27 December 2008

Sharia divorces should be recognised by courts and the Government, according to one of the country's most senior legal figures

Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former head of the Family Division, called for judges to stop granting civil divorces to separating Muslim couples unless they had already been through a religious divorce.

She claimed the move would end the "injustice" of women being left unable to remarry if their husband refused to grant them a divorce, because under Islam only men have the power to end marriages. [telegraph.co.uk] Read more

19 December 2008

U.N. assembly again votes against defaming religion

The U.N. General Assembly condemned defamation of religion for the fourth year running on Thursday, ignoring critics who said the resolution threatens freedom of speech.

The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by 86 votes to 53 with 42 abstentions. Opponents noted that support had fallen since last year, when the vote was 108-51 with 25 abstentions.

The seven-page text urges states to provide "adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general."

.... The resolution only specifically mentions Islam. It deplores ethnic and religious profiling of Muslims since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and says Islam is often and wrongly associated with terrorism. [Reuters.com] Read more

18 December 2008

Prestigious journal investigates the spread of Islamic creationism

.... “the next major battle over evolution is likely to take place in the Muslim world… Relatively poor education standards, in combination with frequent misinformation about evolutionary ideas, make the Muslim world a fertile ground for rejection of the theory”.

The article also throws up some shocking statistics. Out of six countries examined, five of them have populations where 50% of people reject evolution theory outright, and that’s not including those who believe that the theory is ‘probably untrue’.

In Kazakhstan only around 28% of the population reject evolution, which is considerably less then in the United States (where 40% of the populace do not believe in evolution theory).[Counterknowledge.com] Read more

10 December 2008

Self-appointed religious “authorities” awarding themselves court-like powers

In some cases they are using the Arbitration Act and other legal devices to enforce their decisions with the full weight of English law. .... It gets worse. Someone very senior in this area, Sheik Suhaib Hassan, who is general secretary of a London-based organisation called the Islamic Sharia Council, told a television team: "Sharia is knocking on the door of Britain. ...If Sharia law is implemented, we can turn this country into a haven of peace, because if a thief's hand is cut off, nobody steals. If once -- just once – an adulterer is stoned, no one would commit this crime," he said. British society, he added, should acknowledge this system. "If they don't accept it, they'll need more and more prisons."

To me, both the Government and the judicial authorities appear to be sitting on their hands and letting the justice system slowly disintegrate. But some at least have got the message and we need to start the fight back. I am indebted to Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar and a practising Muslim, for saying, with admirable directness, "What Lord Phillips and the archbishop are discussing is something that is completely outside their area of understanding." ... “Allowing Sharia in parts of the UK would be divisive. ... "This would create a two-tier society. It is highly retrograde. It will segregate and alienate the Muslim community from the rest of British society. [National Secular Society] Read more

Launch of One Law for All - Campaign against Sharia law in Britain

The campaign calls on the UK government to recognise that Sharia law is arbitrary and discriminatory and for an end to Sharia courts and all religious tribunals on the basis that they work against and not for equality and human rights. The campaign also calls for the law to be amended so that all religious tribunals are banned from operating within and outside of the legal system.

In the words of the Campaign Declaration: “Rights, justice, inclusion, equality and respect are for people, not beliefs. In a civil society, people must have full citizenship rights and equality under the law. Clearly, Sharia law contravenes fundamental human rights. In order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all those living in Britain, there must be one secular law for all and no Sharia.” [National Secular Society] Read more

Teachers 'beat and abuse' Muslim children in British Koran classes

Muslim children are being beaten and abused regularly by teachers at some British madrassas - Islamic evening classes - an investigation by The Times has found.

Students have been slapped, punched and had their ears twisted, according to an unpublished report by an imam based on interviews with victims in the north of England. One was “picked up by one leg and spun around” while another said a madrassa teacher was “kicking in my head - like a football”, says the report which was compiled by Irfan Chishti, a former government adviser on Islamic affairs.

Almost 1,600 madrassas operate in Britain, teaching Arabic and the Koran on weekday evenings to about 200,000 children aged from four to their mid-teens. [Times Online] Read more

09 December 2008

Saudi judge condemns 'immoral TV'

The most senior judge in Saudi Arabia has said it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV channels which broadcast immoral programmes.

Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan said some "evil" entertainment programmes aired by the channels promoted debauchery. Dozens of satellite television channels broadcast across the Middle East, where they are watched by millions of Arabs every day. He was speaking in response to a listener who asked his opinion on the airing of programmes featuring scantily-dressed women during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"There is no doubt that these programmes are a great evil, and the owners of these channels are as guilty as those who watch them," said the sheikh. "It is legitimate to kill those who call for corruption if their evil can not be stopped by other penalties.” [BBC] Read more

05 December 2008

Some Imams 'biased against women': Many women felt they did not get a fair hearing under Sharia law

A Muslim think tank has found some UK Imams discriminate against women when enforcing Islamic Sharia law. Scholars at the Centre for Islamic Pluralism (CIP) interviewed 90 Muslims in London, the West Midlands, Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

They found some women did not get fair hearings in forced marriage, arranged marriage and domestic violence matters. It comes after an NHS doctor was freed in Bangladesh following claims she was being held there for a forced marriage. [BBC] Read more

04 December 2008

As Europeans adapt to a more diverse citizenry, they must avoid any kind of cultural, religious, or racial determinism

The growing Muslim presence in Europe has become a central issue for all European countries, east and west. The numerous debates that have been breaking out across the continent about "multiculturalism," "secularity", or even "identity" are almost always connected to this "Islamic" factor.This link is not necessarily bigoted, because there is a fundamental relationship between "values" and "laws" on the one hand, and "culture" and "diversity" on the other.

Indeed, more than a debate over "Islam" and the "Muslims", Europe needs a serious dialogue with itself over this relationship, for it is facing a crisis.The right question to ask is this: can Europe remain consistent with its own values (democracy, equality, justice, respect, etc) and at the same time tolerate and accommodate new citizens from different backgrounds and religions? Or, to put it differently, are Europeans intellectually, linguistically, and culturally equipped to face the challenge of marrying equality with an ever more diverse European citizenry? [Guardian CiF] Read more

26 November 2008

Resisting the censors

The right to free speech includes the right to argue and offend. You'd think this would be self-evident, yet it requires defending, here in Canada and internationally.

Professor Richard Moon, a constitutional expert, recently prepared a report for the Canadian Human Rights Commission about regulating hate speech on the Internet. Mr. Moon sensibly recommends the commission get out of the business of regulating what Canadians write and say.

"The use of censorship by the government should be confined to a narrow category of extreme expression -- that which threatens, advocates or justifies violence against the members of an identifiable group, even if the violence that is supported or threatened is not imminent," writes Mr. Moon. [canada.com] Read more

25 November 2008

Global Blasphemy Law

Who else but Saudi Arabia? A country which is politely regarded as an “exceptional case” when it comes to abuses of religious freedom. A country which refuses to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Religious Freedom Act.

Saudi Arabia is a nation where public acts of faith by Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’i and the Ahmadiyya would be illegal and even private acts are constricted. Saudi authorities stamp out Islamic practices they consider are outside of an interpretation of Islam their clerics have deemed orthodox (Wahhabi). [Pickled Politics] Read more

20 November 2008

Don’t defend religion by silencing free speech

A draft resolution that was passed Monday by a committee of the United Nations General Assembly threatens to silence criticism of religion. The resolution, circulated by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, representing more than 50 Muslim nations, is perversely being advanced under the guise of protecting human rights.

In its current form, the resolution would declare defamation of religion to be a violation of international law. The resolution’s drafters hope to circumvent national constitutional protections for freedom of speech, including the United States’ own First Amendment, by superseding international law. If the resolution is ultimately adopted, the effort to ban speech defamatory of religion will be a centerpiece of an upcoming U.N. conference against racism, the so-called Durban II meeting, to be held in Geneva next spring. [JTA] Read more

31 October 2008

Jack Straw makes clear Sharia principles subject to English law

Jack Straw last night made clear that Sharia principles will always be subject to English law. Sharia principles could be used to resolve family and other personal disputes but no English court would endorse any agreement which conflicted with English law.

Mr Straw, the justice secretary, said in a speech in London: “I am firm in disagreeing with those who say that Sharia law should be made a separate system in the UK.” [Times Online] Read more

17 October 2008

Death for apostasy?

Although the Council of Ex-Muslims and AC Grayling depict the threat to life and limb as an indisputable fact, in reality there are differences of opinion among Muslim scholars (ostensibly the hard core of the religion) regarding the death penalty for apostates.

This is not to say that Muslim governments – and Arab ones in particular – have a tolerant view of apostasy but the death threat is invoked only rarely and more for political reasons rather than religion ones: to set an example or to save face as a proxy punishment for challenging the social or political status quo.

While this is in no way acceptable, it is an extension of the general lack of enshrined civic human rights and evolved political institutions and processes – a historical, social and geo-political reality in many Muslim countries that makes a mockery of any comparison to the experience of those renouncing Christianity or Judaism. [Guardian CiF] Read more

10 October 2008

Canada's Maclean's magazine wins hate speech case

A rights tribunal on Friday dismissed a case against Canada's Maclean's magazine, which was accused of spreading hatred against Muslims in an article by conservative writer Mark Steyn. The 2006 article "The New Word Order" may have caused some to fear Muslims as a threat to western society, but that did not mean that it promoted religious hatred, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal ruled.

"The article, with all of its inaccuracies and hyperbole, has resulted in political debate which in our view (the human rights code) was never intended to suppress," the three-member panel ruled.

Media and civil rights groups had opposed the complaint against Maclean's by the Canadian Islamic Congress, fearing that a ruling against the national newsweekly would lead to restrictions on freedom of the press. [Reuters.com] Read more

14 September 2008

UK’s first official sharia courts

The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence. Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court.

Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims. It has now emerged that sharia courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, whose Muslim Arbitration Tribunal runs the courts, said he had taken advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996. Under the act, the sharia courts are classified as arbitration tribunals. The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case. [Times Online] Read more

Criminal sharia judgments

Now we learn that sharia judges have awarded inheritance to male heirs in a proportion double to that of female heirs.

More surprisingly, it seems that sharia courts are giving judgment in criminal cases. In six cases of domestic violence, according to Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, judges ordered the husbands to take anger management classes and mentoring from community elders. There was no further punishment. [telegraph.co.uk] Read more

31 August 2008

Preachers of separatism at work inside Britain's mosques

What should be done to a Muslim who converts to another faith? "We kill him," she says, "kill him, kill, kill…You have to kill him, you understand?"

Adulterers, she says, are to be stoned to death - and as for homosexuals, and women who "make themselves like a man, a woman like a man ... the punishment is kill, kill them, throw them from the highest place".

These punishments, the preacher says, are to be implemented in a future Islamic state. "This is not to tell you to start killing people," she continues. "There must be a Muslim leader, when the Muslim army becomes stronger, when Islam has grown enough."

These are teachings I never expected to hear inside Regent's Park Mosque, which is supposedly committed to interfaith dialogue and moderation, and was set up more than 60 years ago, to represent British Muslims to the Government. [telegraph.co.uk] Read more

14 August 2008

We need to stop being such cowards about Islam

This is a column condemning cowardice – including my own. It begins with the story of a novel you cannot read. The Jewel of Medina was written by a journalist called Sherry Jones. It recounts the life of Aisha, a girl who was married off at the age of six to a 50-year-old man called Mohamed ibn Abdallah.

You cannot read this story today – except in the Koran and the Hadith. The man Mohamed ibn Abdallah became known to Muslims as "the Prophet Mohamed", so our ability to explore this story is stunted. The Jewel of Medina was bought by Random House and primed to be a best-seller – before a University of Texas teacher saw proofs and declared it "a national security issue". Random House had visions of a re-run of the Rushdie or the Danish cartoons affairs. Sherry Jones's publisher has pulped the book. It's gone.

In Europe, we are finally abolishing the lingering blasphemy laws that hinder criticism of Christianity. But they are being succeeded by a new blasphemy law preventing criticism of Islam – enforced not by the state, but by jihadis. I seriously considered not writing this column, but the right to criticise religion is as precious – and hard-won – as the right to criticise government. We have to use it or lose it. [independent.co.uk] Read more

31 July 2008

Social cohesion – excluding Muslims

Several UK newspapers on Sunday and Monday published alarmist stories based upon a new report entitled Islam on Campus by the Centre for Social Cohesion and a YouGov poll also commissioned by the CfSC. The website of the CfSC explains its purpose as trying to generate: "new thinking that can help bring Britain's ethnic and religious communities closer together while strengthening British traditions of openness, tolerance and democracy."

The headlines included "A third of Muslim students back killings (Sunday Times), One third of British Muslim students say it's acceptable to kill for Islam" (London Evening Standard) and "Killing for religion is justified, say third of Muslim students" (Sunday Telegraph). Clear enough? [Guardian CiF] Read more

‘Divisive’ study on Muslim attitudes comes under fire

A THINK-TANK ACCUSED OF promoting Islamophobia has clashed with the leaders of Scotland's Muslim student associations over claims that a majority of their members believe murdering in the name of religion is justified.

A new study by the controversial Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), which is to be released tomorrow, says that 60% of students in Muslim associations who were questioned believed religious killings were acceptable.

In findings which appear to damn Muslim organisations as potential hotbeds of extremism, the report points out that among all Muslim students, including those not members of Islamic associations, only 32% claim killing to protect religion is acceptable. Support for the introduction of sharia law into British law for Muslims was also stronger with active Muslim student association members than with non-members. [Sunday Herald] Read more

24 July 2008

In death's shadow

With some exceptions, an increasingly hard line across the Muslim world. In the West, many prominent Muslims would agree with the mufti’s scripturally-based view that leaving Islam is a matter between the believer and God, not for the state.

But awkwardly, the main traditions of scholarship and jurisprudence in Islam—both the Shia school and the four main Sunni ones—draw on Hadiths (words and deeds ascribed with varying credibility to Muhammad) to argue in support of death for apostates. And in recent years sentiment in the Muslim world has been hardening. In every big “apostasy” case, the authorities have faced pressure from sections of public opinion, and from Islamist factions, to take the toughest possible stance. [Economist.com] Read more

18 July 2008

Government funds Muslim thinkers

The British government is to fund a board of Islamic theologians in an attempt to sideline violent extremists. The move will see Oxford and Cambridge Universities host a group of scholars who will lead debate on key issues such as women and loyalty to the UK.

The plans have angered some hardline activists who accuse ministers of trying to create state-sponsored Islam. But Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said it was government's job to support Muslim leaders on controversial issues.

Under the plans, the two universities will bring together about 20 leading thinkers, yet to be named, to debate critical issues affecting Muslims in the UK. The Department for Communities is responsible for the government's strategy to combat violent extremism, known as "Prevent". [BBC] Read more

06 July 2008

Tolerate sharia, yes, but never respect it

.... He must have known, from the experiences of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that no matter what he said, his speech would be inflammatory; as Usama Hasan, an imam and an adviser to the Islamic Sharia Council here said at the time, it is very difficult to have a sensible discussion about sharia here because the subject is “like a red rag” to the public mind.

So, if such an important Establishment figure as Phillips takes it upon himself to stir up this nest of hornets, he must surely have something extremely important to say or to recommend. Yet – and this is the mystery – he appeared to be saying nothing new at all.

The headlines following his speech sounded predictably alarming: “British Muslims should be allowed to live by sharia law”, “Law chief backs the use of sharia law to solve disputes in UK”, “Sharia law could have UK role” and so on. No one quite said “sharia to be let in through back door shock”, but that was the general impression. [Times Online]Read more

04 July 2008

There's a place for sharia

Back in February, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, got into hot water when in a Radio 4 interview he suggested that the adoption of certain aspects of sharia law in the UK 'seems unavoidable'.

Most commentators did not seem to have bothered to read Williams' actual speech which drew parallels between the already existing and well-established network of Orthodox Jewish beth din courts and the more recent sharia councils that have been set up mainly to deal with matrimonial disputes and other civil matters amongst British Muslims. [Guardian Cif] Read more

See what Guardian Cif readers think of this post here.

Sharia law 'could have UK role'

Lord Phillips, the most senior judge in England and Wales, said there was no reason sharia law's principles could not be used in mediation. However, he said this would still be subject to the "jurisdiction of the English and Welsh courts".

In a speech at the East London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel, Lord Phillips said that sharia suffered from "widespread misunderstanding". Lord Phillips said: "There is no reason why sharia principles, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. "It must be recognised, however, that any sanctions for a failure to comply with the agreed terms of mediation would be drawn from the laws of England and Wales." [BBC] Read more

30 June 2008

Religions should not be allowed to make ghettos: Some ardent Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims wish to demolish our secularism

.... As usual, subtle warnings run through this report. Apologist Muslim organisations use blackmail. Give them what they want or many more Muslims will become domestic hellhounds. If the state does not agree to fund further educational institutions of cultural, religious and gender apartheid, Muslim girls will be "disappeared", forced into marriages. From segregated schools, which, says Odone, are "crucial to traditional Muslim families", they will one day go into higher education.

This stream of irrational consciousness leads to separate universities and colleges, for how can Muslim women be in the same lecture hall, tutorial group, common room, dining room with other Britons and men? Is Ms Odone going to recommend that too, next?

Go into any British university and you see huddles of manifestly Muslim men and women sitting apart from others, including Muslims who refuse to cover up or live separate lives. You never saw this before because, until a decade back, there wasn't this distorted Islamicisation of Muslim life. [independent.co.uk] Read more

22 June 2008

Freedom of Expression and Political Islam

Freedom of expression matters. It is not a luxury, a western value and it’s certainly not up for sale (though obviously governments and the UN mistakenly think it to be so). Sometimes - actually more often than not - it is all we have.

But like many other rights and freedoms, it becomes most significant and finds real meaning when it comes to criticising that which is taboo, forbidden, sacred.

I think this criticism has always been an important vehicle for progress and the betterment of humanity’s lot in centuries past. This is also true today in the 21st century and particularly with regard to Islam. [Maryam Namazie] Read more

Easily Astonished

Last year, I wrote a short post titled It’s Okay to Dislike Islam. In it, I argued: One of the creeping, unanalysed myths of our time is that it is somehow wrong to dislike Islam, or any part thereof, and wrong to take a dim view of its tenets and demands, and wrong to take a still dimmer view of the figure who founded it.

I can practically hear the distant tutting and grunts of disapproval. Poor Islam. Poor Muslims. Their beliefs are being mocked. How hurtful. How “racist”. How terribly unfair. [David Thompson] Read more

14 June 2008

Indonesia backs sharia law, poll shows

Asked if women should be made to wear a head scarf 45 per cent said yes, while 40 per cent favoured chopping off the hands of thieves. A lot of people think the idea is very good, but when you start talking of every day implications, the number dropped," said Ira Soekirman of Roy Morgan Research, an Australian company which conducted the survey. Indonesia has traditionally practised a tolerant brand of Islam, although there are some trying to pull the country in a more conservative direction. [telegraph.co.uk] Read more

07 June 2008

A champion of secular Islam looks to harness 'heresy'

It was billed as the first-ever "Muslim Heretics Conference." Provocative? To be sure. But when Sudanese-American scholar Abdullahi An-Naim organized it in Atlanta this April, what he really wanted to do was ignite some innovative thinking – brainstorm the predicament of traditional Islam in the modern world. "I deliberately wanted to shock people into seeing `heresy' as a creative force," he laughs.

Naim may describe himself as a Muslim heretic (his conservative critics certainly do), but his peers in academia prefer the rather more admiring designation of public intellectual. Either way, the Emory University law professor has become famous throughout the Muslim world for championing the concept of secular Islam. The case he makes for it is simple but, given the political tenor of the times, paradigm-changing. To wit: Human rights are universal and trump religious dictates. The state must be secular because neutrality protects all religions. Faith belongs in the private, not the public, domain. [TheStar.com] Read more

08 May 2008

Malaysian woman can leave Islam

A religious court in Malaysia has allowed a Muslim convert to leave the Islamic faith, in what is being hailed as a landmark ruling. Penang's Sharia court ruled that Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah was free to return to Buddhism, following the collapse of her marriage to a Muslim man. It was decided she had not had proper counselling during her conversion.

Malaysians are rarely allowed to renounce the faith - those who do can be prosecuted under stringent laws. Religious rights are a sensitive issue in Malaysia - which is 60% Muslim. The country has large Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities - mainly drawn from the ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities. [BBC] Read more

11 January 2008

Hello world