Saturday February 9,2008
By Padraic Flanagan Have your say(2)
Sharia law is operating in secret in many British towns and cities, the Daily Express can reveal.
Muslim communities are being ruled with a rod of iron in clear defiance of the British legal system.
Panels of Islamic scholars sit in mosques, converted living rooms and even a former pub to issue fatwas, or rulings. The revelation that they have decided thousands of cases over the last 25 years comes after the Archbishop of Canterbury provoked condemnation by calling for an “accommodation” with the Islamic legal code.
Dr Rowan Williams said parts of civil law could be dealt with under the sharia system – but some communities have already gone much further. The Daily Express has uncovered a catalogue of evidence that sharia courts are acting independently of British law.
Aydarus Yusuf revealed last year that a stabbing case had been decided by an unofficial “court” sitting in Woolwich, south-east London.
The 29-year-old youth worker, who was involved in setting up the hearing, said a group of Somali youths had been arrested on suspicion of stabbing another Somali teenager.
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The victim’s family told the police it would be better settled out of court and the suspects were released on bail.
A hearing was allegedly held and elders ordered the suspects to compensate the victim.
An Islamic sharia council at Leyton in east London also revealed that it had dealt with nearly 7,000 divorces since it had opened in 1982, while sharia courts in the capital have settled many hundreds of financial disputes.
Details of the spread of sharia law emerged as controversy continued to rage over Dr Williams’s comments, with condemnation from Downing Street, the Conservatives and other leading Church of England clerics.
Thousands of Daily Express readers posted comments on our website http://www.express.co.uk and 95 per cent of callers to our phone vote line said sharia law should be banned.
Along with the Islamic council in Leyton, there are at least two other sharia courts in London. There are also courts in many areas of the country with high Muslim populations.
The Islamic sharia council lists members in Birmingham, Bradford, Halifax, Leeds, Manchester, Oxford, Cardiff, Peterborough and Rotherham.
As revealed by the Daily Express last year, there is also a sharia court in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, less than a mile from the former home of suicide bomber Mohammad Siddique Khan.
One Muslim man who has faced that court’s wrath because of his homosexuality said: “Campaigners claim sharia courts in Britain just sit on civil matters, but the reality is very different and Muslims are ordered to live by these laws, not British law.”
Most sharia courts concentrate on divorce cases – although such judgments are not recognised in British law – as well as financial and neighbourhood disputes.
Other areas where sharia courts have been consulted voluntarily are inheritance disputes, boundary wrangles and religious guidance.
Suhaib Hasan, a spokesman for the Islamic sharia council in Leyton, said he and his colleagues dealt with more than 200 cases a year.
“From the beginning, people have wanted our services. More and more come back to us. Each month we deal with 20 cases,” said the sheikh, who has presided over sharia courts in Britain for more than 25 years.
Although their rulings have no basis in law, participants agree to abide by them voluntarily and may settle their disputes without referral to the British legal authorities.
On its website, the Islamic sharia council warns that the divorces it grants can not invalidate a union under British civil law and advises that a separate civil divorce should be obtained. Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, said there is an “alternative parallel unofficial legal system” now operating.
“Sharia courts now operate in most larger cities, with different sectarian and ethnic groups operating their own courts that cater to their specific needs according to their traditions,” he said.
A room containing a long table and 16 chairs inside Birmingham’s central mosque acts as a sharia court presided over by five elders.
They regularly pass judgment on a host of disputes. All are fully versed in sharia law but the hundreds of books on Islamic science and theology on the shelves around them serve as back-up.
The sharia council is the formal body of Islamic legal opinion and jurisdiction for local Muslims. It is also a point of advice for Muslims in the city seeking a religious or theological perspective on general issues.
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