Even infidels are turning to sharia law
As more and more non-Muslim Britons seek Islamic justice, Edna Fernandes asks how it will change our society
Dressed in immaculate white kurta pyjamas and with fingers interlaced, Sheikh Faiz Siddiqui leant back in his white leather chair as he listened.
Before him were two warring businessmen: a Muslim of Asian origins and his white non-Muslim partner, who had come to seek judgment on a dispute. This
proved to be a run-of-the-mill squabble over whether the non-Muslim had been cheated out of the profits of their jointly owned car-fleet company by
What made the case out of the ordinary is that it was the the non-Muslim who had chosen to take his grievance to a religious tribunal run by imams
according to the laws of sharia — an ancient Islamic code of conduct that dates back to the time of the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.
As the story of the business unfolded, the sheikh — one of two judges presiding that day — began to suspect the Muslim businessman was not being
entirely honest in his evidence. So what happened next, I asked, when I met Siddiqui at his opulent offices in Warwickshire.
“I reminded him of his vows to God,” he said. “I told him, ‘You can lie and you can cheat this other man. But realise this: one day, you will
face the Day of Judgment and on that day you will face Allah himself and be punished’
The sheikh’s words apparently had a profound effect. The Muslim businessman promptly changed his story, admitting he had cheated, and his non-Muslim
partner was awarded £48,000 in compensation by the two Muslim judges.
“Sharia,” the 41-year-old sheikh explained to me, “is the law of Allah. So, yes, I invoke God in a legal setting. It creates a moral compulsion
to tell the truth.”
This case was just one of several hundred that have been ruled on by the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (Mat) since it was set up two years ago to
operate as a civil sharia court. Since its formation, 5% of the cases have involved a non-Muslim.
Siddiqui is a Pakistani-born barrister and the founder and chairman of Mat’s governing council. He organises the funding of the service and costs
are recouped through charges to those who use it — ranging from £150 to £2,500, depending on the nature of the case and its duration. Each hearing
has two judges: one a mufti who is a learned imam with training in Islamic law; the other a Muslim lawyer or judge trained in UK law. None of the 67
judges is paid a fee. And, according to the sheikh, none of the money needed to run the tribunals comes from abroad.
His judges are not the only ones dispensing justice in British sharia courts: a recent report by Civitas, the think tank, estimated that there are
about 85 sharia tribunals — including many that deal with divorce — operating in the UK. Some of these are less formal affairs in which individual
imams make rulings in their mosques.
All of them are increasingly busy as more and more people bypass the traditional courts to seek religious rulings that are just as binding under
This is because the 1996 Arbitration Act allows sharia courts to rule over civil cases where both parties agree in advance that they will accept the
judgment. In fact, a judgment can be challenged in the conventional courts only if it can be proved that the rules of the act were not followed in the
course of delivering a fair hearing.
What, I wondered, if two non-Muslims wanted a sharia judgment — would Siddiqui take their case?
“We’re happy to extend our services and dispense sharia justice in cases which are entirely non- Muslim,” he told me firmly last week. “We
want to serve Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and even people of no faith at all.”
Even if a non-Muslim case hinged on a religious matter, he said, a “special expert religious witness” from another faith — such as Christianity
— would be allowed to give evidence to the Muslim judges.
But why would two non-Muslims want to take their case to a sharia court? Money and speed: according to the sheikh, sharia is cheaper and quicker than
the UK civil system, costing an average of £500 and taking less than two months to settle.
However, he thinks there are deeper reasons why more nonMuslims may decide to opt for sharia justice. “Sixty per cent of British common law has a
basis in Islamic law,” he said.
“Laws don’t change: in essence, sharia law is just as relevant now as it was 1,400 years ago.”
While criminal matters may be beyond the remit of the UK’s sharia courts, sharia’s rulings on appropriate punishments for certain crimes are
unlikely to coincide with our own. For example, anyone who subscribes to the full gamut of sharia is likely to support barbaric punishments, such as
the beheadings, amputations and stonings that take place in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia for “crimes” that, in many cases, might merit a
lenient or no sentence at all in this country.
Even in civil matters, sharia’s values are vastly different from ours. It does not recognise equality for women or homosexuals. Under the sternest
of laws upheld in sharia states there are punishments such as stoning to death for adultery, which is a type of honour killing. Some of these things
now appear to be happening on our doorstep. Only last week a man was stabbed in east London and forced to swallow sulphuric acid after being accused
of having an affair with a married Muslim woman.
The sheikh, however, does not accept that our values are too different. He countered smoothly: “We do believe in equal rights for women. One of the
things we do is work with the community on the issues of forced marriages. Some of our imams are female because they have the talent and temperament
to do the job.
“On gay rights, this is not a legal issue — it is a political issue. Lesbianism, sodomisation is not natural. It is not right. It is immoral.
“When people talk of husband and husband, I’m sorry: I laugh. But if a gay person comes to my tribunal, will I discriminate? No, I will not. I
will deliver justice.”
He criticised the British media for its obsession with beheadings and other extreme punishments. “They constitute only 10% of sharia.”
The man who is now a key player in British sharia runs his wide empire from a grand, red-brick mansion in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside,
just outside Nuneaton. Its buildings include his offices, a religious school and a marble-lined mausole
[edit on 6-8-2009 by orangeman dave]