One of the last reviews launched by Theresa May when she was still Home Secretary was to explore whether, and to what extent, the application of Sharia may be incompatible with the law in England and Wales. At the time the Home Office said that it would “examine the ways in which Sharia may be being misused, or exploited, in a way that may discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values and cause social harms.” Particularly disconcerting is that the inquiry is being held as part of the Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy.
It is difficult to understand why the review has been launched or to make out what its main purpose is. May said that a number of women had “reportedly” been victims of “what appear to be discriminatory” decisions taken by Sharia councils. This she said was “a significant concern.” Even more strangely was that she went on to insist that there is “only one rule of law in our country, which provides rights and security for every citizen.”
Some 85 Sharia councils operate in England and Wales as tribunals to provide advice to those Muslims who voluntarily choose to use them to resolve civil and family disputes. They are not courts of law as such. Set up in the 1980s, they are similar to the Beth Din religious courts that started way back in the 17th century for Jews to resolve civil issues.
Both supplement the legal system in Britain. It is rather ironic that the purpose of the review is to end discrimination suffered by Muslim women when the targeting and nature of the inquiry is biased itself, being directed only at Islam and Muslims and not other or all religions.
Whatever justification or excuse is being used, the targeting of Muslims is nothing new. It reeks of the way Muslims are perceived by so many politicians as well as the press, more often than not, through the distorted prism of terrorism. Already a lot of terms like ‘jihad’ and ‘Islamic’ have been hijacked to present false images of the religion in the so-called war against terrorism.
Most dangerously, the very belief in religious ideas is being targeted. More than anything else the inquiry fits in with the paradigm of Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order. Since the advent of secularism, Western societies have long moved on from trying to equate state laws with the tenets of religion. Any incompatibility would apply to all religions not just the one that the government is seeking to single out.
The Muslim News has long argued that the Government’s counter-extremism strategy is wrong-headed. It not only unfairly discriminates against all Muslims and their faith but impinges on freedom of religion, freedom of speech and panders to the prejudicial way Islam is perceived. Exactly whose shared values are being sought?