Victimizing Women: Islamic Laws vs. Multiculturalism
In a recent landmark ruling, India's Supreme Court followed the lead of 22 Muslim countries -- including Pakistan and Bangladesh -- by outlawing the Islamic practice according to which a husband is able to divorce his wife instantly by uttering the word talaq (Arabic for "divorce") three times -- including by text or voice mail. The decision was not unanimous. A minority of the judges argued that banning "triple talaq" would be a violation of the Indian constitution, which protects religious freedom.
The majority of the judges nevertheless determined that "triple talaq" was actually "against the basic tenets of the Holy Quran," and "what is bad in theology is bad in law as well." According to the decision, the practice was in violation of Article 14 of India's constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.
The verdict was the result of a petition filed by five Muslim women whose "triple talaq" divorces left them destitute, all because of undue powers bestowed upon their husbands by radical clerics. The verdict was an enormous relief to them, and other women like them across India. Its broader message, however, needs to serve as a road map. And a warning. In the West, the supposed dangers of multiculturalism are still regarded as more important than human rights.
In Britain, abusive practices against Muslim women are still undertaken by Sharia Councils with impunity. These practices include "triple talaq," halala (a ritual enabling a divorced Muslim woman to remarry her husband only by first wedding someone else, consummating the union, and then being divorced by him) and iddah, a mandatory waiting period of three menstrual cycles before a divorced woman is allowed to remarry.
These Sharia Councils in the U.K. have been running unofficial parallel justice systems "everywhere in the country," performing weddings and decreeing divorces according to the strictest interpretation of Islam.
In spite a liberal marriage contract issued in 2008 by the Muslim Institute, guaranteeing equal rights to British Muslim women (including the banning of forced marriages) -- which was endorsed by the Muslim Council of Britain, the Islamic Sharia Council and other prominent Islamic groups -- virtually nothing has changed. Britain's Forced Marriage Unit reported 1,428 cases of forced marriages in 2016 alone. All Britain would need to do is enforce its own laws.
The U.K. is not the only Western country afflicted by and succumbing to such practices. In Australia, for instance, a self-appointed arbitration group called Sharia Mediation has been handling family disputes on issues covered by Australian law. In other words, as in Britain, Australia has a parallel Islamic legal system operating under its nose.
In the United States, as well, a body was established in 2015 in Dallas, Texas to arbitrate disputes among the area's growing Muslim population. Although this Islamic "tribunal" is said to issue nonbinding decisions -- and is being likened to Jewish rabbinical courts and Catholic tribunals -- its opponents fear it will mimic Sharia courts in the Middle Eastern countries.
In Canada, the practice has been going on for more than a decade. In 2004, the province of Ontario authorized the use of Sharia arbitration in matters of "property, marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance." The law enabling this -- the Arbitration Act -- was passed in 1991, to ease the "overloaded court system."
What supporters of this form of multiculturalism fail to realize -- or refuse to acknowledge -- is that the very existence of Sharia-compliant tribunals is not only a threat to modern justice, but necessarily abets the abuse of Muslim women, lack of equality, and the total lack of equal justice under law.
It is crucial for Western democracies to outlaw archaic practices that rob women and others of their rights, and to cease enabling these laws in the name of "religious freedom." In truth, justice is denied. India just took a stand in the right direction. Britain, Australia, the U.S. and Canada can and should follow.