Baroness Cox told the Christian Broadcasting Council that British Muslim women were already suffering under Sharia. Rape victims were being denied justice, divorcees were losing custody of their children, and women were being disinherited. Sharia could open the door to child marriage and was already permitting polygamy. Audio, pictures available
A House of Lords symposium heard clear warnings that Sharia law - strict Islamic law - must never be allowed to become a parallel legal system in the UK. If it did, there could be a right-wing backlash.
'There are now more than 80, perhaps 85 Sharia courts operating in the UK,' Baroness Cox told the Christian Broadcasting Council Symposium. 'Polygamy is already happening,' she said. 'It means Britain has two parallel legal systems, one which does not permit bigamy and the other which does.’
Sharing the platform at the CBC Symposium was Bishop Michael Nazir-Al. Together they warned of the threat to rape victims if Sharia law were to be allowed in the UK. 'Under Sharia Law if a woman wants to bring a charge of alleged rape she is obliged to provide four independent Muslim witnesses,' said Lady Cox.
'Failure to do so might result in the rape victim being accused of fornication and adultery,' added Bishop Michael. He warned that Sharia law could be used to justify child marriage. ‘You will have child marriage, because as soon as a girl begins her periods, she is eligible to be married. How will you maintain a minimum age for marriage?
'Sharia is an all-encompassing law that affects every area of a Muslim's life and a Muslim's community,' said Pakistan-born Bishop Michael, who has received death threats for opposing Islamic militants. Some put forward family law as the acceptable face of Sharia, but that militates against justice and freedom for women and young children.’
Lady Cox said Sharia law treated women as second class citizens. 'A woman's evidence is counted as half the value of a man's.’ As an example of discrimination against women she cited a widow in her 50s who wanted to remarry. ‘She was required by an Imam to first obtain permission from her only male relative - a 7-yr-old grandson living in Jordan.’
Another concern is that so-called honour attacks could be given legitimation. 'I've spoken to many women who have been so badly abused in domestic violence they have been hospitalised,' said Lady Cox. 'But they have been pressured not to prosecute because it would bring shame on their community. There are people on the run living in terror in our nation today. We have to do something about it.'
Baroness Cox has drafted a Private Member's Bill that would outlaw Sharia court judgments that undermine the legal rights of women and others under British law. She intends to launch her Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill in the next session in parliament.
'I could not sit on the red benches and just keep silent about what was going on with the introduction of a parallel legal system. The time has come to draw a line in the sand,' she said.
And she warned that unless action was taken, support was likely to grow for far-right extremists in British politics. ‘My fear is that people will end up voting for the BNP,’ she said. ‘There is a real risk of polarisation in this country.’
While pressure is growing to introduce Sharia law in the UK, many Muslim countries had already amended Sharia law, said Bishop Michael, 'to take account of the injustices that occur.'
But the Bishop warned that radicalisation was spreading in many parts of the Muslim world. Along with that came pressure to introduce more extreme versions of Islamic law, including death for apostasy and blasphemy, floggings and amputations.
'If you had said to me in the mid 70s that such punishments would be meted out in Iran, and then in Pakistan I would not have believed it. Today, rights are being reversed in Iran, Pakistan and Sudan and I wonder how soon could this happen in Egypt?'
Bishop Michael feared the Arab Spring was more likely to encourage radical Islamist states, like Iran, than genuine democracy. 'The western press has been misled about the so-called Arab Spring,' he said. 'It is Islamist led. Tahrir Square in Cairo reminded me of Teheran in 1979 when a broad-based coalition wanted to remove the Shah. As soon as he was ousted, the Mullahs got rid of their allies.
'Democracy is never enough. What must happen in Egypt and other countries is the recognition of equality before the law if the Christian population is to be safeguarded. There must be a commitment to a common citizenship - one law for all.' And he said that pressure to bring Sharia law into the UK must be resisted. 'It would be a mistake to recognise Sharia law here because its very principles contradict the Judeo-Christian principles of public law in this country.’
Posted by Amanda Hopkins