The review into Sharia councils announced last week by home secretary Theresa May is long overdue.
Among other organisations, the Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) has helped several women who have been subjected to gruelling hearings where they are sometimes told to reconcile with their husbands despite suffering violent abuse.
Some of the women have been left by their partners who have gone on to re-marry. So the women are left fighting to get a divorce because the system favours men.
Couples should be encouraged to register their marriage, which is enshrined in British law, as well as having a religious nikah ceremony to provide protection to women, should they seek a divorce further down the line. This would also enable them to access rights to property and other assets should anything untoward happen to their spouse.
The review will examine whether decisions taken by Sharia councils discriminate against women.
A study carried out by MWNUK features several case studies which reveal that this, indeed, takes place on a regular basis.
The challenge for the panel will be to get accounts from those who have been unfairly treated under the Sharia system – assuring them that their evidence and experiences will be taken seriously while being sensitive to the community’s traditions.
The panel will return with a set of recommendations following the investigation. It is the hope that it will prompt a robust debate about wheth- er Sharia councils can co exist within the mainstream legal system in modern day Britain.