For the first time, the Islamic Sharia Council has granted access to a newspaper to observe the entire sharia legal process in Britain. Over several weeks, I was allowed to witness the filing of complaints, individual testimony hearings and the monthly meeting of imams, or judges, where rulings are handed down.
Sharia has been operating here, in parallel to the British legal system, since 1982. Work includes issuing fatwas – religious rulings on matters ranging from why Islam considers homosexuality a sin to why two women are equivalent to one male witness in an Islamic court.
The Islamic Sharia Council also rules on individual cases, primarily in matters of Muslim personal or civil law: divorce, marriage, inheritance and settlement of dowry payments are the most common.
However, in the course of my investigation, I discovered how sharia is being used informally within the Muslim community to tackle crime such as gang fights or stabbings, bypassing police and the British court system.
A few hardline leaders would like it to be taken even further. One told me that Britain should adopt sharia punishments such as stoning and the chopping off of hands to reduce violent crime.
There are 12 councils or courts operating in Britain under Dr Hasan’s group, based in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Rotherham and Bradford. Scores more imams dispense justice through their own mosques.
In his courts, support staff interview plaintiffs and compile a case study. Judgments are delivered by senior imams at closed monthly meetings and are sent in writing to the concerned parties. Up to 7,000 cases have been handled so far.
The Islamic Sharia Council is listed as a charity but people seeking a divorce, or talaq, must fill in a form and pay a fee. For a man it is £100; for women, it is £250 because the imams say it takes more work to process a woman’s application as her word has to be corroborated.
Britain comes to a gasping end
The two of you equal one male, now we can talk