UK courts need Islamic divorces to protect Muslim women - sharia scholar

© Luke MacGregor
Britain must clamp down on sharia councils and begin processing Islamic divorces in court to better protect the rights of Muslim women, a scholar has advised MPs.

Elham Manea, a leading researcher on Britain’s sharia councils and a professor at Zurich University, has argued for stricter regulations governing sharia councils in written recommendations to a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry, the Guardian reports. 

Manea believes sharia councils or ‘courts’ are discriminatory against Muslim women. While men can opt out of a marriage by proclaiming ‘talaq’ (Arabic for ‘I divorce you’) three times, women must appeal to a sharia council in the hopes that the scholars will grant them a divorce.

The rulings have no legal power and are not recognized in the UK legal system. Many Islamic marriages issued by the sharia councils have not been formally registered under British law.

“It’s true women will be stuck if you don’t provide a solution but that solution is not a parallel legal system,” Manea told the paper.

Manea is calling for the nationwide registration of all Islamic marriages.

“Interpretation in many Islamic countries including Tunisia and Morocco means a religious divorce automatically follows a civil one. It should be the same in Britain and a bureau within the courts should provide this service,” she said.

Nus Ghani, the Tory MP for Wealden who secured the parliamentary review into sharia councils last December, said: “Under sharia, men are in charge and women are treated as their property. That does not sit well under British law and cannot go unchallenged.

“We can’t have a system where we are championing equality for women on one hand and but on the other overlooking a whole section of society – vulnerable women who happen to be Muslim.

“It may be we have a nationwide survey to make sure everyone who has an Islamic marriage is told to register under civil law so if they need a civil divorce they will also get the talaq.”