Community Women's Blog

We Stand for Equality, Secularism and Justice


Leave a comment

Women’s rights campaigners echoed the voices of 300+ BAME victims & survivors of abusive religious related practices & codes: ‘Who will listen to our voices?’

End of Year Update on Campaign to Dismantle Parallel Legal Systems

By Rumana Hashem

Over 300 women of Black and Minority communities, abused by religious bodies such as Sharia Councils in the UK, have signed a statement opposing Sharia courts and religious bodies, warning of the mounting threats to their rights and to their collective struggles for security and independence. The letter published on 14 December 2016 on Open Democracy 50.50 reads as below:

We are women who have experienced abuse and violence in our personal lives. Most of us come from Muslim backgrounds, but some of us come from other minority faiths.

We are compelled to voice our alarm about the growing power of religious bodies such as Sharia Councils and their bid for control over our lives. We oppose any religious body – whether presided over by men or women – that seeks to rule over us: because they do not have any authority to speak or make decisions on our behalf and because they are not committed to women’s rights and social justice. Whether we are women of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian faiths or of no faith, we have much in common with each other in the face of cruelty, tyranny and discrimination in our families, in our communities, and in the wider society. Many of us are deeply religious, but for us religion is in our hearts: a private matter between us and our God. Religion is not – and must not be – something that can be used to deny us our freedom or the little pieces of happiness that we find by mixing and borrowing from many different traditions and cultures which give meaning to our otherwise difficult existence.

We know from personal experiences that many religious bodies such as Sharia Councils are presided over by hard line or fundamentalist clerics who are intolerant of the very idea that women should be in control of their own bodies and minds. These clerics claim to be acting according to the word of God: but they are often corrupt, primarily interested in making money and abuse their positions of power by shaming and slandering those of us who reject those aspects of our religions and cultures that we find oppressive. We pay a huge price for not submitting to domestic violence, rape, polygamy and child abuse and other kinds of harm. For this reason alone, we are fearful of religious laws and rulings from such bodies. Our experience in our countries of origin and in our communities tells us that they are deeply discriminatory and divisive. They will weaken our collective struggles for security and independence.

We struggle to fit into this country and to educate our children, especially our daughters, and to protect them and give them a better life. We struggle to have our experiences of violence and abuse addressed properly in accordance with the principles of equality and justice for all. We do not wish to be judged by reference to fundamentalist codes that go against our core values of compassion, tolerance and humanity. We do not want to go backwards or to be delivered back into the hands of our abusers and those who shield them.

Many of us have not made public comments on this issue, because we are afraid of the consequences of doing so openly. All of us have faced abuse and we are desperately trying to rebuild our lives in the face of constant and continuing threats and trauma. Some of us have used only our first names to support this statement, but we feel strongly enough about this matter to do so.

We do not want Sharia Councils or other religious bodies to rule our lives. We demand the right to be valued as human beings and as equals before one law for all. We demand the right to follow our own desires and aspirations.

 

To view the names of the signatories and the nature of human rights violation and abuse experienced by individual signatories, please check out the article: The Sharia debate in the UK: who will listen to our voices?

 

In the meantime the coalition of women’s rights campaigners against parallel legal systems and Sharia Councils in the UK has launched a fresh campaign on social media for One Law for ALL which went viral two days before the closure of final evidence submission to Home Affairs Select Committee. The online campaign appeared on the same day as the letter from 300+ abused women opposing Sharia courts in the UK was published on Open Democracy.  The campaign by secular women’s rights campaigners on twitter and Facebook preceded by a hash sign “One Law for ALL”, ending with a hash sign “Struggle Not Submission” – a slogan used by the ex-WAF  members  , echoed the voices of 300 BAME victims and survivors of abusive practices and codes of religious bodies. The power of the campaign is in the slogans and the placards written and made by the women’s rights campaigners who experienced various forms of oppressions by Sharia and religious codes and practices.

 

They said: “injustice is injustice even when it comes from people of colour”, “our community women do not want to be re-victimised by Sharia judges”, “minority women are not extensions of the ‘community’, regressive imams & Sharia judges – they are citizens with rights”, “it is racist to fob off minority women to kangaroo courts”, “polygamy is abuse and violation of women’s Rights”, “Sharia law legitimises under-age marriage & honour-based violence against women”, “the impunity that Sharia courts enjoy must be ended”, “listen to women who know: don’t allow them to be silenced by anyone” . “By accommodating Sharia courts and Betei Din, the UK government is itself in breach of its obligations to gender equality”.

 

Besides, Maryam Namazie of One Law for All lodged supplementary written submission of evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Inquiry into Sharia Councils. And, on the final day of evidence supplementary evidence submission, Prgana Patel of Southall Black Sisters has submitted further evidence and long testimonies of victims and survivors of parallel legal systems to HASC on 16 December 2016.  These latest submission by One Law for All and Southall Black Sister are undeniable. The final submissions of devastating evidence made a luminous end of the year 2016.  We shall hope that these last minute yet detailed and powerful evidences will enlighten the blind government and the allegedly bias Home Affairs Select Committee. We can hope for a bright, enlightened, equal, free, fair and tolerant new year.

Hope, Peace and Happy wishes to all Community Women’s Blog readers for 2017!

Read more:

Sharia courts have no place in UK family law. Listen to women who know

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/14/sharia-courts-family-law-women

Supplementary written evidence submitted by One Law for All http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/sharia-councils/written/44036.html

#OneLawforAllBecause  #StruggleNotSubmission

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Denounce Those Playing Political Games with Women’s Lives over Sharia and Islamophobia

Rumana Hashem

This is probably an overdue update for community women’s blog readers on our campaign against Sharia Councils in Britain. We are aware that our blog has largely been dominated by stories of Bangladeshi community for a while. Due to the ongoing political situation and violence against women and minorities in Bangladesh, we needed to prioritise stories of Bangladeshi-British women and news from Bangladesh. However, this is a critical juncture when we must return to an ongoing issue of Islamophobia and the status of our campaign against parallel legal systems in Britain.

 

Muslim women and secular activists in East London joined Nari Digantas's panelists and representatives of eight Muslim women's organsiations, to abolish Sharia In Britain. Monteforio Centrre on 15 Oct 2014 by Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studio

Muslim women and secular activists in East London joined Nari Diganta’s panelists and representatives of eight Muslim women’s organsiations to abolish Sharia in Britain. Monteforio Centrre on 15 Oct 2014 by Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studio

Following the commitment to dismantle abusive practices of Sharia Councils, religious arbitration in family matters and parallel legal system in the UK, minority women’s rights campaigners have been urging the government to fully and impartially investigate Sharia bodies.  Although the UK government is conducting an inquiry into the operation of Sharia Councils which was launched in spring 2016, this is being boycotted by secular and minority women’s organisations, including East London based women’s rights organisation Nari Diganta and the core coalition against parallel legal systems, for reasons explained in this article . In short, the remit of government’s inquiry is too narrow, and the panel of judges are not ‘independent’ enough to undertake an impartial investigation.

On July 4, a letter, signed by an unprecedented number of women’s rights campaigners and organisations from Britain and internationally, was submitted to the Home Secretary raising serious concerns about the government’s ‘independent review’ into Sharia councils in Britain. Our letter stated that the limited scope of inquiry and its inappropriate theological approach will do nothing to address the discriminatory effect and intent of the courts on private and family matters – areas where, arguably, the greatest human rights violations of minority women in the UK take place. Rather than taking a human rights approach, the government has constituted a panel and terms of reference more suited to a discussion in theology than one which serves the needs of victims whose human rights are violated.  By making religious appointments, the government has lost a vital opportunity to examine the discriminatory nature of not only Sharia bodies but all forms of religious arbitration.

Despite grave concerns, Theresa May’s government is moving ahead with its controversial Sharia review.  At the same time the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the compatibility of Sharia with British law. Some frontline organisations and women’s rights activists including Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Centre for Secular Space, One Law for All, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Culture Project, and Yasmin Rehman have submitted written evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee. A few of these campaigners were invited to attend oral Evidence Session held on 1 November and they gave robust evidence under hostile environment by Islamist MPs.

 

Women's' rights campaigners challenged the unbalanced inquiry on Sharia Councils at the public meeting on "Sharia Law, religious arbitration and access to Justice" at the Parliament on 7 November 2016. Photo credit: Southall Black Sisters

Women’s’ rights campaigners challenged the unbalanced inquiry into Sharia Councils at the public meeting on “Sharia Law, religious arbitration and access to Justice” at the Parliament on 7 November 2016. Photo credit: Southall Black Sisters

 

There are currently two parallel enquiries running, one by the government and one by Home Affairs Select Committee, both of which appeared to have imbalances.  Earlier this month, certain committee members in the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee launched personal attack against a secular women’s rights campaigner, Maryam Namazie of One Law for All, who was invited to provide oral evidence following a call for evidence submission  against abusive practices of Britains’ Sharia Councils. Muslim women’s rights campaigners such as Yasmin Rehman, who expressed wish to attend oral evidence session by all means, was left out of the committee room as uninvited, while Maryamn Namazie an Iranian born secular feminist who worked closely with victims of Muslim origin and who provided powerful oral evidence on Sharia abuse at oral evidence session was faced with a personal attack as unrepresentative of Muslim women.

A committee member Naz Shah MP asserted that she wants to have a choice for Sharia divorce. The Pakistani origin -‘British-Muslim’ committee member Shah insisted that she is aware of many Muslim women who may use Sharia Councils. For Shah, a closure of Sharia Councils in Britain would mean that the option for a Sharia divorce of many Muslim women in the UK would be taken away. She asserted: ‘My choice would have been taken away’.  We don’t know if Shah will ever go to a Sharia council for divorce though, she wants to have the choice to have a Sharia divorce!

Using her parliamentary privilege, Naz Shah MP accused Namazie that her suggestion for closing down Sharia Councils would have discriminated against all religious believers. Without any proof, she said: ‘the people I have been talking to in the last 24 hours have told me that there is an air of Islamophobia and racism about this whole debate’. It would be interesting to know who are those people that Naz Shah MP had spoken for 24 hours to defend Sharia councils.

The antagonist comments by the MP in question was criticised by concerned secular groups and women’s rights campaigners. Yet she has not apologised for her misconduct and disgraceful attack against a women’s rights campaigner, while the oral evidence session was supposed to focus on Sharia Councils and its adverse effect on women’s lives.

 

The shocking part for me was the latest news that the Home Affairs Select Committee has asked victims of Sharia abuse to attend a physical event in Whitechapel in East London to be testified by committee members.  As an activist-academic – having completed a doctoral research in gendered violence, being engaged in teaching and research in feminist methodology and ethics in social work, and having invested nearly two decades in working with Muslim women and survivors of religious arbitration in Bangladesh and Britain – I found it hard to believe that the Committee intended to meet with survivors and victims’ in this manner. Whatever it is- insensibility or insanity – this raises many questions in connection with the ethics of the Home Affairs Select Committee appointed to investigate a delicate matter like abuse of women by Sharia in private life, and abuse in the name of religion. Whilst wondering about the motive, opportunity and objective of the Home Affairs Select Committee, I am leaving this blog by keeping my doubts to be explained in a later article at a wider platform, beyond the community women.

 

To end this report, I would like to call upon all community women’s blog readers to name and shame these politicians who fail to see how their policy could violate women’s fundamental human rights. Both the government and the Home Affairs Select Committee seem playing with Muslim women over Sharia and Islamophobia. In the name of choice of Muslim women and religious freedom, the Home Affairs Select Committee is directly acting on behalf of Islamists whose votes matter to the MPs more than women’s lives. The Committee members seem blind enough to not able to see how this ask for testifying victims and survivors of Sharia Councils could cause secondary trauma and further safety issues to many women who are in need of legal protection and access to justice.  Instead of protecting the women who gave witnesses in anonymous forms to their nominated women’s rights advocates, the committee has embarked on a project to promote violation of human rights of those survivors who are already faced with violence and abuse.

 

This update for community women’s blog readers includes a new Written evidence submitted to Home Affairs Select Committee by Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Centre for Secular Space, One Law for All, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Culture Project, including Evidence Session held on 1 November. The new written evidence that was submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee by the core coalition of women’s rights organisations against Sharia Councils in the UK is as follows:

We refer to recent emails from the Home Affairs Select Committee to Southall Black Sisters and the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation requesting us to help find Muslim women who have ‘used’ Sharia Councils, to attend an event in Whitechapel, East London, on 24 November 2016 in connection with your inquiry.

We are a coalition of organisations who have an immense track record in providing front line services and in campaigning for the human rights of black and minority women. Our coalition includes Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Centre for Secular Space, One Law for All, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Culture Project: we represent some of the most marginalised groups in our society. Between us, we have over 100 years of combined experience of working with women from all faith backgrounds, the majority of whom come from a Muslim background.

Many of us have supported minority women, adults and children of all religious backgrounds to resist powerful cultural and religious constraints that prevent them from exiting from violence and abuse and impede their ability to assert their rights as citizens of this country. It has taken long and often painful struggles to give minority women a voice and to facilitate their access to the formal legal system that many see as their ultimate safety net. We have seen that, without proper and informed access to the civil and criminal justice system and to the welfare state, women are left to the vagaries of arbitrary and discriminatory systems of community arbitration, including Sharia Councils – the subject of the current inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee. The experiences of women in these circumstances suggest that such parallel legal systems create a lethal space for the resurrection and perpetuation of patriarchal control over and harm to women, vulnerable adults, and children. It is precisely because of these experiences that, in many parts of the Muslim world, women are resisting Sharia laws and religious impositions.

It is against this background, that we are compelled to raise three specific areas of concern that have arisen in relation to your inquiry:

  1. First, we have to say that we are puzzled by your request for women who have personally used Sharia Councils to participate in the event in East London, and we are compelled to decline it for a number of significant reasons:

(a) Why is the Select Committee only interested in hearing from Muslim women who have ‘personally used’ Sharia Councils? There are an equal if not greater number of Muslim women who, for very valid reasons, do not wish to use these Councils out of fear and distrust arising from their own negative experiences of religious control in their communities. Many women confronting honour based abuse, for instance, will not use Sharia Councils because they feel angry and let down by their communities and religious authorities. Many recount the ways in which they have been subject to religious abuse of power, including sexual abuse, and for these reasons they are fearful of being subject to further abuse and humiliation in Sharia Councils. Their experiences and reasons for rejecting Sharia Councils are as valid as those who ‘use’ Sharia Councils. When will these women’s voices be heard?

(b) Many women that we see are deeply traumatised and still in crisis situations. They are often unwilling or fearful of taking part in events that involve revealing intimate details of their lives, especially of a sexual nature, in front of other people (even women) not known to them. Most fear making any kind of disclosure or of raising any criticism of religious authority in unfamiliar and unsafe environments. Our experience of providing counselling, group therapy and support for the extremely vulnerable women with whom we work is that they need to feel confident in safe spaces with which they are familiar before they will disclose their experiences. They have to develop a strong affinity with other women based on shared experiences and mutual respect before they open up to others, even if they are from the same community.

(c) It is impractical for some women who live in North and West London or even outside London to travel to East London. Many are extremely vulnerable or destitute, or have work or child care responsibilities that make it difficult for them to travel long distances. We therefore propose that the Select Committee gives serious consideration to our request to meet women who have used Sharia Councils as well as those who have not, in safe venues across London and the UK, with the support of their advocates and to also consult and take evidence from their advocates who can speak to their experiences. SBS and IKWRO for example, are willing to facilitate access to women who use their services by organising a closed session at the premises of SBS, in West London, where advocates and counsellors will also be on hand to provide evidence and additional support to the women who attend.

  1. We are concerned that the inquiry sessions on Tuesday 1 November 2016, at which witnesses were invited to present their evidence, were highly unbalanced and weighted in favour of those who support Sharia Councils in some form or other.

(a) The sessions consisted of 3 panels of witnesses. Out of a total of ten witnesses who appeared, seven spoke in favour of Sharia Councils (four of whom actually ran Sharia Councils), one remained neutral and only two witnesses – Dr Elham Manea and Ms Maryam Namazie – were called to present their counter arguments. We note that some of those who gave evidence were invited to do so even though they had not made any written submissions to the inquiry.

(b) Whilst we accept that witnesses who speak in favour of the role of Sharia Councils have every right to be heard, we question whether the inquiry can be said to be fair or impartial when the evidence sessions were so clearly slanted in favour of those who have a vested interest in maintaining the role of Sharia Councils over family matters.

(c) In our view, the inquiry needs to hear evidence from expert witnesses who can provide specific examples of how abused women have been re-traumatised and placed at risk following their engagement with Sharia Councils. Most of the abused women that use our services seek a divorce only after they have left abusive relationships, but they are almost always compelled to return to the abuse by Sharia Councils and other religious arbitration bodies, even if this breaches civil and criminal laws and good practice and policies in respect of mediation and reconciliation in gender-based violence cases. In other words, they are forced back underground.

(d) It must be a matter of concern that the Select Committee appears to have chosen not to hear from witnesses experienced in front line advocacy work with BME women – work which has necessarily involved the invocation of human rights and equalities legislation to challenge Sharia laws. The Public Sector Equality Duty for example has been successfully invoked to address the ways in which fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia laws have been utilised by advocates of parallel legal systems to demand gender segregation in public spaces and Sharia compliant wills in inheritance matters. These very same fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia laws are invoked in Sharia Councils and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal. We are also worried about the focus of the inquiry on divorce when these ‘courts’ address everything from polygamy, child custody, domestic violence, marital rape, marital captivity, forced marriages and more.

  1. Finally we wish to place on record our concern about the line of questioning of Maryam Namazie at the evidence session referred to above.

(a) In particular, the tone and manner in which she was allowed to be questioned by Naz Shah MP brought discredit to the Select Committee and its approach to the issues under scrutiny. In particular, the specific suggestion that Maryam Namazie was ‘anti-faith’ appeared to provide a pretext to discount Maryam’s evidence: such tactics can and do contribute to a culture that incites religious hatred and violence towards those, especially from Muslim backgrounds, who are perceived to be apostates, atheists and non-conformists.

(b) As you will be aware, we have already seen a rise in religiously motivated hate crimes towards so called apostates that has even led to murder in the UK. (See the case of Asad Shah who was killed in Glasgow in March 2016.) Given her own background, we would have expected Ms Shah to understand the dangers of portraying those who do not conform to their faith in such negative terms.

(c) We trust you will agree that, as an MP and member of the Select Committee, Ms Shah has a duty to exercise due care and to behave fairly to all the witnesses at all times, whether or not she agrees with them. In our view, she breached that duty in this instance, and we shall be interested to know what you have to say in that regard.

We hope that you will give serious attention to the concerns we have raised. Please treat this letter as a submission to the inquiry. We are also attaching an open letter by us regarding the government’s review of Sharia Councils setting out our concerns which are relevant to this inquiry too.

We look forward to your response.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any clarification or have queries arising from the contents of this letter.

Signed by:

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters
Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space
Maryam Namazie and Gina Khan, Spokespersons for One Law for All
Diana Nammi, Executive Director of Iranian and Kurdish Women’s organisation
Nasreen Rehman, Co-Founder and Chair of British Muslims for Secular Democracy.
Yasmin Rehman, Muslim Women’s Rights Activist and Trustee of Centre for Secular Space
Houzan Mahmoud, Spokesperson for Culture Project

 

Further related information:

Elham Manea (2016), “Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK” (documentation of the harmful and even life threatening consequences of privatised justice and legal pluralism for minority women who are denied the right to equality before the law), UK: I. B. Tauris. 

Video of oral evidence given by women’s rights campaigners of our coalition against Sharia Councils can be accessed here :

Video Footage of never before seen testimonies from women, and the public meetings in London and Manchester, organised by Southall Black Sisters with BME women’s groups: http://tinyurl.com/zk5q697

Written testimonies gathered with partner organisations can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/gqk83ms

Written evidence submitted by the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO)

Written evidence submitted by Southall Black Sisters

Written evidence submitted to Home Affairs Select Committee by One Law for All

Written evidence submitted by the British Muslims for Secular Democracy

Report on Sharia Council and evidence submitted by freelance consultant Yasmin Rehman

May’s inquiry into sharia is not fit for purpose, The Times, 11 July 2016

Inside Sharia Councils, Victoria Derbyshire Programme, 11 July 2016

Refusing to recognise polygamy in the West: a solution or a soundbite?, Open Democracy, 11 July 2016

More than 200 women’s rights campaigners have sent a letter to the Home Secretary raising serious concerns about the government-appointed independent review into Sharia councils in Britain. Maryam Namazie and Mona Siddiqui discuss, BBC Radio 4, 10 July 2016

Polygamy is not a cultural conceit. It is an affront to women, Guardian CiF, 10 July 2016

Sharia courts review branded a ‘whitewash’ over appointment ‘bias’ concerns, Independent, 10 July 2016

Nehru’s niece Nayantara Sahgal joins UK women to protest “discriminatory” review of Sharia courts in Britain, Counterview, 4 July 2016

Whitewashing Sharia councils in the UK? Open Democracy, 4 July 2016

Critics say a UK probe into Sharia courts is a sham, Freethinker, 3 July 2016

Britain probes Sharia courts treatment of women, UPI, 28 June 2016

Britain’s Sharia Courts Under Scrutiny, News Deeply, 24 June 2016

Calls to Dismantle Parallel Legal Systems by women’s rights campaigners on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2015

 

 


1 Comment

Nari Diganta and hundreds of women’s rights campaigners call for a Ban of Sharia Courts

Fresh Campaign Against Religious Law and Parallel Legal Systems in Britain

Women’s rights and secular organisations urge the new government to take concerted measures to stop the development of parallel legal systems and to facilitate full and proper access to justice for all citizens and to one secular law for all.

For decades, successive governments have appeased undemocratic religious power brokers in minority communities who have sought to gain power through multicultural and now multi-faith social policies. These policies have led to the homogenisation of minority communities including the ‘Muslim community’ and have recognised and legitimated ‘non-violent’ Islamists as ‘community representatives’, outsourcing legal justice to what are in effect kangaroo courts that deliver highly discriminatory and second-rate forms of ‘justice.’ Over the years, we have witnessed with increasing alarm the influence of ‘Sharia courts’ over the lives of citizens of Muslim heritage.

Any government inquiry into ‘Sharia courts’ must also examine the impact of the draconian cuts in legal aid that have adversely affected access to justice for the most vulnerable. Many abused women from minority backgrounds, for instance, are increasingly forced to either represent themselves in court in what are often complex family legal proceedings or go to ‘Sharia courts’ that operate entirely outside the rule of law. The loss of legal aid contributes to a context that is conducive to the consolidation of privatised and unaccountable forms of justice and ‘Sharia courts’ are amongst the main beneficiaries.

Though the ‘Sharia courts’ have been touted as people’s right to religion, they are in fact, effective tools of the far-Right Islamist movement whose main aim is to restrict and deny rights, particularly those of women and children. ‘Sharia’ laws are highly contested and challenged in many countries, including in Muslim-majority countries across the globe – from Iran to Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Pakistan. Those of us in Britain who oppose ‘Sharia courts’ and all other religious forms of arbitration over family matters, are part of the same movement that challenge the religious-Right and defend the principle of one law for all underpinned by the notions of universalism, human rights, secularism and equality.

Opposing ‘Sharia courts’ is not racism or ‘Islamophobic’; it is a defence of the rights of all citizens, irrespective of their beliefs and background to be governed by democratic means under the principle of one law for all. What amounts to racism is the idea that minorities can be denied rights enjoyed by others through the endorsement of religious based ‘justice’ systems which operate according to divine law that is by its very nature immune from state scrutiny.

We have seen recent victories against the accommodation of ‘Sharia’ codes within law and policy in the UK. Using equalities and human rights legislation, we have successfully challenged both the Universities UK for issuing guidance that condones gender segregation in universities and the Law Society for endorsing discriminatory ‘Sharia’ codes in the area of inheritance. As well as challenging draconian state measures that criminalise whole communities and aid and abet xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry and racism, it is vital that we also push back the Islamist narrative and challenge ‘Sharia courts’ since they clearly represent yet another assault on our civil liberties.

We also urge the government to withdraw from its intention to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. Such a move will represent a break from what was the most important social contract to have emerged between European States and citizens, following the Second World War. The agreement to sign up to a simple set of standards that uphold human decency and universal values led to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to standards that protect and uphold the rights of all people in the face of state and non-state abuses of power. Now more than ever, we need the Human Rights Act to challenge the arbitrary and unaccountable power of ‘Sharia courts.’

We, the undersigned, therefore, call on the new Government to:

  1. Reinstate legal aid in all areas of civil and criminal law to ensure equal access to justice for all.
    2. Recognise that ‘Sharia’ and other religious courts deliver arbitrary and unaccountable forms of ‘justice’ that discriminate against women and children in particular. Citizenship and human rights are non-negotiable.
    3. Abolish the use of ‘Sharia courts’ and all other religious arbitration forums, including the Beth Din, in family matters since they undermine the principle of equality, non discrimination and universal human rights that must be enjoyed by all citizens.
    4. Reject calls for state regulation of ‘Sharia’ and other religious courts and tribunals. This will only legitimate parallel legal systems in the governance of family matters.
    5. Re-affirm the principle of the separation of religion and the law. The law is a key component of securing justice for citizens and one law for all.
    6. Desist from repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. This move will strip all vulnerable people of their right to protection and justice.

Signatories

A C Grayling, Philosopher
A Gilani, Spokesperson of Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan
Afiya S. Zia, Active member of Women’s Action Forum in Pakistan
Afsaneh Vahdat, Spokesperson of Children First Now
Alber Saber, Egyptian Blogger
Albert Beale, Pacifist Journalist
Ali A. Rizvi, Pakistani-Canadian Writer and Physician
Ali al Razi, Ex-Muslims Forum
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, Egyptian Blogger
Alison Assiter, Professor of Feminist Theory at UWE, Bristol
Aliyah Saleem, Secular Education Campaigner
Alya Marquardt, British-Iraqi Singer and Composer
Amel Grami, Tunisian Professor
American Humanist Association
Andrew Lowdon, Chair, Nottingham Secular Society
Ani Zonneveld, President of Muslims for Progressive Values
Anila Atharhasan, Rationalist Society of Pakistan
Anissa Helie, Professor
Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-founder and Co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation
Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Nirmul Committee
Anthony McIntyre, Writer
Armin Nabavi, Atheist Republic Founder
Aso Kamal, Founding Board Member of Kurdistan Secular Centre
Ateizm Derneği
Atheist Alliance International
Babak Yazdi, Spokesperson for Kanoon-e Khavaran, Organisation for Defence of Political Prisoners in Iran
Bahram Soroush, Political Analyst
Bariş Çetin, Board of Directors’ Member of Ateizm Dernegi
Ben Kerr, Chair of Plymouth Humanists
Bo Liao, President of LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Bob Charlwood, Committee Member of Brighton Secular Humanists
Bread and Roses TV
British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Centre for Secular Space
Chetan Bhatt, Professor of Sociology, LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights
Children First Now
Chris Moos, Secularist Researcher and Activist
Christine M. Shellska, President of Atheist Alliance International
Clara Connolly, Immigration Lawyer
Clive Aruede, Organiser of London Black Atheists
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Darren Johnson AM, Green Party, London Assembly
Dashty Jamal, Secretary of International Federation of Iraqi Refugees
David Silverman, President of American Atheists
Deeyah Khan, Filmmaker and Founder/CEO of Fuuse
Dennis Penaluna, Secular Activist and Organiser
Derek Lennard, Activist
Diana Nammi, Founder and Executive Director, Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Dilip Simeon, Labour Historian
Dominic Wirdnam, Secretary of Bristol Secular Society
Elham Manea, Academic and Writer
Ensaf Haidar, Campaigner
Equal Rights Now – Movement for Women’s Liberation in Iran
Faisal Gazi, Writer and Blogger
Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, Iraqi Activist and Founder of the Global Secular Humanist Movement
Faizun Zackariya, Citizens Voice for Justice and Peace
Fariborz Pooya, Bread and Roses TV Host
Farida Shaheed, Executive Director of Shirkat Gah, Women’s Resource Centre in Pakistan
Farideh Arman, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Fatou Sow, International Director, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Federation of Iranian Refugees UK
Fitnah
Francis Wheen, Writer
George Broadhead, Secretary of the Pink Triangle Trust
Gina Khan, Women’s Rights Activist and Researcher
Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space
Glen Carrigan, Scientist and Founder of AHSUCLan
Gona Saed, Founding Board Member of Kurdistan Secular Centre
Guy Otten, BHA Trustee and Humanist Celebrant
Habiba Jaan, Founder of Aurat- Supporting Women in the Midlands
Hamid Taqvaee, Leader of the Worker-communist Party of Iran
Haras Rafiq, Managing Director of Quilliam Foundation
Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize Winner
Harsh Kapoor, Founder and Editor of South Asia Citizens Web
Hasan Mahmud, Advisory Board of World Muslim Congress and General Secretary of Muslims Facing Tomorrow
Homa Arjomand, Coordinator of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada and One Secular School for All
Ibn Warraq, Writer
Ibrahim Abdallah, Muslimish NYC Organizer
Inna Shevchenko, FEMEN Leader
International Front for Secularism
Iram Ramzan, Journalist
Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Ishafak Tely, Technology Engineer
James Bloodworth, Journalist and Editor of Left Foot Forward
Jane Donnelly, Human Rights Officer of Atheist Ireland
Javed Anand, General Secretary of Muslims for Secular Democracy in India
Jocelynne A. Scutt, Barrister & Human Rights Lawyer
Johnny Monsarrat, Secular Policy Institute Alliance Director
Jonnie Dean, Peace Activist and Filmmaker
Julie Bindel, Writer
Justice for Women
Kamran Ahmed Khan, Oncologist
Kamyar Dadfar, Secretary of LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, University of California, Davis School of Law
Kate Smurthwaite, Comedian and Activist
Kazimierz Lyszczynski, Foundation Poland
Khushi Kabir, nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for her work at Nijera Kori with Bangladesh’s landless
Kiran Opal, Pakistani-Canadian Writer and Human Rights Activist
Lakshmi Pala, Ateizm Derneği
Laura Guidetti, Rivista Marea
Lawrence Krauss, Foundation Professor of School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Dept., Co-director of Cosmology Initiative and Director of Origins initiative, Arizona State University
Leesa Gazi, Cultural worker
Lejla Kuric, Writer
Lila Ghobady, Filmmaker
Lino Veljak, University of Zagreb
Lloyd Newson, Artist
London Black Atheists
Maajid Nawaz, Founding Chairman of Quilliam Foundation
Madhu Mehra, Partners for Law in Development
Magdulien Abaida, Women’s Rights Activist
Maggie Hall, Committee Member of Brighton Secular Humanists
Mahin Alipour, Women’s Rights Activist
Mariam Faruqi, Rapporteur National Commission on Forced Marriage
Mariam Taheri, Human Rights Activist
Marieme Helie Lucas, Founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue and Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Mehran Mahbobi , Children’s Rights Activist
Michael Nugent, Chairperson of Atheist Ireland
Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson of the International Committee against Stoning and Execution
Mohammed Alkhadra, Human Rights Activist and Founder of the Jordanian Atheists Community Group
Morgan Elizabeth Romano, Vice President of the Board of Directors & Director of International Relations of Ateizm Dernegi
Muhammad Syed, President of Ex-Muslims of North America
Muslims for Progressive Values
Nadia El Fani, Tunisian Filmmaker
Nari Diganta – Women in Movement for Equal Rights, Social Justice and Secularism
Natalia Paszkiewicz, Campaigner for Refugee Women and Migrants Rights
National Secular Society
Nazanin Borumand, Council of Ex-Muslims of Germany
Network of Women in Black Serbia
Nick Cohen, Journalist
Nina Sankari, President of the Europejska Feministyczna Inicjatywa
Nira Yuval-Davis, a founder member of Women Against Fundamentalism and the International Research Network on Women in Militarized Conflict Zone
One Law for All
Ophelia Benson, Columnist of The Freethinker and Free Inquiry
Pervez Hoodbhoy, Pakistani Nuclear Physicist and Social Activist
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Piara Mayenin, Solicitor and Producer of Legal Help with Piya
Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Protagora
Pushpita Gupta, Women’s Rights Campaigner and Convenor of Secular Bangladesh Movement
Rafai Aadam, Leader of the SOAS Ex-Muslim Society & The Student Room Ex-Muslim Society Organiser
Rahila Gupta, Writer and Journalist
Ramin Forghani, Ex-Muslims of Scotland Founder
Reza Moradi, Director of Bread and Roses
Ritu Mahendru, Director of South Asian Sexual Health
Robert Stovold, Committee Member of Brighton Secular Humanists
Robyn E. Blumner, President & CEO of Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
Rohini Hensman, Writer and Activist
Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of American Humanist Association
Roy W Brown, International Representative, International Humanist and Ethical Union
Rumana Hashem, Nari Diganta Organiser and Founder of Phulbari Solidarity Group
Rumy Hassan, Author
Sadaf Ali, Writer and Civil Rights Activist
Salim Mansur, Vice President of Muslims Facing Tomorrow
Sally Armstrong, Journalist and Human Rights Activist
Salma Siddiqui, President of Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations
Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International
Sara Mohammad, Chairwomen for Never Forget Pela and Fadime Organisation
Sarah Haider, Director of Development of Ex-Muslims of North America
Sarah Peace, Founder of Fireproof Library
Sawsan Salim, Director of Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation
Secular Policy Institute
Secularism is a Women’s Issue
Selma Dabbagh, Author and Lawyer
Shaheen Heshmat, Writer
Shahla Daneshfar, Coordinator of Workers’ Solidarity Network of the Middle East and North Africa
Sheila Crosby, Author
Shelley Segal, Singer and Songwriter
Shirkat Gah
Soad Baba Aissa, Feminist
Sohaila Sharifi, Women’s Rights Campaigner
South Asian Sexual Health
Southall Black Sisters
Stasa Zajovic, WiB Belgrade
Sue Cox, Survivors Voice Europe
Sukhwant Dhaliwal, co-editor of Women Against Fundamentalism: Stories of Dissent and Solidarity
Sultana Kamal, Women’s Rights Defender
Taher Djafarizad, President of Neda Day Association
Tahira Abdullah, Human Rights Defender
Taslima Nasrin, Author
Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Terence Waites, Head of Teesside Humanists
Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society
The Angelou Centre
Tolga Inci, President of Ateizm Dernegi
Tom Holland, Writer and Historian
Valerie Mainstone, Committee Member of Brighton Secular Humanists
Wahid Rahman, President of Queen Mary Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society
Waleed Al-Husseini, Palestinian blogger and Founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of France
Women in Black Belgrade
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Women’s Action Forum Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore and Peshawar
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Columnist
Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Yasmin Weaver, Trustee of Aurat: Supporting Women in the Midlands
Zahra Asli, Coordinator of Friends of Women in the Middle East Society

Banner of Sharia law consultation meeting 15 October 2014

See Further News below:

Thomson Reuters Foundation: Britain must ban sharia “kangaroo courts”, say activists http://www.trust.org/item/20150615155710-r8kxz/?source=shtw

The Daily Mail report : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-3125047/Britain-ban-sharia-kangaroo-courts–say-activists.html

‘Nearly 200 hundreds signatories call to dismantle parallel legal systems’  http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/sharia-courts/

IKWRO news: ‘Nearly 200 signatories, including IKWRO, call for dismantling of parallel legal systems’ http://ikwro.org.uk/2015/06/signatories-including-dismantling/


4 Comments

Press Release: When a Law Legitimises Violation of Human Rights

• Community and Women’s Rights Organisations Condemned the Law Society’s Practice Note about Sharia Succession wills
• Solidarity to Reyhaneh Jabbari’s Family and Condemnation of Reyhaneh’s Execution

women activists at Nari Diganta, the panelists and representatives of eight women's organsiations expressed solidarity to Reyhaneh Jabbari at Monteforio Centrre on 15 Oct 2014 by Golam Rabbani of Diamon Studio

Women activists at Nari Diganta with the panelists and representatives of eight women’s organsiations at Montefiore Centrre on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Diamond Studios

Seeking to achieve equal rights and a bigotry-free secular society in Britain, the secular Bengali women’s organisation, called the Nari Diganta – Women in Movement for Equal Rights, Social Justice and Secularism, has hosted a timely dialogue between the community activists and experts. The meeting, ‘When a Law Legitimises Violation of Human Rights of My Sister: Screening of Naree and Discussion about the Trouble with and Irrelevance of Sharia Succession Training in the UK’ was held on 15 October, at the Montefiore Centre in East London.

Shamima Hena, the Chairperson of Nari Diganta, thanked everybody on 15 Oct 2014. Courteasy: Golam Rabbani of the Diamond Studio

Shamima Hena, the Chairperson of Nari Diganta, thanked everybody on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani of the Diamond Studio

In a packed room, with an estimated 60 people of mixed backgrounds and with representatives from 15 organisations, the event kicks in by the screening of the film Naree –The Divine Stone by Hasan Mahmud. The screening was followed by a critical discussion about how religious law legitimises women’s oppression and promotes racism, sexism, patriarchy, and cultural relativism. A panel of three guest speakers and campaigners for secularism and human rights in Britain have discussed how the Law Society’s latest practice note about Sharia Succession wills can go against equality and secularism in Britain. They explored how this practice note of Law Society could violet human rights, and how non-Muslims and adopted children will be discriminated by Sharia Succession wills in UK.

The speakers who formed the panel include Advocate Sultana Kamal, Director of Ain o Salish Kendro, Bangladesh, Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, and Fariborz Pooya, Founder of Iranian Secular Society and Director of Bread and Roses TV. The event was co-ordinated and facilitated by Dr Rumana Hashem, Co-ordinator of the event and a founding member of Nari Diganta.

Audiences of mixed ethnicities 15 oct 2014 by S Enam

Part of the audience at Montefiore Centre on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: S Enam of Bangladesh Communist Party, UK.

The event was endorsed by several community organisations including AWAAZ,  Jubo Union, Jago Naree, Naree Chetona, Network of Eritrean Women, and Udichi Shilpi Gosthi. Speakers and participants at the symposium said that Sharia Law is a bigoted law in which millions of women across the Muslim world have been oppressed, exploited and victimised. This law must not be introduced in the UK.

Advocate Sultana Kamal, the lead panelist has spoken about the situation in Bangladesh. She said, ‘Sharia is a codification of several laws and it discriminates women in particular.’ She said, ‘there is no such law called Sharia Law in today’s Bangladesh’. She said, ‘Bangladesh’s history shows also that there was no such law in ancient Bengal’. She argues that it is some fundamentalist men who introduced the Sharia Succession wills which discriminate women. In providing a historical background of the situation in Bangladesh, Sultana Kamal said, ‘there are too many versions of Sharia law’ and that ‘none of this can be proved as authentic’. She added, ‘While a whole lot of progress has been made by women in Bangladesh generally there are also lots of threats, insecurities and violence against women’. She said, ‘as social fabrics, political atmosphere in Bangladesh has become more conservative the state has become nervous and is unable to take bold steps in favour of women’.

Pragna Patel denounces Law Society's guidance 2014. Courtesy: S Enam

Pragna Patel denounces Law Society’s guidance 2014. Courtesy: S Enam

Pragna Patel, the Director of Southall Black Sisters, explained the practice note of Law Society and identified its racist aspects. She explains that the LS’s guidance does not only discriminate Muslim women but also many men and children of other ethnicity. Patel said that despite its long-disputed and discriminatory aspects, the Law Society in the UK, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, issued a practice note with details of how to draft “Sharia compliant” wills. She argued, ‘if Muslims are allowed to follow Sharia then other groups such as Sikhs and Hindus will also follow this discriminatory law’. She stipulated, ‘state and religion cannot be mixed up. Religion is a private matter. State and religion must be separated’. Pragna Patel denounced that a secular state cannot have two laws in one state. ‘We want one law for all’, she said.

 

Fariborz Pooya, the Founder of Iranian Secular Society, said that he was surprised by seeing the banner of Nari Diganta which declared that there is ‘No Human Liberation Without Women’s Liberation’. He questioned the Law Society, and condemned them for not consulting the women who are to be subjects of discrimination by the Law Society’s practice note. He said that it is illegitimate to recommend any guidance for best practice without prior consultation with relevant people and the groups of women and men to whom this law would have jurisdiction. Pooya added, historical documents show that none of us have interpreted the versions of Sharia law. He questioned, ‘so who did interpret Sharia law’?

Gita Sahgal, the Founding Director of the Centre for Secular Space and a panelist who was unable to make the event physically, has sent a message of solidarity which Pragna Patel read out for the audience. In her message Sahgal noted, ‘the struggle for One Law for All is an important part of the secular struggle. It is essential to ensuring the rights of women. It is particularly important for minority women. In so many countries, where there are religion based personal laws, women are treated as inferior. They are not full citizens with the right to constitutional protection by the law. No-one wants to interfere with the minority. So women are left at the mercy of so called leaders, acting in the name of God.’

Part of the audience on 15 Oct 2014. Courteasy: Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studios

Part of the audience on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studios

She notes further, ‘In Britain women from minorities have the same rights in theory but may not in practice. Illegal sharia councils are spreading. They claim to find solutions to women’s problems, and often provide divorces to women, especially those having a nikaah and not a registered marriage. As Pragna will no doubt explain the decisions of these councils are not legal. The pieces of paper they issue are worthless. Men posing as judges should be prosecuted. Yet they survive and are spreading with the tolerance and maybe encouragement of the authorities.’

 

Throughout the meeting speakers and participants explored discriminatory aspects of Sharia Law. Both participants and experts have agreed that the Law Society’s recommendations for cultural relativism and bigotry in Britain cannot be tolerated. One participant, who appeared as confused about the title of the meeting, was accused of being Jamat-e- Spy by the audiences. Participants and community activists have strongly protested her comments, and some have demanded her expulsion from the meeting. But the kind co-ordinator has disapproved this demand of the audience and handled the situation prudently. Dr Hashem said, in warning the participant, ‘I hope that you have got the answer to your comments and questions. Please be seated and do not try to interrupt others’.

Sultana Kamal is responding to the participant who was confused about the title of the meeting on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Diamond Studios

Rumana Hashem and Sultana Kamal responded to the participant who was confused about the title of the meeting on 15 Oct 2014. Courtesy: Diamond Studios

Dr Hashem and the panelists have explained how a religious law does legitimise human rights violation of women. Sultana Kamal said, ‘what Rumana was saying is that Shariah Law has certain aspects which created spheres in which women are often victimised’. She and other panelists called upon the community representatives being present in the meeting to take a stand against such law. Pragna Patel said, ‘we need to understand that law and religion cannot be mixed up. […] Sharia Council is illegal in this country.[…] Sharia law discriminates women’. She called upon the participants to defend their human rights and said, ‘there will be street protests against Law Society’s practice note, please do come and join us’. The forum has accepted Patel’s call for protest and condemned the Law Society’s guidance. The facilitator, Rumana Hahsem, has confirmed that she will be keeping in touch with the campaigners for One Law for All, and will update the forum. She assured the forum that Nari Diganta will organise a follow up meeting in near future.

The meeting ended with a solidarity message to the family of an Iranian woman, Reyhaneh Jabbari, due to be put to death for killing a man she said was trying to sexually abuse her. In response to the call for solidarity by Fariborz Pooya, all participants in the meeting have waived their hands to express solidarity to Reyhaneh’s family. The forum condemned the execution. Rumana Hashem said, ‘we will soon be sending out a letter of condemnation from this forum to the Iranian Embassy’.

The event was opened by Nasima Kajol, the Secretary of Nari Diganta, by a welcoming speech and brought to an end by Shamima Hena, the Chairperson of Nari Diganta, with a vote of thanks. In her vote of thanks, Hena acknowledged that it is not only the women at Nari Diganta, who made this meeting happen but also a significant number of men have extended their support to Nari Diganta to  take place this discussion at the Montefiori Centre. Both Hena and Hashem concluded by noting that this dialogue with community will continue and the campaign for a secular law and a secular state in Britain will be a success. ‘It is just a beginning of the campaign’, says Hena. The women at Nari Diganta are committed to work to resist the problematic practice note of the Law Society in the UK.

 

The organisers have acknowledged that Udichi Shilpi Goshti, the Rainbow Film Society and Diamond Studios have supported the event and provided with logistics and technical supports. Mustafa Kamal of Rainbow Society has expressed wish to assist with Nari Diganta’s future campaign work on secularism through his film society. The management of the Montefiore Centre has waived the fees for the venue for the extended time and have offered to hold future dialogues about this issue at the Montefiore Centre at free of cost. In commenting on this, Rumana Hashem said, ‘this shows that British Bangladeshis are not conservative, nor merely religious. They care for progressive, secular and bigotry-free society’.

Press release: Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Community Activist and Collaborative Partner of Nari Diganta.

Photo credits: Diamond Studios, Syed Enam and Paul Dudman