Every 7 seconds a girl under 16 is forced into marriage… 16 years ago I was that girl, forced into marriage, literally at gunpoint, by my uncle in Kashmir.
The attitude of the British Government now is exactly what it was 16 years ago.
They say Sharia has no basis in English law, so there’s no need to declare it illegal.
In which case how did what happened to me … actually happen?
After my forced marriage, on returning to the UK, immigration services told me that if my marriage was not registered in this country, it would not be valid. It was never registered. And yet after a long fight against the UK legal system, including my own solicitor, at the age of 21 I had no choice but to accept a divorce through the UK courts. This was despite my attempts to get the marriage annulled, as it should have been.
Therefore, in this instance, Sharia clearly took precedence over UK law.
The local police force in Nottingham did not enforce UK law. Before the divorce was issued my husband took another wife to secure his stay in the UK. Bigamy is illegal under UK law. But the police told me it was allowed in Islam, so they refused to arrest him.
Another instance in which Sharia had a basis in English Law.
My first visit to a Sharia court was with a friend of mine about 13 years ago. Despite being in an abusive relationship, my friend was ordered to make her marriage work. She was told it was her duty as a wife. She was told divorce was against Islam and God.
I tried to speak up for her and I was told to be quiet by the imam. He demanded to know my family name, and if my father knew I was there. He told us that what he said was final.
The Vice Chair of the UK Board of Sharia Councils stated before the select committee earlier this month that it is un-Islamic to discriminate against women. And yet Sharia courts discriminate against women every day.
Sharia is run by men, largely self-appointed from within the Muslim community. It dates from the seventh century, when Sharia-prescribed punishments such as beheading, flogging and stoning were part of everyday life. Indeed these practices continue to this day in some countries who have failed to move with the times.
Sharia started to be promoted in the UK in the 1980s and its influence is growing, both here and throughout many Western countries. Its incompatibility with Western democracy and equality has led to it being banned in an increasing number of countries, including Muslim countries such as Turkey and Tunisia.
When it is seen there is no need for Sharia in modernising Islamic countries, the question I ask myself is why would a non-Islamic country continue to allow these illegal courts to operate alongside the British legal system?
The longer this issue is ignored and brushed under the political carpet, the less the government will be able to control it. Left unchallenged, we’ll have to start giving legal concessions to Sharia law and in time we will end up with two legal systems.
And the irony is that Islam itself tells us to abide by the laws of the country in which we live. Islam states that the law of the land takes precedence over religious law.