Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has announced that there will be an independent investigation into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales.
In a speech in London focusing on Islamic extremism, Ms May referred to problems concerning the divorce of Muslim women.
She said: “There are some areas where – like in the application of Sharia law – we know enough to know we have a problem, but we do not yet know the full extent of the problem.
“For example, there is evidence of women being “divorced” under Sharia law and left in penury, wives who are forced to return to abusive relationships because Sharia councils say a husband has a right to “chastise”, and Sharia councils giving the testimony of a woman only half the weight of the testimony of a man.
“We will therefore commission an independent figure to complete an investigation into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales.”
The Home Secretary also said that there is to be commissioned an all-force inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary of the police response to ‘honour’ crimes, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
Chairman of the Muslim Forum think tank, Manzoor Moghal, told the BBC’s World At One Mrs May’s proposals would infringe people’s freedom of speech, saying: “We might be sleep walking into what would be like a police state.”
But Baroness Cox, a Crossbencher in the House of Lords and author of the pamphlet ‘A Parallel World – Confronting the abuse of many Muslim women in Britain today’, disagreed.
She said: “There are growing concerns about the application of established Sharia law principles, which threaten to destabilise even the most basic freedoms of women in our country today.
“The kind of discrimination I am referring to can take many forms, such as inequality in access to divorce (for men often so easy it is effectively free and unconditional); polygamy (practiced by men who have multiple ‘wives’ and numerous children); discriminatory child custody policies and inheritance laws; and the sanctioning of domestic violence.
“I have had the opportunity to sit with oppressed and abused women from communities which foster this kind of discrimination, here in Britain, and wept with them as they told their stories.
“While many will therefore welcome Theresa May’s commitment to conduct an independent review of Sharia Courts, it is imperative that such measures are not so broadly defined that they catch innocent behaviour or impact on people’s religious liberties.”