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Muslim judge in street preacher Mike Overd's case to serve on sharia 'court'

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A Muslim judge who said that Mike Overd had used the ‘wrong’ Bible verse has become the first judge to be allowed to rule on a sharia tribunal.

District Judge Shamim Ahmed Qureshi, of Bristol Crown Court, has been given permission by the Judicial Office to serve as a ‘presiding judge’ at the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT), a council that operates in an official capacity and according to sharia principles.

Sharia ‘courts’ are 'incompatible with British law'

Chief Executive of Christian Concern Andrea Williams has described the Judicial Office’s decision as "playing with fire".

"In Britain there must be one system of justice for all citizens.

"The principles of sharia law are incompatible with British law and have been shown to be unfair to women, even in cases of violent abuse.

"To approve a judge to serve on these ‘courts’ is highly concerning and supports the setting up and increasing acceptance of parallel legal systems."

Muslim Arbitration Tribunal

The MAT was established in 2007 by Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, an Islamic cleric. Mr Siddiqi led a demonstration against French satirists Charlie Hebdo, after terrorists killed 11 of the magazine’s staff.

Unlike most other sharia councils in the UK, the MAT purportedly operates under the 1996 Arbitration Act.

The tribunal can rule on matters of civil or personal Muslim law, but is not permitted to judge criminal cases. Most of the MAT’s work involves family cases, including marital disputes.

Provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case, the rulings of arbitration tribunals can be enforced by the courts

But the MAT has been shown to rule unfairly against women, including in cases of domestic violence.

Speaking with reference to serving on sharia tribunals, Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said: "I would be careful if I was a judge not to mix the two jobs. I don’t think an Islamic legal system is compatible with British law."

Street preacher used ‘wrong Bible verse'

Judge Qureshi convicted Christian Legal Centre client Mike Overd of a public order offence in March last year, following a discussion in which a man self-identifying as homosexual objected to Mr Overd’s preaching.

According to Judge Qureshi, Mr Overd should not have used the verse he quoted, which speaks against homosexual practice.

He fined Mr Overd £200 and ordered him to pay compensation for ‘emotional damage’ to the complainant.

Commenting on this ruling, Mr Overd, from Taunton, said:

"It is extraordinary that the judge is deciding which Bible verses can and can't be used in public. This is the Bible that was put into the Queen's hands at her coronation and that has given birth to so many of the freedoms that we enjoy today. Since when did it become a judge's role to redact the Bible because he thinks that the public can't cope with what it says?

"It is frightening to see the judiciary crossing the line and becoming self-appointed arbiters of Christian teaching."

Judge Qureshi said that, if Mr Overd were acquitted, this decision would be "seized upon by fundamentalists and extremists to be the first step to public disorder."

Mr Overd’s public order conviction was quashed on appeal last month at Bristol Crown Court. 

‘Incoherency and blindness’

Andrea Williams commented:

"Despite Mr Qureshi’s assertions that his ruling against Mike Overd was aimed to protect the public from ‘fundamentalists and extremists’, he has been given permission to sit on a tribunal that advocates a hard-line approach to Islam.

"His judgment in Mike Overd’s case was a distortion of the evidence that had been given in court. It was truly shocking.

"This stands in direct contradiction with one of the measures set out in the government’s 'Counter-Extremism Strategy', which seeks to tackle the operation of sharia courts that clearly undermine national law. This decision demonstrates both the incoherency of the government’s strategy and blindness towards the true nature of Islam."


Bill to tackle sharia councils

Christian Concern is supporting a bill by Baroness Cox, calling for an investigation of sharia councils and requiring one law for all. The bill is due for a third reading in the House of Lords, the date of which has not yet been announced. The bill aims to tackle the failure of sharia councils adequately to protect women from violence and abuse.

Baroness Cox told the House of Lords: "The Bill will strengthen the position of vulnerable women who need protection from exploitation. It will ensure that all such women, whatever sect or creed, get the help they need to enjoy full lives."

Please pray that the third reading will produce a favourable outcome. 

Related News:
Christian preacher wins appeal against 'wrong' Bible verse conviction 
'Sharia law' bill progresses to next stage

Related Coverage:
Law chiefs give Crown Court judge permission to rule at SHARIA court set up by hardline cleric who led demonstration against Charlie Hebdo (Mail)
Judge allowed to sit on sharia court set up by Hebdo protest cleric (Telegraph)