In 2008, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Nicholas Phillips, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, both suggested that the UK could consider, in Lord Phillips’s words, “embracing Sharia law” because “there is no reason why Sharia Law, or any other religious code should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution”. Williams commented: “it’s not as if we’re bringing in an alien and rival system.”
However, two recent widely reported cases of marriage between Muslim men and under-age girls raise troubling questions about these assumptions. One case in New South Wales where an imam married a twelve-year-old girl to a twenty-six-year-old man with her father’s consent is before the cour
In the case of forced Muslim marriages, a systemic problem is the widespread acceptance by the community of unregistered marriages: it is the lack of registration of such unions which makes marriage all the more dangerous for young women and girls, because registered marriages are subject to long-established age limits and procedures to establish consent, which provide a degree of protection to potential victims of marriage trafficking. The families and communities involved may consider such marriages to be legal, because they accord with their understanding of Islamic law, but the fact that these marriages are unregistered places the women and girls who undergo these ceremonies at higher risk of abuse.
Islamic marriage practices present multiple challenges to Western jurisdictions. The Koran states that men are the protectors of women (Sura 4:34). A marriage is normally a contract between two men: the male wali or guardian of the bride—usually her father—and the groom. In addition, to be lawful under sharia, a marriage must have two witnesses, and a sum of money, the mahr, must be given over by the groom. Marriage, thus contracted, is the transfer of a woman from the “protection” of one man to another.
If such high placed men as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chief Justice of England are talking like this, all is lost. There is no hope.