Over 100 Muslim Women tell Shariah Inquiries why their voices must be Prioritised

1 November 2016


Over 100 Muslim Women tell Shariah Inquiries why their voices must be prioritised

Muslim Women's Network UK (MWNUK) has issued an open letter today on the Shariah Council inquiries.  In an unprecedented move, the letter has been signed by over 100 Muslim women from across the religious spectrum from 34 towns and cities and includes lawyers, health professionals, academics, community activists and others from a range of other professions as well as students and homemakers.

The letter is aimed at both the Government and also the Home Affairs Select Committee, which are both investigating the treatment of Muslim women by Shariah Councils.  The signatories urge them to prioritise the voices of Muslim women, as they must be at the forefront of informing the solutions that must work for them.

Shaista Gohir OBE, Chair of Muslim Women's Network UK, said: "Muslim women are fed up of being used as political football and being treated like children. Everyone wants to listen to Muslim women when highlighting their terrible experiences. However, when it comes to the solutions everyone thinks they know what is best for them."

Two thirds of the signatories know someone (e.g. family, friend or client) that have used a shariah divorce service, 25% have used one themselves and others want the option should they need it. Despite sometimes-traumatic experiences, most Muslim women do not want Shariah Councils to be shut down and instead want them to raise their standards. They also want the government to ensure there is accountability and strengthen civil law so Muslim women are less reliant on Shariah Councils for divorce, which would make most of them naturally redundant in the future anyway.  The full range of solutions has been listed in a comprehensive report produced by MWNUK: 'Information and Guidance on Muslim Marriage and Divorce in Britain.'

Solutions could include making civil marriage compulsory prior to a religious marriage as not all Muslim women are in legally recognised marriages. Then in most cases a civil divorce can then be recognised as an Islamic divorce and something that Shariah Councils should also accept too rather than put women through the trauma of another divorce process. Making a civil marriage compulsory could also reduce and eventually eliminate polygamy. The Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act in 2002 could be amended too so it includes Muslim women as it currently only applies to Jewish women. This would remedy the unbalanced bargaining power of the husband in some divorce cases where there is pressure to agree to unfair custodial and financial demands during the civil divorce in return for not contesting a religious divorce. The judge would be able to withhold finalising the civil divorce until the woman receives her religious divorce from the husband. 

Shaista Gohir OBE added: `'Anyone advocating for the immediate shutting down of Shariah Councils are using women's rights as a guise to further their anti faith agendas and do not represent the best interests of Muslim women. Abolishing Shariah Councils would result in Muslim women being trapped in abusive marriages and drive divorce services underground, leading to even less transparency and more discrimination." 



F.A.O - Government and the Home Affairs Select Committee

Muslim Women's Voices Must be Prioritised in Shariah Inquiries

We welcome both the Independent Government Review and the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry investigating Muslim women's experiences of Shariah Councils.  Muslim women (and those organisations that share their concerns while being mindful of the importance they place on faith), will finally have an opportunity to be heard.

When it comes to matters of faith, Muslim women should be speaking for themselves. However, it appears that the voices of these very women that the investigators should listen to are being marginalised.  On one hand, religious conservatives who claim that discrimination does not take place, (by pointing to the positive experiences of women), disregard why some are subjected to unfair practices during the Islamic divorce process. On the other hand, some activists regard all faith practices as discriminatory and also conflate misogyny and patriarchy with extremism.  This is unhelpful in the current political climate because this can fuel Islamophobia further; it is Muslim women who tend to be most at risk of racist and xenophobic attacks. The government has not helped matters by holding the review as a part of its counter-extremism strategy.  This review could have been held as a part of the government's obligations to women under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination (CEDAW). By accepting this international treaty the UK government is required to enshrine gender equality in its domestic legislation and policies anyway.  This must include all matters relating to marriage and divorce which means eliminating discriminatory aspects of family law regimes whether civil code, religious law or ethnic custom.

It seems that various parties, to further their own agendas, are using Muslim women as a political football. It is therefore essential that both investigations prioritise the voices of Muslim women and ensure that the diversity of Muslim women's voices is considered first and foremost. Panelists on both inquiries should also have the opportunity to conduct their investigations thoroughly before reaching conclusions and recommendations. We are dismayed that some activists are already branding the independent government review as a 'white wash' in support of Shariah Councils. Members of these inquiries are highly respected professionals such as a retired High court judge Sir Mark Hedley, Professor Mona Siddiqui, an expert in Islamic law and family law lawyers Ann Marie Hutchinson and Sam Momtaz.  The involvement of religious scholars Qari Asim and Syed Abbas Ali, who are regarded as progressive and only acting in an advisory capacity, has also been criticised.  Their insights are important given that the issues being considered involve faith.

Islam is neither rigid nor limited to narrow and conservative interpretations. Muslims who view Islam in that manner do not represent Islam in its entirety. Likewise, those secularists who view Islam in a reductionist manner will campaign to limit religion to the private domain and want it eliminated from all public discourse. However, our faith is not like a garment that can be cast aside as soon as we leave our home. To build a cohesive society, we must all move towards mutual understanding and respect. This includes acceptance by all sides that Islam can be compatible with secularism. Human rights do not only have to be discussed in secular terms, they can also be addressed within the framework of religion. Muslim feminists here and abroad have long been promoting enlightened interpretations of Islam that are compatible with democracy, human rights, freedom, and pluralism.

There are many provisions in Islam that allow women to obtain a religious divorce quickly, without duress and discrimination that Shariah councils should be practicing.  As these Islamic rulings are not being applied consistently and as there is uncertainty whether they will raise their standards, we urge the government to also provide alternative civil solutions so that Muslim women are not solely dependent on religious institutions for divorce. This could include making a civil marriage compulsory prior to a religious marriage because in most cases a civil divorce can be recognised as an Islamic divorce.  Simply abolishing Shariah Councils is not the answer; they are not the only agencies offering divorce services. Muslim women can also face discriminatory practices when accessing divorce services from mosques or individual scholars and imams. In fact, closing down Shariah Councils would drive divorce services underground, leading to even less transparency and more discrimination.

We are proud to be both British and Muslim and want our government and religious representatives (whether they are mosques, Shariah Councils or individual scholars) to take measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and divorce.

Signatories (Over 100 Muslim women e.g. 102)

Leading Signatory
Shaista Gohir OBE  - Chair of Muslim Women's Network UK (Birmingham)

Additional Signatories
Afaf Ugas - Midwife (London)
Aisha Ali Khan - Administrator (Bradford)
Aneeqa Malik - Chair of The WISE Initiative (London)
Anita Nayyar - Researcher and Activist (Peterborough)
Aysha Iqbal - Director (Birmingham)
Azmat Hussain - Self-Employed (Birmingham)
Chloe Fish - Professional Support Assistant (Wolverhampton)
Denise Ahmed - Midwife (London)
Dr. Fauzia Ahmad - Sociologist/Research Fellow (London)
Dr. Furzana Hameed - Dentist (Derby)
Dr. Hasina Thandar - Medical Doctor (London)
Dr. Iram Sattar - GP (London)
Dr. Nazia Shah - Principal Dentist (Birmingham)
Dr. Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor - Sociologist (Coventry)
Dr. Zareen Roohi Ahmed - Founder & CEO of Gift Wellness Ltd (Derby)
Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini - Academic Researcher (Cambridge)
F.A. Begg - Housewife (London)
Farah Amin - Sales Executive (Southampton)
Fatima Rahman - Stay at home mum / formerly Marketing Manager (London)
Firoza Mohmed - Service Manager, Humraaz (Blackburn)
Fozia Parveen - Optometrist and Editor of Fifteen 21 Muslim Youth Magazine (York)
Fozia Uddin - Partnerships Relations Manager (Bolton)
Hajra Khote - Ward Councillor (Leicester)
Halima Ali - Student (Bolton)
Heather Rugg - Senior Lecturer in Nursing (Bury St Edmunds)
Hina Nathalia - Local Government Officer (Leicester)
Iman Abou Atta - Director of Tell MAMA / Deputy Director of Faith Matters (London)
Ishrat Baig - Accounts Manager (Dewsbury)
Jusnara Choudhury - Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (Birmingham)
Khaleda Khan - Director (Birmingham)
Khudeja Bi - Integrative Counsellor (Birmingham)
Kiran Iqbal - Director (Birmingham)
Lavita Smith - Homemaker (Ipswich)
Mahiyat Chowdhury - Customer Service Advisor (Milton Keynes)
Maniza Ahmed - Diagnostic Radiographer (Birmingham)
Mariya Safdar - Customer Service Advisor (Bolton)
Maryam Batan - Finance Officer (Blackburn)
Mayjabeen Hussain - Police Link Worker (Blackburn)
Mediah Ahmed - Library Assistant (London)
Michele Kately - Medical Secretary (Ipswich)
Muneera Ali - Administrator (Ipswich)
Mussurut Zia - Charity Trustee/ Lecturer (Blackburn)
Nadia Bukhari - Pharmacist (London)
Nadia Ilyas - Project Manager in NHS (Birmingham)
Nafisa Khanum - Chemical Engineer Graduate (Birmingham)
Nargis Osman - Community Worker (Birmingham)
Nayyar Janjua - Chair of Al Fajr Trust (Birmingham)
Nazia Rashid - Family Law Solicitor (London)
Nazmin Akthar - Lawyer (Oxford)
Neelam Rose - Campaigner (Birmingham)
Neghat Khan - Councillor (Nottingham)
Noorjehan Patel - Advocacy Advisor (Preston)
Nusrat Zamir - Community Worker (London)
Osma Khan - Teaching Assistant (Northampton)
Parveen Awan - Carers Advisor (Blackburn)
Rahana Khanum - Teacher (Halifax)
Razia Hadait - Managing Director (Birmingham)
Robina Iqbal - Manager at Community Centre (Birmingham)
Ruksana Mahmood - Volunteer at numerous organisations (Skipton)
S Amri - Part-time worker (London)
Sadia Munshi - Customer Service Advisor (Bolton)
Sairish Mahmood - Trainee Biomedical Scientist (Birmingham)
Saleha Islam - Director (London)
Sameena Jahangir - Midday Supervisor (Skipton)
Sameera Waheed - Company Director/ Project Manager (London)
Samina Akbar - Loss Adjuster (Birmingham)
Samina Araf - Carer (Birmingham)
Samya Tahir - Community Worker (London)
Shabana Issop - Solicitor (Blackburn)
Shabnam Patel - Social Worker (Bolton)
Shafqat Ajab - Outreach Worker (Manchester)
Shahda Khan MBE - Vice Chair CEDAW North East & N.E Women's Network (Teesside)
Shahida Rahman - Author and Publisher (Cambridge)
Shahin Ashraf MBE - Chaplain (Birmingham)
Shamila Majid - Child Sexual Exploitation Specialist Practitioner (Nottingham)
Shamiza Zia - Solicitor (Nottingham)
Shazia Bashir - Community Activist (Peterborough)
Shazia Khan - Executive Director of Nottingham Muslim Women's Network (Nottingham)
Shumana Begum - Student (Bolton)
Sirwar Hussain - Carers Support Worker (Rotherham)
Snouber Sharif - Project Coordinator (Birmingham)
Sofia Rashid - Homemaker and former Project Manager (Bristol)
Sofina Razaq - Housewife (Bedford)
Solma Ahmed - Retired Civil Servant (Colchester)
Sufia Alam - Maryam Centre Manager (London)
Sufiya Ahmed - Author of Secrets of the Henna Girl (London)
Sumayya Lee - Author (London)
Sumeya Patel - Teacher (Leicester)
Suniya Qureshi - Trustee of a charity (London)
Tamsila Tauqir MBE - Trustee of Inclusive Mosque Initiative (London)
Taslim Hussain - Youth Engagement Worker (Newport)
Tiffany Joseph - Personal Trainer (Birmingham)
Yasmin Ahmed - Beauty Therapist (Bradford)
Yasmin Ishaq - Manager at Islam Rotherham (Rotherham)
Yasmin Javed - Secretary of the Behno Group (Leeds)
Yasmin Khan - Director of Halo Project Charity (Middlesborough)
Yesmien Bagh Ali - Company Director of Amaali (Skipton)
Zaheera Nanabawa - Project Manager (Gloucester)
Zaynah Plummer-Josephs - Counsellor (Birmingham)
Zlakha Ahmed MBE - Chief Executive of Apna Haq (Rotherham)
Zohura Akthar - University student (Newcastle upon Tyne)

Further Signatories (after launch of letter) (13 signatures)
Akeela Ahmed - Social Entrepreneur (London)
Alia Waheed - Journalist (London)
Aqida Abbasi - Justice of Peace and Retired (Essex)
Iqra Malik - Full-time Carer (London)
Farida Saleem - Homemaker (London)
Nafeesa Chishti - Data Analyst (Rochdale)
Nazia Rasul - Property (London)
Nazia Mirza - Policy & Engagement Manager (London)
Rahela Hussain - Office Manager (Birmingham)
Rida Shaikh - Project Manager (Birmingham)
Saima Ahmed - Business Owner (London)
Saima Ahmed - Executive Producer (London)
Umrana Saleem - Finance (Buckinghamshire)

Please email contact@mwnuk.co.uk if you want to add your name to the letter with your
Name, profession (if applicable) and town / city

For further information contact:

Shaista Gohir OBE (Chair of MWNUK)
0121 236 9000 / 07802 225989 / contact@mwnuk.co.uk / contact@shaistagohir.com

Faeeza Vaid (ED of MWNUK)
0121 236 9000 / 07535 703567 / contact@mwnuk.co.uk / faeeza@mwnuk.co.uk

Muslim Women's Network UK (www.mwnuk.co.uk) is the national leading Muslim women's charity working to improve the social justice and equality for Muslim women and girls.


Help us to improve social justice and equality for women and girls

Our Supporters

Our Current Funders


To view our all current and previous funders click here.