Charlotte Proudman, a pupil barrister and blogger for the Independent, reports on a conversation with a Muslim woman who was seeking a divorce…

After fleeing a forced marriage characterised by rape and physical violence, Nasrin applied for an Islamic divorce from a Sharia council; that was almost 10 years ago now. Despite countless emails, letters and telephone calls to the Sharia council as well as joint mediation and reconciliation meetings, the Sharia council refuse to provide Nasrin with an Islamic divorce. Why? Because of Nasrin’s sex. An Imam at the Sharia council told Nasrin that her gender prevents her from unilaterally divorcing her husband, instead the Imam told her to return to her husband, perform her wifely duties and maintain the abusive marriage that she was forced into.

A measure of scepticism is always required in cases of anonymous reports but, frankly, Id be surprised if things like this haven’t happened. One need only survey the men who run these courts – “follow the mullahs”, as the old saying doesn’t go – to see what an alarming phenomenon they represent.

Take the Islamic Sharia Council. The largest Sharia body operating in Britain, it’s often been in the news as one or other of its leaders voices horrible opinions yet no one of influence has grasped that there’s a pattern: just about all its leaders have voiced horrible opinions. Maulana Abu Sayeed, the President of the Council and a man who’s been accused of involvement in war crimes in his homeland of Bangladesh, is a man who thinks rape is “impossible” within marriage. Dr Suhaib Hasan, general secretary of the Council, has spoken warmly of the merits of “flogging the drunkard and fornicator”. Haitham al-Haddad, who represents it in the media, thinks that apostates should be killed; FGM is legitimate; spousal abuse is none of our business and Islamic law should become “dominant in the world”. The Council’s own website offers defences of the most brutal interpretations of Islamic penal law.

I’m not an enormous fan of condemnation by quote. (Too often it summons to mind an image of an overdressed, overdramatic woman with a hand stretched out before herself, clutching something malodorous between a thumb and finger.) Yet such quotes and such men deserve the treatment. Their ambitions stretch beyond the power they’ve been given, clearly, but in focusing on that we can see why they should have none. They’ve frankly admitted, among other things, to being untroubled by spousal abuse yet their career is in presiding over marital disputes. That’s sick. Is anyone less suited to a job? Sid the Sexist as a relationship counsellor, perhaps? It’s disturbing to know situations like this are prevalant in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh. It’s horrifying to think that they’re common in London and Manchester.

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