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Gender Equality in Sharia Courts?
by Deborah Weiss
The treatment of women under Islamic Sharia law is inherently discriminatory against women. Alarmed by the suffering of Muslim women at the hands of Sharia Courts in Britain, Baroness Cox recently introduced legislation into parliament which would ensure gender equality in Britain's Sharia Courts.
Pursuant to the Arbitration Act of 1996, litigating parties are permitted to forgo the British court system and have their cases heard in an arbitral tribunal if both parties agree on the tribunal, are willing to relinquish their rights to a judge and jury, and voluntarily consent to the arbitration. Sharia Courts have operated informally in Britain for quite some time. However, in 2007 Sheik Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi discovered a clause in the Arbitration Act which rightly made him realize Sharia Courts could be classified as arbitration tribunals. Subsequently, he began heading up the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal to oversee the Sharia Courts. Once classified as arbitration tribunals, the British government began enforcing Sharia judgments with the full force of law.
According to a report by the Civitas think tank in England, as of two years ago there were approximately 85 Sharia Courts operating in Britain. The Arbitration Act of 1996 permits tribunals to rule on financial and property issues. However, the report asserted that many of the Sharia Courts exceeded permissible jurisdictional boundaries by advising on matters of marriage, divorce, child custody and domestic violence. By law, family and criminal matters are not arbitrable. This illegal expansion of jurisdiction has been dubbed "jurisdiction creep."
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