of the major schools of Islamic legal thought (madhab) and is widely accepted as an authoritative body with regards to Islamic law.’ 

Pictured: Sheikh Haitham Al-Haddad speaking with two female divorce applicants in east London

‘This was not just the first shariah council in Britain but in the whole of Europe as well,’ the website claims. 

It states the council’s objective was ‘not just to guide the Muslims in matters of their religion and to issue fatwas when needed, but also to create a bench of ulama [the learned ones] who would function as Qadis [magistrate/judge in a Sharia court] in matters such as matrimonial disputes that were referred to them’.   

Ms Hasan told the Times the Islamic Sharia Council insisted that men follow ‘formal’ written procedure for a divorce rather than simply declaring the marriage to be finished. 

The council’s website states that ‘80% of all letters received by the Council are related to matrimonial problems faced by Muslims in the UK’ and ‘the remaining are related to people asking for Islamic injunctions (fatawa) pertaining to their daily lives.’ 

The website adds that the ‘majority of matrimonial disputes are initiated by women who are seeking a divorce from their husbands’. 

In January the Council of Europe named Britain in a resolution highlighting how Sharia law conflicts with universal human rights. 

The 47-nation body, which oversees the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted a measure which raises concerns about the role of Sharia councils in family matters.

It also said it was ‘greatly concerned’ that Sharia is applied either officially or unofficially in member states.

The Council warned that Sharia councils operate in the UK without ‘transparency or accountability’, but Ms Hasan told the Times they did not publish rulings as clients wanted details ‘kept private and confidential’. 

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