European Laws and specificities of Muslim Religion : example of UK - Muhammad Habibur Rahman - Royaume-Uni

mercredi, 20 mai 2009


In the name of Allah. Most Merciful Most Gracious


My name is Muhammad Habibur Rahman. I am from the UK. I work at the London Metropolitan University and a colleague of my suggested whether I would be interested in attending this conference. Although my specialism is not Law, but having lived in the UK from the age of 12 and being involved deeply within the Muslim community and in community cohesion and inter-faith work, I gladly accepted. So I thank the organizers for the invitation and the opportunity to share with you some legal frame-works for Muslims within the British legal system.


I am on record as stating on more than one occasion that: I am a Muslim, I am British and I am a Bangladeshi and proud to be so. I have a conviction towards my religion Islam with its code of conduct as the Shari'ah. And I have chosen to make UK my home. I see no contradiction between the two.



I have said this because:


The UK has a history, as one of the first Western countries enshrining freedom and protecting minorities, for example the Magna Carta and habeas corpus.


More recently European Law has preserved this tradition with the European Convention on Human Rights:

Article 9 of the Human Rights Convention provides:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and public and private life, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice or observation."




We have Mosques to pray in. Some from which to call out Adhan ELM

We have access to halal food, including slaughtering of animals in accordance with Islam to get halal meat and to offer anaimal sacrifice on the occasion of Eid ul adha

We can pray in the work place - Universities, Town Halls, Airports, hospitals, even motorway service stations have - prayer space

Women can freely wear the hijab in public, in universities, in work

Work flexibly - during Ramadhan

We can have Islamic schools - funded by the Government

When I attended a state school, we had to recite the Lords prayer in the morning assembly, but my children are given Muslim assembly where they recite the fatiha and are given Islamic nasiha.

Can have an Islamic marriage ceremony

Can have Islamic burial in a Muslim cemetery

There are shari'ah councils for religious guidance and conflict resolution

Islamic finance - mortgage, insurance, investment


I hope this shows that the greater portion of a Muslim's life has no contradiction within the British legal system.


But, Muslims are not protected by Law against discrimination. The Race Relations Act 1976, protects Jews, Sikhs and Gypsies, but not Muslims.

(One cannot be anti-Semitic or even question the holocaust - but ridiculing and being disparaging to strongly held Muslim beliefs and values - is argued to be freedom of speech)



The word Shari'ah is very much misunderstood. Its conjures up brutal, barbaric and medieval images - oppression of women (as in a Taliban regime), chopping off hands, lashing, stoning to death and beheading.


Reasons why some politicians refer to Islam as 'an evil ideology'.


Geert Wilder - an MP from Netherlands, made a film called Fitna - and refers to Islam as 'an ideology of hate' and an 'ideology of violence' and states that most of the Qur'an is about this.


Therefore Shari'ah which emanates from the Qur'an and the Tradition of the Prophet (saw) - is also feared as something from the dark ages.


This is why we witnessed an uproar, when the Archbishop of Canterbury in Feb 2008, delivered a talk in which he mentioned that the adoption of certain aspects of shari'ah law in the UK 'seems unavoidable'.



The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers - in a historic visit to the East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre, in July 2008, reiterated the same, and said, Muslims were free to practice their faith and live in accordance with those principles and yet not be in conflict with the law. He gave instances where the shari'ah had already been embraced.


Despite the misunderstanding and the ignorance about Shari'ah, the concept is quite prevalent in the UK and beyond.


A major terrestrial TV channel (channel 4) aired many episodes of 'Shari'ah TV'.


Just this week (10th March) - BBC aired a programme on 'Celebrity Lives - Shari'ah style, which looked at how shari'ah would have dealt with celebrity divorce settlements, like Madonna and Guy Richie, Paul McCartney and Heather Mills.


In this time of global financial meltdown - the Vatican has offered Islamic Finance System to Western Banks (World Bulletin/News Desk 6/03/09). A spokesman said, "The ethical principles on which the Islamic Finance is based may bring banks closer to their clients and to the true spirit which should mark every financial service


The Arch Bishop of Canterbury and Lord Chief Justice both acknowledged the misunderstanding and the media hype that surrounded the concept of Sharia and both defined the term before elaborating:



Lord Philips, the then Lord Chief Justice stated:

"Shari'ah consists of a set of principles governing the way that one should live one's life in accordance with the will of God. These principles are based on the Qu'ran, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad and interpreted by Islamic scholars. The principles have much in common with those of other religions. They do not include forced marriage or the repression of women. Compliance with them requires a high level of personal conduct, including abstinence from alcohol. I understand that it is not the case that for a Muslim to lead his or her life in accordance with these principles will be in conflict with the requirements of the law in this country"


Another definition taken from Dr Rowan Williams speech:

"It is the prime duty of all traditions of Shari'a Law to interpret and apply, loyally and

obediently, the teachings imparted by Allah to the Prophet Mohammad. Shari'a law

has tended to protect and strengthen the community in which, it is intended, the

individual can then live a devout, good and ordered life"



Shari'ah within the English Legal System

Applying Shari'ah law within the UK context does not mean applying a draconian set of laws, discriminating against women, non-Muslims and minorities, which would undermine coveted principles of the English legal system, including the rule of law, justice, democracy and human rights? It means having the opportunity of following one's religious guidance and requirement, within the English legal system, in matters that are not in conflict with the law.


Since Shari'ah is about the whole of life and not just the penal code, as I have explained before, Muslims are already following much of the shari'ah within the English legal system. Much of this is in relation to civil and religious code of conduct.



How does it operate in the UK?


Aspects of shari'ah law was adopted in Britain, when the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) was established in 2007.

Usual media hype followed as well as a public demonstration in Tarfalgar square against shari'ah Law.


Mail online - Islamic Sharia Courts in Britain are now 'legally binding'

Sunday Times: Revealed: UK's first official sharia courts

Comment that followed: Its not right. We live in Britain, not the middle East. It was recently reported that Dominos pizz are not using pork on their pizza anymore and no meat whatsoever unless its halal. HANG ON!! I'm a Christian. I don't want to eat meat thats been bless by Allah. I'm not Muslim.


It is not a sharia court - it is an arbitration tribunal - a provision for which, is made with the Arbitration Act 1996 - which allows for alternative dispute resolution.


MAT provided a viable alternative for the Muslim community seeking to resolve disputes in accordance with Islamic Sacred Law and without having to resort to costly and time consuming litigation.


By operating within the legal framework of England and Wales, provided both parties agree, MATs determination could be enforced through the county courts and the High courts. Started with 5 with a view to extending to 7 in six major cities. Remit is limited to Family disputes, Commercial and debt disputes, inheritance disputes, Mosque disputes.


It is unable to deal with criminal offences and issues of domestic violence may be brought for reconciliation.


MAT operates with defined procedural rules drawn up according to Law. Tribunal must have two members - one qualified practicing Barrister or Solicitor and a scholar.


In fact over the last 30 years, there existed Shari'ah Councils, which provided Islamic rulings on marriage, divorce, inheritance and conflicts. However, these rulings were not binding in law and depended on the voluntary acceptance by both parties.






Jewish Beth Din courts

In fact this is nothing new. Jewish Beth Din courts operate under the same provision in the Arbitration Act and resolve civil cases, ranging from divorce to business disputes. They have existed in Britain for more than 100 years, and previously operated under a precursor to the act.


What do they do?

The range of questions with which the Beth Din deals is vast and covers all areas of Jewish Law. Including:

  • the authorisation and supervision of mohelim (Circumcision)
  • the supervision of mikvot (Ritual purification)
  • questions relating to burial and mourning
  • advising on legislation which may have an impact on Jewish religious practice
  • the examination of Shochetim and the control of the Shechita Inspectors (Slaughter)
  • it is also the Halakhic Authority for the Kashrut Division (Dietary Laws)
  • GET procedure (divorce)
  • Conversion
  • Adoption
  • Litigation (forbidden to disputes to secular courts)




Due to this precedence, the Lord Chief Justice in his speech said:

"It was not very radical to advocate embracing Sharia Law in the context of family disputes, for example. It is possible in this country for those who are entering into a contractual agreement to agree that the agreement shall be governed by a law other than English law. Those who, in this country, are in dispute as to their respective rights are free to subject that dispute to the mediation of a chosen person, or to agree that the dispute shall be resolved by a chosen arbitrator or arbitrators. There is no reason why principles of Sharia Law, or any other religious code should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution".

The sharia courts do not involve themselves in criminal law or any aspects of civil law in which they would be in direct conflict with British civil codes. The vast majority of their cases cover marriage and divorce. By consent of all parties, they may also arbitrate issues of property, child custody, housing and employment disputes, though their rulings are not binding unless submitted to the civilian courts.


Also the Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams made it clear that it was possible for individuals voluntarily to conduct their lives in accordance with Sharia principles without this being in conflict with the rights guaranteed by British law.



The benefits of adopting the aspect of sharia are clear:

Provides satisfaction to thousands of people who otherwise would be dissatisfied with the formal decisions of the courts and feel 'spiritually unfulfilled'. Saves time and frees up the Court of being clogged up with thousands of cases. Is evidence of diversity and tolerance in the UK.


In 2003 Islamic finance was regulated. Law on charging stamp duty had to be adjusted for this. In May 2008 Europe's first Islamic Insurance company was authorised by the FSA.




Conflict with the Law

This week a Christian registrar refused to marry a gay couple. She was told she had to. She is going to the European Human rights commission.


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