Religious Law

Islamic Court Rulings are Enforceable in the United Kingdom

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Islamic law now has legal effect in the United Kingdom, under a 1996 arbitration statute that recognizes the rulings of a network of five Shariah courts.

Although there was a huge public outcry earlier this year when the Archbishop of Canterbury said that further recognition of such courts in Great Britain seemed inevitable, at that time compliance by participants with Shariah court rulings was perceived as voluntary, according to the London Times.

At some point, however, those involved in administering the Islamic courts focused on a clause in the U.K.’s Arbitration Act, and government officials agree that it makes the Shariah courts’ rulings legally enforceable, the newspaper reports. (It would appear, however, that participants can decide at the outset of their case or when entering into a contract whether or not to seek a Shariah court ruling.)

In addition to the public flap over the archbishop’s comments, further controversy ensued in July when the U.K.’s top judge, the lord chief justice, suggested that Shariah courts could be used to settle marital and financial disputes, the Times notes.

The courts are controversial because they help to enforce cultural practices and traditions that may conflict, to some extent, with what is commonly done in the U.K. In a recent inheritance case, for instance, an estate was divided between five children. The two sons got twice as much as the three daughters, in accordance with Shariah law, the newspaper reports. “Had the family gone to a normal British court, the daughters would have got equal amounts.”

As discussed in earlier posts, it is also traditional among Muslim families to include in marriage contracts a requirement that the husband will pay the wife a dowry to help support her if they divorce.

Related coverage: “How Islamic Law Applies in the UK” “OH Dowry Ruling is Appealed; Important Muslim Marriage Issue” “Cultural Clash Pits Islamic Law Against Canadian & U.K. Traditions”

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