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Increasing use of sharia courts in UK

An introduction to sharia law in the UK

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Increasing numbers of muslims in Britain are making use of sharia courts to resolve family and financial disputes in line with Islamic principles, according to the BBC.  

''Our cases have easily more than tripled over the past three to five years," says Sheikh al-Haddad, a representative of the Islamic sharia Council, the biggest sharia body in the UK.

''On average, every month we can deal with anything from 200 to 300 cases. A few years ago it was just a small fraction of that”.

''Muslims are becoming more aligned with their faith and more aware of what we are offering them,'' he said.

Rulings under sharia law are enforced through the 1996 Arbitration Act, which states that any form of agreement can be used if both parties agree to adhere to its decision.

Civitas Report

A report issued by think tank Civitas in 2009 revealed that approximately 85 sharia tribunals were operating freely in the UK. The report claimed that these tribunals were passing rulings which were largely incompatible with national law and inherently discriminatory against women in matters relating to child custody, domestic violence and divorce.

It stated: “The fact that so many sharia rulings in Britain relate to cases concerning divorce and custody of children is of particular concern, as women are not equal in sharia law, and sharia contains no specific commitment to the best interests of the child that is fundamental to family law in the UK” said the report.

'Under sharia, a male child belongs to the father after the age of seven, regardless of circumstances.

“Among the rulings we find some that advise illegal actions and others that transgress human rights standards as applied by British courts.”

The principles underlying sharia have been heavily criticised by the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO), which is campaigning to stop its use in Britain:

''We have spoken to many women and all of them tell us the same story; sharia law is not providing them with the justice they seek. The councils are dominated by men, who are making judgements in favour of men,'' said Diana Nammi, a spokesperson for IKWRO.

''We think there shouldn't be any religious law practising in Britain - all sharia bodies should be banned. That is the only way we can ensure equality of justice for all women."

Baroness Cox Bill

Last year, Baroness Cox introduced a Bill to curb the practice of sharia law in the UK by outlawing its use where it conflicts with UK law.  The Bill will receive a second reading later this year.

In proposing the Bill, Baroness Cox said:

“Equality under the law is a core value of British justice. My Bill seeks to preserve that standard. My Bill seeks to stop parallel legal, or ‘quasi-legal’, systems taking root in our nation. Cases of criminal law and family law are matters reserved for our English courts alone.

“Through these proposals, I want to make it perfectly clear in the law that discrimination against women shall not be allowed within arbitration. I am deeply concerned about the treatment of Muslim women by sharia Courts. We must do all that we can to make sure they are free from any coercion, intimidation or unfairness. Many women say, ‘we came to this country to escape these practices only to find the situation is worse here’.”

Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, said:

“It is disappointing that so many sharia tribunals are permitted to operate in Britain even though the practice of sharia conflicts with fundamental principles of UK law, such as equality for all before the law.”

Sharia law

Under sharia law:

  • The testimony of a woman in court only has half the weight of a man’s;
  • A man may unilaterally divorce his wife and may only need to ‘declare’ the divorce three times in private to do so. By contrast, a woman faces more stringent conditions, perhaps including permission from her husband, payment of money and an application to a Sharia ‘court’. Moreover, a divorced man is entitled to re-marry. A divorced woman is not;
  • Regarding inheritance law, men and boys are entitled to receive twice what women and girls receive;
  • In cases of rape, four male witnesses are required by a sharia court to substantiate a woman’s complaint;
  • No female evidence is admissible in the case of rape in a sharia court;
  • Upon divorce, custody of any children passes automatically to the man once the children have attained the age of seven and the mother has no rights of access; and
  • All jurists, court officials and judges must be muslims; non-muslims are not allowed to take part in any way, shape or form, and no woman may become a judge.


BBC News


Equal and Free Campaign

Civitas Report

Christian Concern: Islam

Video: Introduction to sharia in Britain

Video: The Impact of sharia on Women

Video: Sonia’s Story

Christian Concern: sharia law / UK law comparison table

View Arbitration and Mediation (Equality) Bill

Download Fact sheet

Download Explanatory Note

Download Summary Briefing