Activism Alert: Crowd-funding ’sharia’ research

Women’s right activists in the United Kingdom are launching a crowd-funding appeal to purchase copies of Dr Elham Manea’s book Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK. The campaign aims to provide a copy for every member of the British parliament. Currently, the UK is launching an investigation into so-called sharia courts operating in the country, due to concerns about discrimination against women and children. Campaigners have been concerned about the nature of this investigation, given that the panel involves conservative theologians rather than activists for women’s rights, and is tasked to identify ‘best practice’ rather than to criticise the development of legal pluralism within the British legal system. Maryam Namazie of the One Law for All campaign stated that ‘the law and not religion should be the basis of justice for citizens. We are calling for an impartial judge-led inquiry that places human rights, not theology, at the heart of the investigation.’

Dr Manea’s book is the result of four years spent researching so-called sharia courts in the UK, where she found a range of human rights violations, ranging from the acceptance of rape and domestic violence within marriage, worrying attitudes around the age of consent, to failure to report child abuse to the authorities. She points out that the so-called ‘sharia’ laws that are practiced in these informal legal bodies bears no resemblance to the family law of most Muslim countries: but that rather it is represents supposedly ‘classical’ jurisprudence of political Islam, riddled with intrinsic biases against women and children. As she observes, those countries with their legal codes most closely aligned to this ‘classical’ notion of jurisprudence are also those most likely to perpetrate atrocities against women and human rights activists. Similarly, her research reveals that most active proponents of ‘sharia’ courts are conservative and essentialist in their understanding of Islamic jurisprudence.

She also reports her finding that women using so-called sharia courts almost invariably do so to be released from marriages, and these sharia courts present obstacles to their wishes, either through outright denial, or through proposing mediation, even where the breakdown of the marriage is related to domestic abuse. She observes a clear pattern: so-called ‘sharia’ courts tend to act to preserve male and family power at the expense of women and children.

The campaigners hope that making this book available to decision-makers will alert them to the consequences of pandering to ‘cultural’ demands which more accurately reflect the worldview of political Islam than the culture of any Muslim community in the UK. These consequences include the further division of a society which already struggles to achieve cohesion across faith groups, and the very real and severe ramifications for the human rights of women and children within Muslim communities.