Muslim minister rejects Sharia courts in UK
A government minister has said that “very concerned” about Sharia courts operating in the UK.
Sadiq Khan, who is Muslim, was promoted to minister for community cohesion earlier this month.
He said the “burden is on those who want to open up these courts to persuade us why they should do it.”
The issue of incorporating Islamic law into the UK has been controversial.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chief Justice have both faced criticism for appearing to support the move.
Jewish religious courts are recognised in law when ruling on marital issues and other disputes.
“Mass migration [among Asian Muslims] started 30 years ago. Jewish migration started 500 years ago,” Mr Khan told The Sunday Times.
“It sends the wrong message at a time when I am trying to say to all citizens, ‘learn English, get involved in your community’.
“You should practise your faith, eat halal food, fast, have planning permission for a mosque, be buried in the Islamic way, you can have your son circumcised. What is the purpose – what is the loophole that Sharia courts are closing?”
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was heavily criticised when he said in February that the adoption of elements of Sharia law in the UK “seems unavoidable.”
Dr Williams said that a “constructive accommodation” must be found over issues such as divorce and added that people should not imagine “we know exactly what we mean by Sharia and just associate it with Saudi Arabia.”
However, the Archbishop went on to criticise the practice of Sharia law in some Muslim states, specifically the treatment of women and extreme punishments.
Homosexuality is punishable by death under Sharia and human rights groups claim that hundreds of gay men have been put to death in Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979.
“There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law,” said Dr Williams.
“It would be quite wrong to say that we could ever licence a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general.
“But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them.
“In some cultural and religious settings they would seem more appropriate.”
He later denied that he called for the introduction of Sharia Law. In a statement he said that he “certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law.”
In July Lord Phillips, the most senior judge in England and Wales, said at a meeting in an east London mosque:
“There is no reason why Sharia principles, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution.
“It must be recognised, however, that any sanctions for a failure to comply with the agreed terms of mediation would be drawn from the laws of England and Wales.”
Sharia courts have been operating in the UK for more than a year.
They take advantage of the 1996 Arbitration Act, meaning their rulings can be enforced by the courts if both parties agree to be bound by the ruling or “arbitration.”
The Jewish Beth Din courts operate under the same law.
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The Sunday Times revealed last month that Sharia courts have been set up in London, Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester and Warwickshire.
Mr Khan said that comparisons with Jewish religious courts are inaccurate.
“I have seen good examples of Jewish courts,” he told The Sunday Times.
“I would be very concerned about Sharia courts applying in the UK. I don’t think there is that level of sophistication that there is in Jewish law.
“Jewish law has a long history. There are not the same areas of concern that there are with Sharia law.
“At some stage in the future I do not rule out the possibility that the Muslim diaspora in this country may be advanced enough. But now is not the right time.”