The majority of cases brought before Sharia councils in the UK relate to family issues, including divorce and relationship mediation. A Sharia council can grant divorces — but under Islamic law — it remains almost impossible for women to seek a divorce.
The existence of Sharia courts, or councils, has been met with controversy in the UK due to the wide-ranging interpretations of Sharia that are associated with countries and regimes operating harsh penalties for acts of adultery and the prohibition of divorce.
Until recently, Sharia law was not recognized as a valid rule of law in the UK. However, the Arbitration Act 1996 has allowed it some legitimacy, by officially recognizing its principles.
Sharia Law is allowed to operate in England & Wales because of the Arbitration Act 1996. https://t.co/Kc0gsiChL9— Darwinian (FCD) (@Gr8Darwinians) December 5, 2015
Under the Arbitration Act 1996, Sharia law is now deemed a valid form for arbitration for Muslim civil cases in the UK. Yet Sharia law does not offer the same levels of civil rights protection as UK law. This disproportionately affects Muslim women suffering domestic violence and marriage breakdowns.
According to the UK government's counter-extremism strategy, women involved in the Sharia law system were unaware of their rights to leave violent partners under British law and instead were forced to attend mediation sessions.
In response, the Home Office has admitted that it has "inadequate understanding" of the issues involved in Sharia law.
"I am very aware that there is concern about how Sharia courts are operating in some circumstances in the UK. That is why we will be doing a review," Theresa May told the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Every day in the UK, Sharia courts subjugate women & reinforce an oppressive patriarchy. Will you ever discuss this? @EverydaySexism— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) December 15, 2015
The Home Secretary has ordered an independent inquiry into Sharia courts at the beginning of 2016 to tackle concerns that they operate a parallel justice system that discriminates against women in the UK.
The home secretary told MPs that there should be just one rule of law in the UK, set by parliament. A review by the home office states: "We will never countenance allowing an alternative, informal system, informed by religious principles, to operate in competition with it."
Theresa May lied when she said she would shut down Sharia Courts in the UK. Still open and still oppressing women. pic.twitter.com/fZdLvmsBA7— Anti Jihadi Frog (@Bad_Sweary_Frog) December 7, 2015
The University of Reading has identified 30 operational Sharia councils attached to a mosque in the UK.