Britain seems to be headed in the wrong directions on human rights, specifically women's rights. Although there is a constitution in the realm that sees men and women as fundamentally equal, there is "sharia creep," meaning that women who are taken to Sharia courts will be denied the justice inherent in that constitution.
There are as many as 85 sharia courts operating in Britain, according to a new report. Academic Denis MacEoin, the report's author, said the existence of the courts practising Islamic law could lead to different legal standards being applied to Muslim and non-Muslim citizens.
He said many of the courts operate out of mosques and their rulings are closed off to non-Muslims.
In previous reports it was claimed there were only five sharia courts in the UK, working in London, Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham and Nuneaton. He said: "This is not a matter of eating halal meat or seeking God's blessing on one's marriage. It is a challenge to what we believe to be the rights and freedoms of the individual, to our concept of a legal system based on what parliament enacts, and to the right of all of us to live in a society as free as possible from ethnic-religious division or communal claims to superiority and a special status that puts them in some respects above the law to which we are all bound."
His report, published by the think-tank Civitas, includes a list of previous sharia judgements which he believes give an indication of the type of ruling being handed down by the courts working in the UK. Among the examples quoted are laws banning a Muslim woman from marrying a non-Muslim unless he converts to Islam and the removal of a wife's property rights in the event of divorce.
Now, do women choose their court, are are they forced into the Islamic court by the men in their lives? It would seem the latter, since they have fewer rights in Islam, and keeping their case "in the mosque" so to speak means that Muslims live apart, rule apart, decide apart and are not subject to the rule of the land.
For an example of how sharia courts work outside of Britain, consider this lopsided (and brutal) verdict:
A widow was whipped 202 times and a man 101 times following a fatwa by a religious leader for their alleged involvement in "anti-social activity" in a village in southeastern Bangladesh, prompting local protests and action by the police. Piara Begum, a widow of 40, and Mamun Miah, 25, were whipped before hundreds of people at Khaiyar in Comilla district Saturday night. The woman fell unconscious and was rushed to hospital. Doctors said she was critically injured and needed to be given intensive treatment.
To follow up on another story mention in this series, there were two girls in a family abducted and forced to convert and marry Muslim men. One was recovered, the other cannot be found. The fact that one daughter returned home only exacerbated the family's suffering:
The success of recovering the Coptic girl led to anger, revenge and assaults from the disappointed village Muslims against her family. Nearly 150 Muslims, armed with swords and clubs, physically assaulted five family members of the abducted Coptic teenager, as they drove back to their village after being forced into reconciliation with the abductor's family by State Security, compromising their right to pursue the case any further. "With every blow on us, they chanted 'There is only one Allah' while the Police stood there watching the assault, until we could take no more and three of us were hospitalized," said Nermeen's uncle Sameh Mitry in an aired interview with Coptic News on 6/7/2009. "They dragged us out of the car saying "Get out you followers of the Dog's religion!' They were consumed with anger ever since we got our girl back."
There are more details about the abduction:
Nermeen Mitry, 16, from Toma village near El-Mahalla town, was on her way to sit for an exam on May 21, 2009, when she was lured by a Muslim female friend to go home with her where she offered her spiked tea. She regained conscious hours later to find herself facing a bearded Muslim man trying to convert her to Islam, in a far away town and another governorate in Egypt, which she later knew to be Zagazig. The traumatized girl recounted the events to Osama Eid, correspondent of the Free-Copts Organization.
"The man was very confident and told me that I would be the fourth Coptic girl to 'know the true Allah' and convert to Islam through him. He also said that a member of my family was converted 15 years ago by him. I told him I am engaged to be married when I come of age, and would never convert to Islam as this would be a catastrophe for me. He did his best to make me change my mind, and then left me alone for a while."
When Nermeen did not return home, the Mitry family went to the police. Unable to get the police to register the case as an abduction, the family subsequently went to State Security and reported the incident, but were delayed there for hours with no progress.
"Meanwhile, one of the abductor's family members contacted Nermeen's cousin Romany and told him he knew her whereabouts, and offered to accompany him to bring her back," Sameh told Coptic News. "I am sure the abductor's family knew that we would have implicated them and they were afraid. We freed the girl ourselves; State Security did nothing to help."
So to put the two stories together, we find the inequalties between men and women, between Christianity and Islam -- both to the detriment of women. Consider another element here., which means that these thousands of girls will have no recourse, even when they can make it back to Britain.
As a corollary to this, perhaps you can join your prayers to those of Pope Benedict for his special intention for this month: "That the Christians of the Middle East may live their faith in full freedom and be an instrument of peace and reconciliation."