The use of Sharia, or Islamic religious law, is growing in Britain, with thousands of Muslims using it to settle disputes each year, but women's groups and some others are objecting.
''You must speak the truth, sister. Because Allah is listening to your every word, you can lie to us but not to Him.''
The bearded sheikh is instructing his first client of the day to explain why she is unhappy in her marriage.
Sitting behind a small desk in the back room of a converted terrace house, Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad is a representative of the Islamic Sharia Council, the largest Sharia body in the UK, based in Leyton, east London.
The woman has come to the council for an Islamic divorce because her husband refuses to grant her one.
''I'm not happy. He's never at home and I've seen messages from other women on his phone. He doesn't even give money to help support the kids,'' the woman tells the sheikh.
It is easier for a Muslim man to end a marriage in Islam, but a wife must persuade the judges to grant her a dissolution if her husband is opposed to divorce.
The case is typical of those case dealt with by Sharia councils, as thousands of Muslims are turning to them to help resolve family, financial and commercial problems in accordance with Sharia principles.
An estimated 85 Sharia councils could be operating in Britain, according to a 2009 report by the think tank Civitas.
Several bodies like the Islamic Sharia Council have seen a large increase in their cases in the past five years.
''Our cases have easily more than tripled over the past three to five years," says Sheikh al-Haddad.
''On average, every month we can deal with anything from 200 to 300 cases. A few years ago it was just a small fraction of that.
''Muslims are becoming more aligned with their faith and more aware of what we are offering them,'' he explained.
The principles of Sharia govern all aspects of a Muslim's life. It is derived from a combination of sources including the Koran, the Hadith, which is based on the example of the prophet Muhammad, and fatwas, which are rulings of Islamic scholars.
Sharia has been operating in the UK, managed by locally-appointed councils, in parallel to the British legal system since 1982.----
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In: Regional News, Politics, Religion
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