I spent last year travelling through Muslim Britain, partly in an attempt to address this niggling question of inherent misogyny. My findings surprised me. Take, for instance, the practice of sharia here, the system so widely viewed as inimical to the rights of women. In Oldham, 15 minutes up the road from Manchester Arena, I sat in on a session of the Wuzara Ulama sharia council, whose sole function turned out to be to grant divorces to women trapped in bad marriages, often over the heads of abusive husbands who didn’t want to separate. These women had no other escape route. (Well it’s not British law and culture that’s denying them an “escape route”, is it? – Ed.) Maulana Ejaz, the cleric from Dewsbury who heads the Council, estimates that in northern England where he operates, some 60 per cent of Muslim marriages are not registered under English civil law — which of course renders the English legal system powerless to offer would-be divorcees any redress at all. (What? Because English law forcibly returns fleeing women to their abusive common-law non-husbands? Fergusson implicitly concedes that these women are imprisoned in these situations by Muslim culture, unless a kindly Imam chooses to see things their way. – Ed.)
None (“none” – Ed.) of Ejaz’s customers felt repressed by sharia. On the contrary, he was able to produce a dozen feedback forms from past clients, all of them women escaping abusive marriages, and all of them expressing gratitude for the councillors’ help and describing as ‘excellent’ the service they had received. (It’s not as if they, or he, could possibly have a motive to lie or cherry-pick. – Ed.) In other words, the Wuzara Ulama — who do not charge for their services — are set up to defend, not prejudice [sic], the rights of women.
…British sharia is not without its problems… Islam, Ejaz told me, is clear on the matter of jurisdictional precedence: a good Muslim must follow the law of the land in which he lives. (It’s not as if he could possibly have a motive to lie. – Ed) I found no Sharia ‘ghettos’, and the figure of 80 councils in Britain is a myth: Ejaz knew of no more than six. (If these “councils” are so above board and legit why can’t you just look the number up? – Ed.) Given the essential public service his ulama provide, it may be that we need more of them, not fewer.
…I later heard an intriguing defence of hudud from a Salafi traditionalist in Oldham, a secondary school teacher called Samir… an adulterer can only be deemed in flagrante delicto if seen by actual people using their actual eyes. (By the same token, a rapist can only be punished if there are four witnesses. – Ed.) Islam, he went on, is more interested in contrition for sin than punishing people for it. (It’s not as if he could possibly have a motive to lie. – Ed)
…(Is misogyny) inherent to Islam? A religion founded by a prophet married to Khadija, a rich, successful and very unrepressed-sounding business woman? I don’t think so.
…Non-Muslims often view the veil, particularly the Arabian niqab that leaves nothing but the eyes exposed, as a symbol of submissiveness rather than self-assertion, of repression rather than progress and liberation. At the beginning of my journey around Muslim Britain I felt sure I would find at least one niqabi who had been coerced into wearing it by a husband, a father, a brother. But I was wrong. I conducted more than a dozen interviews with niqabis and every one of them said they wore it out of choice; not one of them said they had been or felt forced. (It’s not as if they could possibly have a motive to lie. – Ed.)