Common sense. “Sharia law in the West goes against fight for reforms,” by Ida Lichter in The Australian, August 9:
ATTEMPTS to introduce sharia family law into Western societies run against the tide of reforms spearheaded by female activists in the Muslim world.
Many aspects of these laws are unpalatable to a society that has enforced equal rights for divorce, custody, inheritance and court testimony, and criminalised polygamy and forced, under-age marriage.
Moreover, the experience with sharia in Britain and Canada is cautionary. It is estimated thousands of British Muslim men have taken advantage of a loophole in the law against bigamy to avoid official registration and seal polygamous marriages in mosque ceremonies.
Religious divorces, much more difficult for women, were issued by sharia councils in a form of mediation under the Arbitration Act of 1996. In 2007, Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi took advantage of a clause in the act to establish the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, which could now make judgments enforceable under British law. The tribunal also ran sharia courts. Matters such as commercial and inheritance disputes could be resolved provided both parties agreed and the procedures were fair, but criminal and family issues such as forced marriage, domestic violence or civil divorce, were prohibited.
According to a report by British think tank Civitas in 2009, some rulings of sharia courts or tribunals advised illegal actions and others were incompatible with British law. Try these: polygamous marriage (two to four wives) is considered legal; there is no requirement to register a marriage according to the law of the country; a woman cannot marry without the presence (and permission) of a male guardian; a woman may not leave her home without her husband’s consent; a woman may not retain custody of her child after seven (for a boy) or nine (for a girl); and “severe punishments for homosexuals” are recommended….
In Canada, sharia courts operated under Ontario’s Arbitration Act of 1991. After the leader of the Canadian Society of Muslims declared that a “good Muslim” was enjoined to choose religious tribunals over Canadian civil courts, Homa Arjomand, an Iranian immigrant, feared Muslim women would be coerced into an alternative legal system where they would be denied protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights. Arjomand mounted a campaign, and in 2005 the premier of Ontario banned all faith-based arbitration in the province to ensure one law for all.
In Muslim-majority countries, many female reformers have campaigned for changes to gender discriminatory laws. Iranian women “suffragettes” have held demonstrations, risking injury, arrest and imprisonment. In Afghanistan, some women activists have been assassinated. Most reformers maintain the Koran is inherently egalitarian, and discriminatory laws evolved in a patriarchal, tribal society without the input of women. They also note that laws from 7th-century Arabia may not be applicable in the 21st….