LONDON - The role of Shari`ah courts in mediating to end marital disputes is raising heightened debates in Britain, amid accusations that the tribunals are pressuring women to stay in abusive marriages.
"We are not here just to issue divorces," Dr Suhaib Hasan, a scholar at Leyton Islamic Shari`ah Council, told the BBC."We want to mediate first.
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We try to save marriages so when people come to us we try to reconcile them," Dr Hasan said.
The BBC is set to broadcast Monday, April 8, a documentary about Shari`ah courts in Britain and problems faced by Muslim women.
In the program, Dr Hassan is shown trying to solve marital disputes between Muslim husbands and wives.
In a small terraced house in east London, a woman and her husband, who asked for anonymity, argue about their marital problems.
She accuses him of refusing to work, ignoring the children and verbally abusing her, claims denied by the husband.
When Dr Hasan orders the husband to leave the room, the woman breaks down in tears.
"I hate him, I can't even bear to look at him, he has ruined my life," she sobs.
Trying to save the marriage, Dr Hasan tells the wife to give her husband one more month to try and reconcile, with the help of Allah.
The documentary goes on to show a reporter who posed as a woman seeking a divorce from her violent husband.
I think that you should be courageous enough to ask this question to him. Just tell me why you are so upset, huh? Is it because of my cooking? Is it because I see my friends, huh? So I can Âcorrect myself, he asked her.
The guised reporter is also warned that taking the issue of violence to the police would harm their marriage.
You involve the police if he hits you but you must understand this will be the final blow, the scholar advises the reporter.
You will have to leave the house. Where will you go then? A refuge? A refuge is a very bad option. Women are not happy in such places.
Dr Hasan goes on to suggest counseling.
Don't think about the police because if the police is involved then think, your family life is going to break.
In Islam, marriage is a sacred bond that brings together a man and a woman by virtue of the teachings of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
Each partner in this sacred relationship must treat the other properly and with respect.
Divorce is not at all viewed favorably in Islam and is discouraged unless warranted by valid reasons.
Divorce is one of the rights that Islam grants to husbands. In most cases, a husband can claim that right.
However, there are also some cases in which a wife can terminate marriage; for example, by means of khul` (wife's right to obtain divorce under certain conditions).
But the mediation has sparked accusations to the Shari`ah Courts of putting women as risk.
"I'm disappointed but not surprised, Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for the North West, told the BBC.
Most of them [Shari`ah councils] are fine but there are some clearly like this who are putting women at risk, added Afzal, who himself is a Muslim.
He described what he had seen as "dangerous" because if people were deterred from seeking help they could suffer significant harm.
Rights activists have called for drawing clear lines on the work of Shari`ah courts in Britain.
It is a system which, in its gender discrimination causing women such suffering, is utterly incompatible with our country's Âvalues, Baroness Cox was quoted as saying by The Express.
She said that she will set a bill in the House of Lords to make it an offence for Shari`ah councils to set themselves up as courts.
It is time to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough'.
Leyton Islamic Shari`ah Council is Britain's oldest Islamic council and one of the most active in the country.
The council hears about 50 cases a month - mainly marital disputes.
As well as marital disputes, it rules in discords over inheritance, contractual disagreements between Muslim landlords and tenants and sometimes between employees and their employer.
Under the Arbitration Act 1996, the rulings of religious bodies, including the Muslim arbitration tribunal, already have legal force in disputes involving matters such as inheritance and divorce.
Shari`ah courts in Britain are legally recognized as providing a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution.Britain is home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.7 million.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net