Siddique Patel’s specialism across civil and Islamic law has seen him hired by one of the region’s top law firms as the value of Islamic finance soars. Mark Casci learns more.
Once a niche area, the Islamic finance market is currently worth more than £1 trillion.
The UK is the number one European hub for this market and fourth worldwide among non-Muslim majority nations.
Twenty banks are now offering Sharia-compliant banking which involves not only selling products which charge no interest or invest in gambling or alcohol but which are also focused on sharing risk as much as reward.
With such a colossal market it is hardly surprising that financial and professional services firms are seeking to capitalise on this area.
The Leeds office of law firm Shoosmiths this year took the decision to bring in an expert in Islamic law which has led to the appointment of Siddique Patel to the team.
Mr Patel has worked in and around the north of England for a decade and is well-versed in civil law, religious law and cultural law, enabling him to act for clients in both Islamic and civil divorce proceedings.
Having acted on cases as complex as international child abduction and extremely complex divorce cases, he is now hoping to bring his experience to the firm in an area which he believes, while currently very specialised, will soon become increasingly widespread.
“It is a growing and burgeoning market,” said Mr Patel.
“The Islamic finance market is absolutely huge. We are hoping to marry the needs of our clients in terms of the solutions we can offer.
“It is something Shoosmiths wanted to capitalise on and one of the reasons they hired me. Through me, we have that integration into the Asian market.
“We are a multi-service law firm and we want to target high-value clients.
“Our clients will have a certain stature and that is where we have the relevant expertise to deal with them.
“For example, we can offer Sharia compliant solutions to their will.”
His career and decision to specialise in his niche area of family law owes itself to a chance meeting with a local Islamic scholar in his native Dewsbury who ran the town’s Sharia Council.
“His name was Shaikh Yakub,” said Mr Patel.
“He would become my mentor for the next 10 years. If there is anyone I should give credit to, it is that guy.
“We know the bad press that Sharia Councils have had in this day and age. Instead of forming a view I asked him what they did and he asked me to shadow him.”
Mr Patel would soon find out that Sharia councils predominantly spend their time helping Muslim women stuck in marriages. Like most religious marriages, those carried out under the Islamic faith are not legally valid under the Marriage Act. Mr Patel explains: “There a lot of women in this situation wherein their marriage has broken down but, because of the cultural or religious reason – or men just being unreasonable – the husband has refused to divorce them.
“They then go on with their lives but the poor Muslim wife is stuck in that ‘limping marriage’ as some family law practices call it.”
When such circumstances arise in a Muslim country, a woman can go to a court and have the marriage dissolved by an Islamic judge but in countries like the UK this is not an option.
“In a non-Muslim country where does she go?” he asks.
“It is not a legal marriage, she cannot go to a court and get a decree absolute or a decree nisi. That is why the Sharia Councils are there. They are not paid.
“They do it out of the goodness of their hearts, or as a service to the community, and the job they did was very important. I got into family law that way.”
Prior to meeting the head of the Sharia Council Mr Patel admits that, as a graduate, staying in the law was “not top of my priorities” but he had now found his niche.
Mr Patel contends that in Britain there is a great deal of confusion as to what are cultural practices and religious practices.
“Unfortunately, a lot of patriarchal practices are being passed off as Islamic practice, especially when it comes to the freedom of women and how women are treated.
“For example, a husband refusing to give talaq (divorce).
“Islamically on its own, the Koran says that the men should either retain their wives in kindness or let them go in kindness.
“So if a wife asks for divorce the husband should give it or if possible come to that position by consent.
“One of the myths about divorce is that it is forbidden in Islam, the prophet Mohammed had daughters who were divorced.
“I get to deal with legal issues, religious issues and cultural issues. I am not aware of anyone who is like that in the North.”
Mr Patel had worked for both Stradbrokes Solicitors and Kamrans before fate intervened again via a notification he saw on LinkedIn which showed Peter Morris, Shoosmiths head of family law, had marked a work anniversary.
Mr Patel, who had known Mr Morris for several years, sent him the standard congratulatory message the platform allows and a dialogue ensued which saw him recruited into the firm.
“A market like Leeds which has got so many great family lawyers – Leeds has some great lawyers full stop – people like Peter Morris. It has always been a dream of mine to work with Peter.”
Mr Patel has appeared in a variety of media commentating on Islamic legal matters, including Radio Sunrise and the Jordans Family Law Website.
He has delivered seminars to the Leeds Law Society, West Yorkshire Police and Resolution and is among a group working to change the law so that marriages of all faiths are registered legally, not just the handful that currently fall within the letter of the law currently.
For Mr Patel, the solving of these complex legal and cultural problems is a source of great professional and personal pride.
“It is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
“I am one of those lucky people who gets paid to do what they love.
“The law is a tool to help people.
“If you use that tool you will be someone who makes a positive difference to people’s lives.”