Machteld Zee, a legal scholar at Leiden University in the Netherlands, secured extraordinary access to the secretive courts, attending 15 hours of hearings at the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton, east London, and the Birmingham Central Mosque Sharia. She was able to scrutinise more than a dozen cases, and interview an array of sharia experts including nine qadis – Islamic judges.
“There are, in fact, two separate legal orders functioning [in the UK], of which one currently operates in the ‘shadow of the law’,” she concludes.
During research for her book Choosing Sharia? Multiculturalism, Islamic Fundamentalism and British Sharia Councils, she reportedly saw:
- A case where a woman who claimed to be married to a physically and verbally abusive man is told by a “laughing” judge: “Why did you marry such a person?”
- A woman “ready to burst into tears” is sent away without an answer after saying that her husband took out a loan in her name on the day they married and is denying her a divorce until she gives him £10,000.
- A married couple asking for advice on whether the woman had been religiously divorced from her former husband were told “the secular divorce counts as nothing”.