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Speech at House of Commons: Sharia law is a code of despair, a code obsessed with women

The below was Maryam Namazie’s speech at the 28 June 2011 debate on Sharia law atthe House of Commons.
Sharia law should have no place in Britain or anywhere else for that matter because it is fundamentally discriminatory and misogynist at best (as are all religious laws). Just because the Sharia courts in Britain and Europe are dealing primarily (but not exclusively) with implementing Sharia’s civil or family code rather than its penal code, it doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

As campaigner Gita Sahgal says: ‘It is supported precisely because it is limited to denying women’s rights in the family. No hands are being cut off, so there’s no problem…’[1]

In fact, Sharia’s family code is a pillar of women’s oppression in countries under Islamic laws. And it often exists even when the penal code no longer applies.

Whilst there are differences in application as in any phenomenon, all the courts agree on the basics. After all, Sharia law is based on the Koran, the hadith (sayings and actions of the prophet Mohammad), and Islamic jurisprudence. They all agree that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, a women can’t sign her own marriage contract, men have the unilateral right to divorce whereas a women have limited rights to divorce; child custody goes to the father at a preset age; girls get half of the inheritance boys do and so on.

The Islamic Sharia Council explains why this is so: With regards to women’s testimony, ‘If one forgets, the other can remind her.’ It’s the difference between a man and a woman’s brains.’ ‘A woman’s character is not so good for a case where testimony requires attention and concentration.’ And this also applies to divorce. ‘Women are governed by emotion; men by their minds so he will think twice before uttering talaq [divorce].’ It goes on to say it is not ‘derogatory’ but ‘the secret of women’s nature.’ [2]

Sharia lawyer Aina Khan and others have said Baroness Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation (Equality) Bill[3], which aims to curb Sharia law in Britain is ‘assuming that some sort of misogyny and discrimination goes on.’ After all, ‘eighty per cent of its users are women.’[4] But this defence is illogical in my opinion. Men don’t need to go to the Sharia courts because they have the unilateral right to divorce; women don’t.  With this type of logic one would have come to the erroneous conclusion that passbooks which were compulsory for black people under racial apartheid in South Africa were pro-black since 100% of those who carried them were black people!

Also, proponents defend Sharia law in Britain by saying there is no evidence that it is discriminatory.[5] Of course there is ample evidence, including on the Islamic Sharia Council website and via statements made by various Sharia judges but also via a number of studies and reports on Sharia courts. Some are included in One Law for All’s report: ‘Sharia Law in Britain: A Threat to One Law for All and Equal Rights.’[6] Here’s one of many example: according to the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, which interviewed 90 Muslims in London, the West Midlands, Lancashire and West Yorkshire, many felt they did not get a fair hearing under Sharia law. The CIP uncovered the case of thirty-year-old from West Yorkshire, who was 13 when her father arranged her marriage. She went to three different imams who all ruled she was legally married according to the Sharia. ‘I told them I had been forced but they said that did not change anything.’ She eventually secured her divorce because her husband finally agreed to it.[7]

And there is evidence that Sharia courts are also dealing with criminal matters. Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayed, a Sharia judge, (and a war criminal[8]) has said marital rape is ‘not aggression because when they got married, sexual intercourse was part of the marriage.’ In fact, he says, ‘calling it rape is a major aggression.’[9] The Muslim Arbitration Tribunals has been dealing with domestic violence cases, which is a criminal matter here.[10] In Spain, a Sharia court in Valls (Catalonia) even sentenced a woman to death by stoning.[11]

Whilst evidence is ample, in reality, there is no need for it because the law itself is discriminatory– not just its interpretation or implementation. It’s like apartheid in South Africa. Even if no black person came forward with evidence that racial apartheid was discriminatory, one would know it was so by looking at the law itself. The same applies to Sharia law. The fact that there’s never enough evidence for proponents of Sharia speaks volumes about their real intentions and their lack of regard for women’s and children’s rights and equality.

Moreover, this is not a new phenomenon where evidence is lacking. It is renowned for its barbarism and misogyny. It stones people to death in the 21st century and hang apostates and gay people from city centres. Sharia law is now the most widely implemented law worldwide. Not because Muslims or those labelled as such have become more pious and are demanding sharia courts when they didn’t 35 years ago, but because of the rise of Islamism. Anyone who has ever worked with women living under Islamic laws or lived under Islamic rule like I have knows full well the uphill battle and the human tragedy and catastrophe for women trying to gain their most basic rights to marriage, child custody, divorce and freedom from domestic violence. And the same is happening to women in Britain and Europe.

Women here didn’t have to go to these courts before; why do they have to go to them now? This is not because they are demanding it but because Islamism is demanding it from them. Sharia law is Islamism’s demand to restrict the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Despite the discrimination, proponents of Sharia law argue that adult women have a right to choose Sharia courts. But the use of the terms choice and rights are highly deceptive. Firstly, many are pressured into going to these courts. In one study, a staggering four out of ten women attending the Sharia court were party to civil injunctions issued against their husbands on the grounds of violence and threatening behaviour. They were not even meant to be in the same vicinity with them – let alone be, as they were, in a Sharia Council mediating civil matters. ‘In this way, these privatised legal processes were ignoring not only state law intervention and due process but providing little protection and safety for the women in question. Furthermore the interviews and observation data revealed that husbands used this opportunity to negotiate reconciliation, financial settlements for divorce, and in many cases access to children.’[12]

Also there is very little choice when living under what I call an Islamic inquisition.[13] Islamists don’t let you pick and choose but will threaten or intimidate anyone who transgresses their medieval norms. They say it openly. An Islamic Sharia judge has said, ‘In the Sharia, there is no exception; you have to accept it.’[14] They’ve also said very clearly, ‘belittling [Sharia law] or calling [it] out-of-date constitutes disbelief as Allah says’[15] and we know what the penalty for disbelief is.

Using terms such as rights and choice are merely public relations ploys by Islamists and their supporters. It’s absurd when Islamists talk of choice. There is no choice when they are in power.  And it’s deceptive. One can justify anything by saying it’s a ‘choice.’ The hadith on stoning comes to mind. It is said that a woman begged the prophet Mohammad thrice before he reluctantly agreed to stone her to death.[16] Scholars of the Institute for Oriental Studies in India have reported that out of 40 eyewitness accounts, only two women ‘involuntarily’ threw themselves on the burning pyres of their dead husbands in order to legitimise suttee. The rest, they say, made a ‘voluntary choice.’[17] They go on to justify suttee by saying that suicide is also not illegal in the west and that euthanasia is acceptable as if they are one and the same. 

These are not choices. To say it is so is to say that ‘Muslim’ women are subhuman. They don’t want custody of their children; they want to remain in violent situations and face marital rape or unhappy marriages, they want their testimony to be half that of a man’s… By using the terminology of choice, proponents hope to dupe the public into ignoring the institutionalised violence and misogyny. Clearly, there can be no choice under such pressure. But even if it was a choice, it’s a bad one for people, society and the world at large. After all, just because people, for example, choose to mutilate their children, doesn’t mean they should be allowed to do so.

Whilst proponents justify and apologise for Sharia law, a code of despair, I’d like to end with a song sung by Algerian women against the introduction of Sharia law in their family code. ‘Singing for Change’ speaks on behalf of many of us fighting against Sharia law and Islamism. Sharia law is not ‘our’ culture. It is Islamism’s culture. It commits the unspeakable and will not be endured…

Here are the lyrics:

Women, words are no longer enough
We must cross the river because justice is discredited when the scales are weighted.
Oh people of Algeria, the truth is hidden
Women let me tell you of 20 years of madness.
In the congress of deceit of the year 1984
They got together and voted a law of oppression.
They stole women’s rights and parted; their minds at rest
They did as they pleased and took us for fools
What came over you judge, why are you afraid of me?
I weather all the storms, my words contain no venom.
Our marriage is decided by men.
We are forbidden to work and doors are closed to us.
With the family code, our wings are clipped.
We aren’t asking for any favours; history speaks for us.
We are not asking for charity, we are entitled to justice.
What came over you judge, why are you afraid of me?
I weather all the storms, my words contain no venom.
Our voices rise today, for here a woman has no rights.
I’m telling you the story of what the powerful have done.
Of rules, a code of despair, a code obsessed with women.
Women come out of the dark; out of 20 years of trouble.
I brought up my children, they are now adults.
With one word, he repudiated me and sent me from the house.
Everything concerning my children is in the hand of the traitor.
My opinion is not taken into account, plus the pain and torment.
Judge, stop pursuing an unfounded fear.
Write that I want to experience my dignity now.
Family code committing the unspeakable.
Guardians pull the strings behind the weddings of the gazelle.
Oh my sister always under age
You’re called to order
Listen to this song, its tune will never change.
May the word spread, this law must be undone.
And never done again.
To those listening to this story, this situation can no longer be endured.
Today, as yesterday, it’s impossible.
Men, one hand cannot applaud; with you, the sun shines again and forever.
What came over you judge, why are you afraid of me?
I weather all the storms, my words contain no venom.

[1] What isn’t wrong with Sharia law, Maryam Namazie, Guardian, 5 July 2010
[2] Islamic Sharia Council, On the Testimony of Women
[5] See articles by apologists Mehdi Hassan and Nesrien Malike and Islamist Musleh Fardahi
[11] A Sharia court tries a woman for adultery in Catalonia, Le Monde, 11 December 201012] Islamic Family Arbitration, Justice and Human Rights in Britain, Samia Bano, University of Reading, 6 December 2007

[13] The Islamic Inquisition, Maryam Namazie, June 2011
[14] Divorce, Sharia Style, Channel 4, 4 February 2008. Also see We want to offer Sharia Law, The Telegraph, 20 January 2008
[15] Deeming Sharia Law as Incompetent, Islamic Sharia Council
[16] Is Islam Intolerant, BBC Big Questions
[17] Today’s Women in World Religion, Edited by Arvind Sharma, SUNY Press, November 1993

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