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Islam: Canadian activist slams faith-based courts

ICC Note

“No Muslim women want to go through faith-based arbitration,”

February 15,2008 Canada (AKI) – Islamic courts must be be ruled out in Britain and other Western countries if the democratic rights of all their citizens are to be safeguarded, Iranian born activist Homa Arjomand, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

Homa Arjomand spearheaded a successful campaign to end faith-based arbitration in Canada .

She strongly disagreed with remarks made earlier in February by the head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who claimed that Islamic (Sharia) courts in Britain seemed “inevitable” and could aid “social cohesion”.

Arjomand told AKI that adopting Sharia courts, promoting Islamic schools and Islamic centres would be giving in to political Islam.

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“It is the state’s duty to look after the well-being of all citizens, including women and children from so-called Islamic communities,” said Arjomand, who is a secular Muslim.

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“No rights should be taken away due to cultural sensitivity – we need to draw a line and say so when religious law compromises women’s rights,” said Arjomand.

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Williams said he did not want to create “parallel jurisdictions” in Britain . Citing the example of Islamic banking, he said incorporating aspects of Sharia law could help Muslims resolve family and financial disputes in keeping with their religious beliefs.

This should “be done with the greatest care” and “no aspect of Islamic law should remove any of UK citizens’s rights,” Williams said. He was seeking to clarify remarks he made last week which sparked a media furore and a barrage of criticism, not only from Christians.

But Arjomand disputed that democratic rights could be guaranteed under Sharia law. “In Islam, there is no civil/criminal distinction,” she stressed. Islam sanctions extreme punishments such as amputation of limbs, stoning to death and flogging.

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Death by stoning is the penalty for women who commit adultery, while Muslim men may enjoy multiple marriages, Arjomand pointed out. Under Sharia law, a Muslim may also divorce his wife by merely repudiating her three times, and gets custody of their children.

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Divorced women from the Pakistani community in Canada have been sent back to family members in Pakistan and separated from their children, she said.

“No Muslim women want to go through faith-based arbitration,” she stressed.

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Organised by Arjomand, the campaign followed a 2004 report recommending the introduction of Sharia tribunals in the Canadian province of Ontario where 600,000 Muslims live. It provoked widespread debate and street protests, both for and against the report’s findings.

Faith-based tribunals had been set up by Catholic and Jewish communities in Ontario following the passing of the Arbitration Act in 1991 in an attempt to deal with a backlog of divorce, inheritance and custody cases in the Canadian courts.

Canada ‘s Muslim population was in 2006 estimated at 783,700 or about 2.5 percent of the population. Muslims are the fourth largest immigrant faith group in the country, after Catholics, Buddhists and Jews.

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