An Islamic academic has cited British laws that “pressurise” Jewish men to grant their wives a religious divorce in a parliamentary submission on Sharia courts.
Dr Amin Al-Astewani, a Law lecturer at Lancaster University, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the English legal system gives “exceptional avenues” for Shariah Councils to accrue legal force, citing those that benefit Jewish women.
It comes as campaigners warn that disbanding Sharia Councils could leave thousands of Muslim women trapped in abusive marriages, as the influential parliamentary committee looks into the Councils’ practices.
Although the decisions of Sharia Councils have no legal power in the UK, English judges can treat an Islamic decree of divorce issued by a Shariah Council as having legal effect for the purposes of contract law.
Al-Astewani cited the Arbitration Act 1996, which allows Jewish couples to refer their divorce dispute to a private arbitrator, whose decision is enforced in the civil courts.
She also suggested the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002 as an alternative avenue for Muslim women, because this is used by the London Beth Din.
“This Act allows a court to order that a decree nisi cannot become absolute until both parties dissolve the marriage according to ‘the usages of the Jews’ or ‘any other prescribed religious usages,’” she wrote.
“The London Beth Din has stated that section 10A has reduced the number of Jewish women in limping marriages, by pressurising Jewish husbands to approach the Beth Din and agree to give their wives a divorce before the decree absolute is issued.”
Muslim women could apply under the term “other prescribed religious usages,” she said, but they must first apply to the government for such an extension to be officially granted. No such application has of yet been made by the Muslim community.