Lawyers are among the signatories of an open letter from the UK’s largest Muslim women’s group warning that Muslim women must not be used as ‘political footballs’ amid reviews of sharia courts.
Writing before a meeting of the home affairs select committee inquiry into sharia courts, Shaista Gohir OBE, chair of Muslim Women’s Network UK, says Muslim women must be ‘at the forefront of informing the solutions that must work for them’.
‘Muslim women are fed up of being used as political footballs and being treated like children,’ she said. ‘Everyone wants to listen to Muslim women when highlighting their terrible experiences. However, when it comes to the solutions everyone thinks they know what is best for them.’
The network stresses that two-thirds of the 100 lawyers, health professionals, academics, community activists and others who signed the letter know someone who has used a sharia divorce service; while 25% have used one themselves.
‘Despite sometimes-traumatic experiences, most Muslim women do not want sharia councils to be shut down and instead want them to raise their standards,’ it adds.
The network also wants the government to ensure there is ‘accountability and to strengthen civil law’ so Muslim women are less reliant on sharia councils for divorce, ‘which would make most of them naturally redundant in the future anyway’.
In June the home affairs committee launched an inquiry into sharia courts in the UK to ensure their principles are compatible with UK law. A parallel investigation was instigated by the Home Office in May.
Gohir added: ‘Anyone advocating for the immediate shutting down of sharia councils is using women’s rights as a guise to further their anti-faith agendas and do not represent the best interests of Muslim women.
‘Abolishing sharia councils would result in Muslim women being trapped in abusive marriages and drive divorce services underground, leading to even less transparency and more discrimination.’