A day in the life of a sharia council scholar (part 1)

Sharia Councils come in for a lot of stick, and from many quarters.

English lawyers dislike them because of fears they may be raining on their parade and taking away potential clients with their sacks of gold doubloons.

The band of ex-Muslims, far-right extremists and secularists despise religion anyway, but Islam has always been their favourite target. Together they sing the mantra of “the parallel legal system”, claiming that Muslims who run Sharia councils are secretly running a private legal system in opposition to English law. The mantra may be daft and boringly repetitive, but it gets plenty of traction and is often taken as gospel truth.

And then come the Muslim feminists-cum-activists. They have dedicated their lives to bemoaning the misogyny of the texts and the Muslim communities, and urging scholars to devise a new interpretation based on principles of maqasid, or istihsan, or social justice, or some other vague term. Interestingly, Imam Shafi’i, the father of Usul al Fiqh and arguably of Usul al Hadith, rejected these vague principles and laid down instead the true sources of Islamic law. Since he wrote Ar Risalah, it has become an accepted fact through the ages that the principle sources of Islamic Law are the Quran and Sunnah. Only when there is no text in these primary sources can the jurists turn to Qiyas or Ijtihad. And many of the issues faced by Muslims today are clearly mentioned in the primary sources so need to be understood from these first.

The target of the feminist-cum-activist ire tends to be Mosques and Sharia councils, often accusing them of being run by traditional, conservative men.

And that is the root of the problem. Feminists often dislike men. I have no time for such blind hatred. I have grown up in a world dominated by men: I have an incredibly God-fearing father, four fabulous and equally fun brothers, the husband of my dreams, and three gorgeous sons. I thank the Almighty Lord every day for His favours and generosity, and I feel no need to demonise an entire gender.

In fact, it was my father and his male colleagues that held meetings during the 1980s and came up with the idea of forming sharia councils to help assist Muslims living in a non-Muslim environment. Over the years they found that the majority of their clients were women looking for help with their marital problems. I would often listen to my father discussing developments at work with my mother, devising new procedures and processes to respond to the cases that came to them, always staying close to the principles of the Quran and Sunnah.

I have been working with the Islamic Sharia Council (UK and Eire) for almost ten years to date. Tired of the repeated attacks that seem to come in waves, I have decided to keep a regular blog of my work, with this episode serving as an introduction. The issues that our staff face on a daily basis generally revolve around family law: marriage, divorce, personal conflicts, forced marriage, Mahr disputes, adultery, illegitimacy, inheritance disputes, financial disputes and guardianship of women. English law permits people to take such disputes (but not criminal cases or child custody) to private mediation bodies, and the Jewish community have been taking their disputes to the Beth Din for a considerable period of time. Sharia councils are not criminal courts and nor do they impinge on the work of the English legal system.

Lawyers trained in the English legal system want Muslims to take all their disputes to them, yet they have no Islamic expertise to resolve these issues. Muslim feminists-cum-activists are also woefully ill-equipped to deal with these issues. Can you imagine going to a doctor who holds no degree in medicine yet expects patients to come to her for treatment?

From Ustadah Khola Hasan, Senior Sharia Court Judge & Senior Editor at ImamsOnline.com

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