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Rally against religious courts


On 7 March, the eve of International Women’s Day, around 600 people joined a rally, march and public meeting in London to demand an end to religious courts in Britain.

Speakers at the rally in Trafalgar Square expressed astonishment that this advanced country appeases the political Islamic movement by acknowledging the right of Sharia law courts to exist.

The speakers included the philosopher A C Grayling, who said “Once you start fragmenting society, once you start allowing different groups in society to apply different standards, you get very profound injustices and it is almost always women who suffer these injustices. We have to fight hard to keep one law for everybody”. The Iranian Secular Society was represented by Fariborz Pooya, who said “the introduction of Sharia is a betrayal of thousands of women and children and leaves them at the mercy of Islamist groups”.

Rally in Trafalgar Square
Speakers at the Trafalgar Square rally on 7 March against religious tribunals
Photo: Workers

After the rally, people marched to Conway Hall for a meeting entitled “Sharia law, sexual apartheid and women’s rights”, where speakers warned against the dangerous thinking which has permitted religious courts to grow up here. From the platform, Kenan Malik pointed out that the Muslim Council of Britain had been afforded a privileged position by government to speak “on behalf of the Muslim community”, yet polls show that only 3 per cent of British Muslims see it as representing their views. In fact there is no such thing as one “Muslim community” he said, but many differing views and lifestyles. He said that it is precisely because we have a plural society that we need one law for everyone, “ because if every group is allowed to have its own laws and its own beliefs and its own lifestyle, what you have is an apartheid system. We might not call it apartheid, we might call it multiculturalism but that’s just a fancy name for it.”

Malik warned that this is not just a problem of religion. Secularists have promoted the idea that in a plural world we need multiculturalism, in effect separation and fragmentation. This has had the effect of squeezing secularism among British Asians, which at one time was a strong radical movement in this country.

Another speaker talked about how the Sharia tribunals work. Although their decisions are not legally binding in Britain, women often feel intimidated into accepting their rulings in family and inheritance disputes – this is true also for Orthodox Jewish family courts. One woman talked about how the Sharia court told her that the Koran says the man owns the woman, so she should go back to her violent husband.

7 March was seen as a warning . As Mariam Namazie said, “we should not stand idly by whilst the British government relegates a huge segment of our society to sham courts and regressive rules and appeases the Islamists here or elsewhere”.