In an attempt to better explain my position, I want to argue the two main points I heard proponents making.
1. Sharia Courts are only limited to civil matters.
I can think of only a few things more damaging to a society than civil matters being settled under religion-based laws. And as hard as I try, I can't understand why the proponents choose to ignore the FACT that Muslim Arbitration Tribunals and Sharia Courts are discriminatory, especially against women and children.
One year after Sharia Courts started operating in UK, crime correspondent Richard Edwards published an article with some interesting findings. From August 2007 to September 2008, Muslim Tribunal Courts have dealt with six cases of domestic violence between married couples and. In each of these cases, the judges ordered the husbands to take anger management classes. There was no further punishment and all six wives withdrew the police complaints they had filed.
In another case of inheritance dispute, the estate of a Midlands man was divided between his two sons and three daughters. The judges gave the sons twice as much as the daughters.
I am only mentioning a couple of cases to point out what should be to no one's surprise : the discriminatory nature of these Courts.
Under Sharia, sons inherit twice as much as daughters. A man's testimony is worth more than a woman's. A husband can divorce his wife simply by repudiating her, while the wife must provide "valid" reasons for divorce, which are usually very difficult to prove. Also, a woman's marriage contract is between her husband and her male guardian. A divorced woman who remarries loses custody of her children. And the list can go on.
2. It's their choice.
Proponents also argue the voluntary nature of Sharia Courts. That if both parties agree, then it's nobody's business to judge the rulings as being arbitrary/discriminatory. But the reality is that both parties do NOT agree, that's why they appeal to the Court's ruling. You file a case in Civil Court when you think you've been hurt financially or physically. And while the proponents argue that Sharia Courts are an alternative, just another option available to Muslims, the reality is that for many people this actually means taking away the only option to a fair hearing. How can a Muslim woman stand up against her family and community and ultimately, against God's system of law, when such a system is "available" ? And how many of these women are even aware of their rights under secular laws ?
Feel free to comment.
As an end note, I have to expresse that I am simply appalled by how many people think that implementing religious Courts of Law in secular societies is a good idea, even when confronted with the text and application of these laws.
I do defend people's right to practice their religion freely. But I can't, for the life of me, accept religion as a legal authority. Not in civil matters, not in any matters.