Lawyers have staged a protest over legal guidance issued to make wills compliant with Islamic Sharia law. The Lawyers' Secular Society took their misgivings to the street and protested outside the Law Society's building in London. They say that there is no place for Sharia- related guidance in the legal sphere. VoR's Juliet Spare has more.
Around 40 protestors holding banners congregated outside Kings College London to protest against Sharia related guidance that has been issued by the Law Society which represents solicitors in England and Wales.
Meanwhile, women's rights organisations and members of the Lawyers Secular Society stood on the pavement opposite the Law Society's building holding banners which read Don't support Sharia bias against women' and One secular law for all'.
Chris Moos, secretary of the LSE Student Union Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, said: "I'm protesting against the practice note that the Law Society has issued, which condones discrimination against women, against adopted or illegitimate children as they call it, and non-Muslims. Sharia law has many interpretations but the one they have chosen is very discriminatory. We think our society should represent everyone and should not condone this kind of behaviour and discrimination."
The society says the guidance legitimises discrimination against Muslim women, adopted children and babies born to parents who aren't married.
Nazir Amarmari, from the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Right's Organisation which protects Middle Eastern and Afghan women and girls at risk of honour-based violence, said Sharia divorce law was also having an effect on Muslim women's freedom to travel.
"This kind of divorce Sharia law is very discriminatory against women. They charge women more than men, and they ignore if women have suffered domestic violence. But it is very important for Muslim women to get a religious divorce. If they travel [without an Islamic divorce], they won't be able to come back to the UK, because they need permission from a man," she said.
Aina Khan, a solicitor in London who specialises in applying Sharia law within the English legal system, disagreed strongly with ths assessment. She said: "I am not able to agree with that at all because the Sharia that I practise under English law, which I provide solutions under for my clients, works extremely well in favour of women, particularly those who can't be helped by English law.
"For example, a woman who believes she is married under English law, but only had a Muslim ceremony in the UK - that marriage is not recognised under English law unless it is registered. If she didn't know that that wasn't a valid marriage she stands to lose all her matrimonial rights to property and a share of the family assets. English law will do nothing because she will be classed as a girlfriend or co-habitee, and co-habitees don't have any rights under English law.
"Sharia law actually gives that woman and others like her great security by giving her the Islamic financial settlement that is in every Muslim marriage. So I take those cases to court under English contract law."
She also argued that the application of Sharia solutions does not entail establishing a parallel legal system: ""I would never say that it's in parallel - it's always under the English legal system. Over a century ago, the Jewish communities started the beth din (Rabbinical court of Judaism) in this country and indeed around the world, and they've been happily providing those solutions for the Jewish community under English law. What on earth is wrong with other communities doing the same?â
An open letter signed by many of the people who were present at the protest on Chancery Lane is calling for the Law Society to immediately and unequivocally withdraw its guidance on Sharia law.
Currently, Sharia principles are not formally addressed by or included in Britain's laws.
The Law Society has issued a statement saying: "Reports that the Law Society is promoting 'Sharia Law' are inaccurate and ill informed. We live in a diverse multi-faith, multi-cultural society. The Law Society responded to requests from its members for guidance on how to help clients asking for wills that distribute their assets in accordance with Sharia practice. Our practice note focuses on how to do that, where it is allowed under English law. The Law of England and Wales will give effect to wishes clearly expressed in a valid will in so far as those wishes are compliant with the law of England. The issue is no more complicated than that."
"Lawyers' Secular Society protest Law Society's Sharia-related guidance" VoR UK 29 April 2014
Tim Ecott, "Death threats issued as Sharia Watch launches in London" VoR UK 24 April 2014
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today