The most recent scandal surrounding the sexual exploitation of Muslim women by Islamic religious leaders in the UK is yet further proof of the way in which Britain is turning a blind eye to horrific practices going on right under its nose.
A BBC investigation into "halala"
-- a ritual enabling a divorced Muslim woman to remarry her husband by
first wedding someone else, consummating the union, and then being
divorced by him -- revealed that imams in Britain are not only
encouraging this, but profiting financially from it. This depravity has
led to many such women being held hostage, literally and figuratively,
to men paid to become their second husbands.
This ritual, which is considered a misinterpretation of Islamic
sharia law even by extremist Shi'ites and Saudi-style Salafists, is
practiced by certain Islamic sects, such as Hanafis, Barelvis and
Deobandis. When a husband repeats the Arabic word for divorce -- talaq
-- three times to his wife, these sects consider a Muslim marriage null
and void. For such a woman to be allowed to return to the husband who
banished her, she must first marry someone else -- and have sex with him
-- before the second husband divorces her.
These divorce rites, despite the laws of the land, are common in India,
Bangladesh, Pakistan and other Asian countries, where a majority of the
people belong to the Hanafi, Barelvi or Deobandi sects. Nevertheless,
local seminaries, mosques and online services openly advertise and
promote halala with impunity; it is accepted by society and rarely monitored by state authorities.
In Britain, halala has emerged as a booming business, with
websites and social media sites offering to provide women with second
husbands for exorbitant sums of money. As bad as this is, there is an
even darker side to the story: Under sharia law, the second husband is
under no obligation to give his wife a quick divorce -- allowing him to
keep her as his virtual sex slave for as long as he wishes.
One Muslim woman, who changed her mind about going through with halala
after looking into the process, told the BBC that she knew others who
did undergo the process, and ended up being sexually abused for months
by the second husbands paid to marry them. According to a report in The Guardian, the Sharia Council of Britain says it deals with hundreds of divorce cases annually.
This infamous council is indirectly responsible for what essentially has become a rape pandemic, since it does nothing to stop or refute halala.
In fact, it declares that the practice is completely legal under sharia
law. The only caveat, the council states, is that the imams presiding
over it are not following the proper guidelines, according to which the
second marriage and divorce should not be premeditated, but rather
If one asks how all of this jibes with British law, the answer is
that it does not. But young Muslims in the UK are discouraged by their
communities from marrying through the British system, and are told to
have imams perform their weddings and sharia councils register their
marriages. Couples who comply end up being at the mercy of Islamic
authorities in family matters, including divorce.
Due to its often unethical practices conducted in the name of
religious law, the Sharia Council has come under scrutiny a number of
times. Last November, for instance, the UK-based NGO, Muslim Women's
Network, penned an open letter
-- with 100 signatories -- to the British government and Home Affairs
Select Committee demanding that the Sharia Council be investigated to
determine whether its practices adhere to British law.
In response, the Sharia Council declared the letter to be
"Islamophobic" and accused the Muslim Women's Network of being an
anti-Muslim organization. In addition, Labour MP Naz Shah jumped to the defense
of the Sharia Council, rejecting the idea of an inquiry, on the grounds
that shutting down such councils could mean that more women would be
stuck in abusive marriages.
While acknowledging that these councils could be used as a tool to
deny women their rights, Shah said that they also serve as valuable
arbitrators in marital disputes.
Her claims are totally baseless. It is British law, not sharia, law
that protects Muslim individuals and couples, as it does any other
Had the British government addressed Sharia Council malpractice when
it was first revealed, we would not be facing this pandemic today.
Contrary to what apologists for this travesty say, the plight of Muslim
women should be treated as an issue of human rights.
It is time for the British government to wake up and take a tough
stand on such unethical, and probably illegal, system. And the sooner
the better, lest the whole sharia council system go "underground" and
out of reach to protect thousands of women from abuse.