Islam: Canadian activist slams faith-based courts
Homa Arjomand spearheaded a successful campaign to end faith-based arbitration in Canada.
She strongly disagreed with remarks made earlier in February by the head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who claimed that Islamic (Sharia) courts in Britain seemed “inevitable” and could aid “social cohesion”.
Arjomand told AKI that adopting Sharia courts, promoting Islamic schools and Islamic centres would be giving in to political Islam.
She said such courts would deny immigrant women equality with men and increase discrimination towards them, as well as the religious and racial segregation of minorities.
“It is the state’s duty to look after the well-being of all citizens, including women and children from so-called Islamic communities,” said Arjomand, who is a secular Muslim.
The failed experience of faith-based courts in Canada , where Arjomand lives, demonstrated the need for a single legal system that treats all individuals equally, she said.
“No rights should be taken away due to cultural sensitivity – we need to draw a line and say so when religious law compromises women’s rights,” said Arjomand.
She is against multiculturalism and cultural relativity, which further divides society into cultural and religious groups, and “leaves people at the mercy of their own culture.”
There is a political agenda behind Williams’ remarks,”Arjomand argued. “It is this: allow the Islamists some freedom and segregate them from us.”
“The leaders of political Islam see their numbers growing and the problem of isolation,” she said. “They see youths being drawn to imams. They see the terror attacks in various countries. They are trying to get a greater share of power in the West.”
Williams said he did not want to create “parallel jurisdictions” in Britain. Citing the example of Islamic banking, he said incorporating aspects of Sharia law could help Muslims resolve family and financial disputes in keeping with their religious beliefs.
This should “be done with the greatest care” and “no aspect of Islamic law should remove any of UK citizens’s rights,” Williams said. He was seeking to clarify remarks he made last week which sparked a media furore and a barrage of criticism, not only from Christians.
But Arjomand disputed that democratic rights could be guaranteed under Sharia law. “In Islam, there is no civil/criminal distinction,” she stressed. Islam sanctions extreme punishments such as amputation of limbs, stoning to death and flogging.
Islamic law is in opposition to established British legal traditions on many issues, including monogamy, divorce, the rights of women and custody of children, she said.
Death by stoning is the penalty for women who commit adultery, while Muslim men may enjoy multiple marriages, Arjomand pointed out. Under Sharia law, a Muslim may also divorce his wife by merely repudiating her three times, and gets custody of their children.
Moreover, Arjomand pointed out, in family disputes there is no right of appeal against a Sharia court’s decision and Muslim women are face discrimination areas such as inheritance and pension rights as well as divorce.
Divorced women from the Pakistani community in Canada have been sent back to family members in Pakistan and separated from their children, she said.
“No Muslim women want to go through faith-based arbitration,” she stressed.
Canada in 2006 outlawed faith-based arbitration following an international campaign by secularists against Sharia law.
Organised by Arjomand, the campaign followed a 2004 report recommending the introduction of Sharia tribunals in the Canadian province of Ontario where 600,000 Muslims live. It provoked widespread debate and street protests, both for and against the report’s findings.
Faith-based tribunals had been set up by Catholic and Jewish communities in Ontario following the passing of the Arbitration Act in 1991 in an attempt to deal with a backlog of divorce, inheritance and custody cases in the Canadian courts.
Canada’s Muslim population was in 2006 estimated at 783,700 or about 2.5 percent of the population. Muslims are the fourth largest immigrant faith group in the country, after Catholics, Buddhists and Jews.
There are an estimated 1.7 million Muslims in Britain, comprising 2.8 percent of the population. Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity.