Islamic Sharia Council
|Purpose||Provision of advice on Islamic principles and law.|
|Headquarters||34 Francis Road, Leyton|
The Islamic Sharia Council (ISC) is a London-based, quasi-Islamic court that provides legal rulings and advice to Muslims in accordance with its brand of Islamic Sharia based on the four Sunni schools of thought. It primarily handles cases of marriage and divorce and, to a lesser extent business and finance. According to BBC News, thousands of Muslims have turned to the Council to resolve family and financial issues. The Council operates 16 tribunals in Britain, including in Birmingham, Bradford and London. The Economist magazine states it has offered rulings to "thousands of troubled families since the 1980s", the council states that it has dealt with an average of between 200 to 300 cases monthly as of January 2012.
One authority holds that the council has no legal authority or jurisdiction in the United Kingdom, and can not impose any penalties; many Muslims would appear voluntarily to accept the rulings made by the ISC. Another report holds that Muslim tribunals exploit a legal loophole which allows sharia courts to be classified as arbitration courts, which allows their rulings to be binding in law.
The Islamic Sharia Council says it is ‘devoted to the articulation of classical Islamic principles in a manner that provides a platform for Islam to be the cure of all humanity’s ills.’ According to The Economist magazine its "two main founders come from purist schools of Islam, the Deobandis and the Salafis". A rival service, the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, was founded in 2007 by followers of the Barelvi school of South Asian Islam, is reportedly "less strict than the Deobandis" and as of 2010 offered dispute resolution in half a dozen British cities.
Criticism and defense
Some (Humera Khan, co-founder of the An-NisaSsociety) argue that Sharia councils provide an essential service for many Muslims who see Sharia as a sacred reference, and if used voluntarily, may actually lift a burden off state funded services. Lawyer and rabbi Alex Goldberg also argues that banning them would be "counterproductive", as it would “bolster underground councils rather than those who are seeking to work within the English legal framework, and recognise they are subservient to the English law."
But the councils have also been criticised as unfair to women.
In a April 2013 report, the BBC questioned whether the Islamic Sharia Council was "failing vulnerable women and mothers", by requiring women seeking divorce to give back their marriage dowery (or mahr). The question of khula divorce often turns on the dower: if the woman is seeking the divorce, she has to return the dower to the man, if not, no divorce. Since in traditional Islamic society, men are traditionally the bank account holders and women are traditionally homemakers, the woman has no purchase, and cannot obtain a loan in order to repay the dower to receive an Islamically recognized divorce. The Islamic Sharia Council must recognise a British divorce, by virtue of the law of the land, if the petitioner shows them a decree absolute. However, the Islamic Sharia Council is displeased if the dower remains unpaid.
Myriam Francois-Cerrah argues there are "serious problems" with the councils, citing the case where a Muslim woman seeking advice was reportedly directed to a "controversial cleric" who urged her to give up her custody dispute with her husband and "hand over full custody of her seven year old child" to him despite the fact that that the husband was a "violent schizophrenic" who had abused her for years.
The charity had listed four trustees as of their 2013 return to the Commission:
- Suhaib Hasan is a judge of the ISC.
- Liaquat Ali
- Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed moved to the UK from Bangladesh in 1977, and at least in 2010, presided over the 16 ISC courts.
- Haitham al-Haddad serves as a judge for the Islamic Sharia Council.
- ft.com: "First Person: Dr Suhaib Hasan", 19 Sep 2009
- charitycommission.gov.uk: 1003855 - ISLAMIC SHARIA COUNCIL OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND
- Bell, Dan (14 June 2007). "In the name of the law". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 14 May 2008.
- express.co.uk: "Rape in marriage is no crime says cleric", 15 Oct 2010
- "Sharia in the West. Whose law counts most?". The Economist. 14 October 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
- Talwar, Divya (16 January 2012). "Growing use of Sharia by UK Muslims". BBC News. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
- dailymail.co.uk: "The campus of hate: How terrorist butcher Emwazi's murderous alter-ego was created in the heart of Britain's capital city", 27 Feb 2015
- Francois-Cerrah, Myriam (17 Jul 2014). "Why banning Sharia courts would harm British Muslim women". The Telegraph. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
- bbc.com: "Are Sharia councils failing vulnerable women?", 6 Apr 2013
- charitycommission.gov.uk: "Contact & Trustees"
- Islamic Sharia Council Official Website
- An article on the Islamic Sharia Council by anthropologist John R. Bowen in the Boston Review
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