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6 Oct, 2010 11:39

ROAR: Muslim activist asks if Sharia courts constitutional in Russia

ROAR: Muslim activist asks if Sharia courts constitutional in Russia

A lawyer and head of the Al-Fatkh Muslim organization in St. Petersburg, Dzhamaliddin Makhmutov, has sent a letter to Russia’s Constitutional Court asking if the introduction of advisory Sharia courts is lawful.

“Makhmutov is asking the plenum of the Constitutional Court to convene and explain if the ban on the creation of the institute of Islamic justice in Russia is legal,” Trud daily said. In his letter, he stated that the current legislation “does not contain a direct ban on the existence of an advisory Sharia court that could look into and mediate on domestic and family arguments between Muslims,” the paper said.

“I am putting forward the civil initiative of creating a Sharia court, which may reduce tension and [encourage] the growth of tolerance in society,” the daily quoted him as saying. “Together with labor migrants, Islam has entered the streets of our cities and not to notice this means to avoid solving the problem,” he noted.

As a possible way Makhmutov has suggested equating a Sharia law to an arbitration tribunal or officers’ court of honor.

In August, Makhmutov caused a stir by announcing the establishment of a Sharia court in St. Petersburg to rule on Muslim civil cases, the daily said. The Prosecutor’s Office of Admiralteysky district then sent a warning to him, noting that “judicial power is exercised in Russia exclusively by the state.”

Prosecutors also demanded that the court where Makhmutov himself and his associate were self-appointed judges be dismantled. The activist responded by saying that he just wanted to solve small arguments according to Koran.

Although he described the new establishment as a “tribunal” intended to advise and solve civil disputes, many religious leaders, including Muslim ones, and human rights activists called it a Sharia court. Makhmutov, however, insisted it had no judicial power.

Later, the building where the “tribunal” had been organized was closed on the grounds of failure to comply with rules of fire safety.

Observers say that elements of Sharia law exist in some republics in the North Caucasus. In 1995, Sharia courts were actually established in Chechnya and the secular judicial system was restored there in 1999.

Now Makhmutov wants the Constitutional Court to explain if there is a possibility of creating Sharia courts on the whole Russian territory. Such courts are “advisory and do not have “a system of punishment,” he stressed.

“In the modern world, it is difficult to use Sharia law,” said the imam of the Central Mosque in Moscow, Ildar Alyautdinov. “The Muslims living in Russia understand that certain laws and customs exist here and follow them,” Ekho Moskvy radio quoted him as saying.

The issue of Sharia laws and how they comply with our Constitution should be considered in the Constitutional Court, the imam said.

However, former judge of the Constitutional Court Tamara Morshchakova believes such issues should be considered by legislative bodies. “The Constitutional Court may take for the consideration only a request to explain if a certain legal norm conforms to the Constitution,” she told the radio station. “But the court cannot introduce any rule or norm as a legislative initiative may be taken by a corresponding organ.”

Sharia law cannot exist in Russia according to the current legislation, said Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the State Duma Legislation Committee to Ekho Moskvy. He stressed that the parliament’s lower house was not able to consider this issue either.

Meanwhile, the “tireless” head of Al-Fatkh “cannot force himself to abandon the idea of the creation of a Sharia court in St. Petersburg, the city’s website Fontanka.ru said. After prosecutors warned him, he has now asked the Constitutional Court for an explanation,” it added. He wonders “if the local organization of Muslims in St. Petersburg, Al-Fatkh, may introduce a Sharia court to solve religious issues among Muslims according to Koran,” the website said.

According to the site’s source in the Constitutional Court, Makhmutov will get a response soon. It may be negative as “the request does not comply with the form of appealing to the court,” Fontanka.ru said. In particular, it does not mention the laws and corresponding norms of the constitution that are being questioned.

Official Muslim organizations have not supported the idea of Sharia courts, the website said. Mufti Dzhafar Ponchaev told the site that Makhmutov “has no authorities for such activities.”

Shamil Mugattarov, head of the coordination committee of St. Petersburg’s Muslims, said Makhmutov’s initiative “should not be taken seriously.”

Another website, Regions.ru, quoted deputy mufti of St. Petersburg Ravil Pancheev as saying that Makhmutov’s decision to create a Sharia court “contradicts the constitution, which states that Russia is a secular country.”

“For our state such courts are unacceptable, even if their decisions are advisory only,” believes Rostov Region mufti Dzhafar-khazrat Bikmaev. Special bodies on moral and ethical issues are unnecessary “as today every regional mufti having the Kazi [Kadi] title – a judge ruling in accordance with the Sharia law – is coping well with his duties,” he told Regions.ru

“The creation of the Sharia court may lead to inter-ethnic and religious discord,” said Ismail Berdiev, chairman of the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Region. He also described such courts as “unconstitutional” and “unnecessary” to establish. “Muslims may receive all necessary consultations from their imams at mosques,” he told the website. “Imams may well explain what is right according to the Sharia law,” he added.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT