Theresa May launches sharia law review

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An official review of the application of sharia law in England and Wales has been launched by the home secretary, Theresa May.

The review forms part of the government’s counter-extremism strategy and will be carried out by a Home Office-appointed panel chaired by Prof Mona Siddiqui and including family law experts and a retired high court judge. The panel is to be advised by two imams who are religious and theological experts.

May said the review would look into whether, and, if so, the extent to which sharia law was being misused or applied in a way that was incompatible with the rule of law in Britain. It would also assess ways in which sharia law may be causing harm in communities.

The inquiry was expected to be completed by 2017.

The Home Office said there was evidence that some sharia councils were working in a “discriminatory and unacceptable” way, contrary to the teachings of Islam, such as seeking to legitimise forced marriage or issuing divorces that were unfair to women. So they go into the review with preconcieved ideas which may impede a clear assessment.

Siddiqui, a professor of Islamic and inter-religious studies at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It’s a privilege to be asked to chair such an important piece of work. At a time when there is so much focus on Muslims in the UK, this will be a wide-ranging, timely and thorough review as to what actually happens in sharia councils.”

The Home Office stressed that it would not be a review of the “totality” of sharia law, which is a source of guidance for many Muslims in Britain.

It would examine the role of particular groups and Islamic authorities, and the role of sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals. The panel would also look at divorce, domestic violence and custody cases.

The panel includes the retired high court judge Sir Mark Hedley, the family law barrister Sam Motaz, and the family law lawyer Anne Marie Hutchinson QC. They will be advised by Imam Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, a lecturer in philosophy and theology, and Imam Qari Asim, who is chief imam at Leeds Makkah mosque.

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