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OPINION

Disorder in Sharia Courts

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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LONDON -- Set aside for a moment the violent incidents associated with people claiming to act under the authority of their Islamic faith and consider instead what passes for normalcy.

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Some in Britain would like to elevate to the level of wide-scale acceptance Sharia law, an Islamic legal system predicated on the religious tenets of Islam. "A number of Sharia councils operate in the UK to offer resolution to disputes," writes The Express, but currently "they have no jurisdiction in criminal matters." Not yet, anyway. There is a campaign underway to make a UK suburb Britain's Sharia-law zone.

"Former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams sparked controversy in 2008 when he suggested it was 'inevitable' that elements of Sharia would be incorporated in British law," according to the Express. Would this mean that in the near future Sharia law could run parallel and equal to UK law? Hope not. Sharia has an abysmal record when it comes to the treatment of women.

London's Mayor Boris Johnson called the idea of Sharia law in Britain "absolutely unacceptable." He is joined in his rejection by Home Secretary Theresa May, who has proposed a review into Sharia courts. The Independent recently published an investigative story revealing a parallel system of Islamic justice, which the writer says condemns many British women to "marital captivity," while at the same time failing to protect them from domestic violence.

Leiden University scholar Machteld Zee, writes The Independent, managed to obtain unusual access to secretive Sharia courts. After attending 15 hours of hearings at the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton and the Birmingham Central Mosque, Zee reviewed more than a dozen cases.

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According to The Independent, some of her findings included:

-- A case where a woman who claimed to be married to a physically and verbally abusive man is told by a "laughing" judge: "Why did you marry such a person?"

-- A woman "ready to burst into tears" is sent away without an answer after saying that her husband took out a loan in her name on the day they married and is denying her a divorce until she gives him 10,000 pounds.

-- A married couple asking for advice on whether the woman had been religiously divorced from her former husband were told "the secular divorce counts as nothing."

While Ms. Zee found some judges granting divorces and urging people to live under British law, she also concluded that most of the Islamic judges "are not a neutral third party but are always in favor of the man."

Zee has compiled her research in a book titled "Choosing Sharia? Multiculturalism, Islamic Fundamentalism and British Sharia Councils." Her findings prompted Baroness Caroline Cox to introduce a bill in the House of Lords last summer that would make it illegal for Sharia courts to treat "the evidence of a man as worth more than the evidence of a woman." The bill passed its second reading in the House of Lords in October.

In an editorial responding to Ms. Zee's research, The Independent says, "Can a healthy, harmonious multicultural society tolerate private legal systems? Not if that means the subjugation of women in abusive and indeed dangerous marriages, a form of imprisonment in all but name sanctioned by their local religious leaders."

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Beyond the mass shootings in America, stabbings on London's tube and Israeli bus stops, there is the larger question of Islam's compatibility with Western values and laws. Will those of us who practice a different faith, including Muslims with a different view of Islam, or those who practice no faith at all, be required to adhere to Sharia law should the Muslim population become a majority? That's what radical Islamists appear to want.

Carved into the facade of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., are the words "Equal Justice Under Law." But how equal can justice be if that law becomes Sharia law, either in a parallel legal system, or a dominant one that forces all other laws, be they based on the Ten Commandments, or secular philosophy, to succumb?

The question is more than academic and theological. The answer could determine the future direction of the world.

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