On 8 June 2011 Baroness Cox launched a new Bill in the House of Lords which addresses the problem of Muslim bodies adjudicating on matters which ought to be handled by the UK courts.
The Bill particularly seeks to protect Muslim women from the discriminatory or coercive application of Sharia law in the UK. Clearly this is an important Bill and many Christians will want to pray about it. Regarding such a sensitive issue I think Christians need to be calm, prayerful and strongly supportive of what Lady Cox is seeking to do, while avoiding any prejudicial attitude. After all, Christians are under a Gospel obligation to love Muslim people.
I realise that some Muslims will be uncomfortable with the fact that our legal system was founded on a Christian basis, though I expect they will agree with those principles of righteousness, justice and mercy. One of these Christian elements is that men and women have equal standing before a UK court. Under Sharia law women are treated as inferior to men. In a Sharia court the testimony of a women is equal to half that of a man’s testimony.
In a free society Muslims are free to argue for their concerns, as any other groups are. I am grateful for when the Muslim community has spoken out against abortion and against local councils which seek to ban Christmas celebrations. But I am uncomfortable with some aspects of Sharia courts in the UK.
Individuals should be free to organise their own affairs according to their beliefs. Christians and Jews also have religious arbitration boards. Britain’s Arbitration Act 1996 allows tribunals to settle disputes in a narrow range of areas without recourse to the courts. But seeking to operate a parallel legal system is an entirely different matter.
Arbitration tribunals must surely not take place on a basis which conflicts with essential principles of British law, such as the equal status of men and women.
The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill:
Baroness Cox’s Bill has two main aims:
- To protect Muslim women in Britain from unjust treatment under Sharia
- To prevent any alternative court system being established in Britain, with a potential jail sentence for anyone claiming to do so.
Something to pray about then.