Sharia courts in Britain are keeping Muslim women in “marital captivity”, a legal scholar has claimed.
Machteld Zee of Leiden University in the Netherlands insists that these courts, or ‘councils’, “are known to frustrate women in their requests [for divorce], especially if the husband is unwilling to co-operate”. They base their decisions on “a toxic mix of religious fundamentalism, culture and tight-knit communities”.
Sharia councils cannot overrule a British secular court but advise Muslims on certain aspects of Islamic law and can also issue religious divorces. According to the Independent, there are around 30 Sharia courts across the country.
Ms Zee spent 15 hours at such courts in London and Birmingham. She sat in on several hearings and interviewed various experts, including nine Islamic judges. Her time in these councils led her to conclude that Sharia courts have a strong bias in the man’s favour.
The academic also suggested that the councils fail to protect women from domestic violence. She claimed that in one of the cases she witnessed, the judge laughed at a woman who claimed her husband was verbally and physically abusive, asking “Why did you marry such a person?”
In another case, she alleged that a council refused to intervene when a husband refused to grant his wife a religious divorce unless she paid him £10,000.
Representatives from these councils have vehemently denied Ms Zee’s claims. Khola Hasan of the Islamic Sharia Council in London called the suggestion of gender bias “absolute rubbish”.
“We certainly don’t condone domestic violence or force women to go back: we are there to get women out of religious marriages.”
Sharia courts are most commonly used when a woman seeks a divorce. For men, they only have to verbally assert their wish for a divorce three times for it to be officially recognised under Islamic law.
Ms Zee’s full results will be unveiled in the Houses of Parliament next month.