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17 Aug, 2009 05:54

Sharia courts conquer UK

A recent study by think tank Civitas concluded there are around 85 Sharia courts currently operating in Britain, of which merely a dozen work within the British legal system.

While Muslim activists want to triple the number of courts by the end of the year, British human rights campaigners say Sharia justice is brutal.

“We are free-of-charge to the Muslim community as a reference point in marriage, divorce, in partnership and company disputes, in inheritance matters, and for people who want to become Muslim, and general advice and rulings,” says Anjem Choudary, judge of the Sharia court of the UK.

As an example of the court’s decision, Choudary offers the following: “If someone lost a finger because he was hit by somebody unnecessarily, then he deserves the equivalent of 10 camels [compensation], or whatever that may be in sterling.”

Choudary wants to establish an Islamic state in Britain, and institute fully-fledged Sharia law throughout. That would mean cutting off people’s hands for stealing, and stoning women for adultery. But in the absence of a state to support that, for now he can only judge civil matters.

The men who study under Choudary at the London School of Sharia have all had dealings with his court.

“I discussed with Anjem and various other brothers about becoming a Muslim and why I’m a Muslim and what it is that I believe. And then I do a Shahada to confirm what you believe,” says Salahuddin, formerly known as Richard. He has been a Muslim for just 5 weeks now and it was Choudary who provided him with a certificate of conversion.

If Salahuddin decides he no longer wishes to be part of the faith, the penalty under full Sharia law is death.

Abu Yahya, another student of London School of Sharia, has reconciled with his wife in a Sharia court. He says it’s a more selfless system of decision-making. He says, “With Muslims, we refer to almighty Allah in all of our acts, and we go there not being biased, but wanting to follow the Sharia. And even if it’s in my favor, or in favor of my wife, we submit to that.”

Sharia law has been operating here, in parallel to the British legal system, since 1982. But there is concern about coercion when it comes to women submitting to judgment in Islamic courts.

Researcher Hannah Stuart, from the Centre for Social Cohesion, draws attention to the fact that, “There are many women working on the front line of domestic violence issues and honor-related issues, and people who run shelters who would attest to the fact that many of the people they see do not go to these courts voluntarily, and they are forced by either the men in their family or their community, and it’s a very, very serious issue and needs to be addressed.”

That’s a real fear in Britain, where so-called honor killings are becoming more common. Recently police warned a married woman that her life could be in danger, after her boyfriend was near-fatally attacked with bricks and acid. She is now in hiding.

Thousands worship every week at London’s biggest mosque, just like many others in Britain. Studies show that only the most radical of British Muslims want Sharia introduced fully into Britain, but that has not stopped the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal promising to triple the number of Sharia courts in the UK by the end of the year.