Amnah is a modern British Muslim. She is dressed in a denim skirt and her head is covered in a hijab. Poised and self-assured, she has come to meet Dr Suhaib Hasan, a silver-bearded sheikh who sits behind his desk, surrounded by religious books.
“But why would I have to observe the waiting period?” she asks him. “What are the reasons?” There is an urgency to her questions.
“These reasons don’t apply to me, that’s what I’m very confused about. If you could give me the reasons why I have to wait three months, then I’ll understand.”
Amnah is going through a divorce and is baffled at being told that she must wait for three months to remarry, considering that she hasn’t seen her estranged husband for two years.
She twists her sock-clad toes into the carpet, grasping one hand with the other in her lap, and fixes Dr Hasan with an intense look. He meets this with a simple reply: “These rulings are all in the Koran. The rulings are made for all.”
Amnah has little choice but to comply: Dr Hasan is a judge, and this is a sharia court – in east London. It sits, innocuously, at the end of a row of terrace houses in Leyton: a converted corner shop, with blinds on the windows, office- style partitions and a makeshift reception area.
It is one of dozens of sharia courts – also known as councils – that have been set up in mosques, Islamic centres and even schools across Britain. The number of British Muslims using the courts is increasing.
To many in the West, talk of sharia law conjures up images of the floggings, stonings, amputations and beheadings carried out in hardline Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, the form practised in Britain is more mundane, focusing mainly on marriage, divorce and financial disputes.
Shari’a law should be banned throughout the world. It is a barbaric code and the application in the UK is just the camel’s nose under the tent. The state has a monopoly on making and enforcing laws and it would be a mistake to go along with any legal application of Shari’a. If someone wants to follow a waiting period as a matter of religion it is of little importance to the state, but the Muslim practice of divorce would not be acceptable.