Bradford MP warns against abolition of Sharia courts

Labour MP Naz Shah
Labour MP Naz Shah
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Bradford MP Naz Shah has warned against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” amid calls for controversial Sharia councils to be abolished.

Speaking during a meeting of the Home Affairs select committee, the Labour MP argued faith-based courts are a “valuable” asset in many Muslim communities.

She also claimed that scrapping the system would be an infringement on human rights, and suggested the move “wouldn’t wash” with her local community.

Her comments came during yesterday’s select committee hearing on the status of Sharia councils and the extent to which they discriminate against women.

Witnesses included Shaista Gohir OBE, head of the Muslim Women’s Network, and Zlakha Ahmed MBE, chief executive of Yorkshire-based domestic abuse charity Apna Haq.

Ms Ahmed, whose organisation has helped around 60 women through the Sharia divorce process, suggested these “courts” can sometimes be the key to releasing victims from abusive relationships.

But she also stressed the need to give women more influence in the decision-making of the council.

“Probably 99 per cent of those women, if they hadn’t gone through the Sharia courts and got that Islamic divorce, they would have remained ... within abusive relationships,” Ms Ahmed said.

“The role of Islamic Sharia councils in that respect is being able to give women for whom faith is important a [way] to get out of a situation they would otherwise be tied to for the rest of their lives.”

Fellow witness Dr Elham Manea, of The European Foundation for Democracy, accused councils of being “inherently discriminatory towards women”.

She suggested they also leave many individuals “vulnerable”.

But this view was challenged by the Ms Shah, who argued that a ban on Sharia councils would be tantamount to “throw[ing] the baby out with the bathwater”.

The Bradford West MP added that as “an informed person” who has experience forced marriage, the state has no right to police her choices.

“What I’m hearing is that to abolish all of [Sharia] takes away my human right to have a choice,” she said. “How do I explain that to women in my constituency? It wouldn’t wash.”