CANADIANS ALLOW ISLAMIC COURTS TO DECIDE DISPUTES
DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post, 4/28/04
TORONTO -- Suad Almad, her head wrapped in a blue silk scarf, was
discussing her beliefs with a group of friends. She said fervently
that she thought the lives of all Muslims should be governed by
Islamic law, known as sharia.
"It's something nobody can change and we must follow," said Almad,
who came to Canada from Somalia, then engulfed by war, more than 12
years ago. "We come to Canada and we become lost . . . We need our
own court and we need our own law," she said, her voice strong and
certain. "That's what I believe."
Almad and thousands of other Muslims, taking advantage of a provision
of the law in the province of Ontario, can now decide some civil
disputes under sharia, including family disagreements and
inheritance, business and divorce issues, using tribunals that
include imams, Muslim elders and lawyers. While it is less than full
implementation of sharia, local leaders consider it a significant
Muslim promoters of sharia arbitration said that no cases had been
decided but that the process is set. Islamic leaders created an
Islamic Court of Civil Justice last fall and that organization, in
turn, has chosen arbitrators, who have undergone training in sharia
and Canadian civil law, according to organizers and participants.
Sharia is based on the Koran, which includes the teachings of Islam
and revelations by the prophet Muhammad. According to Muslim beliefs,
the Koran provides the divine rules for behavior, including rules
about marriage, business and inheritance. Muslims must abstain from
stealing, lying, killing, adultery and drinking alcohol.
Some Muslim leaders in Canada said that there should be no
controversy about the new arbitration process, but some opponents
expressed concern that people might feel coerced into accepting
sharia-based arbitration. Government officials said that the decision
to submit to such a process was subject to mutual consent
ISLAM AND CANADA
Steven Frank, Time Canada, 4/29/04
On a gray Sunday morning outside Toronto's North York City Center,
librarygoers meander to and from the otherwise quiet underground
shopping mall. But inside a hall in the concrete complex, a
frightening vision of Canada is being conjured up. Some 300 fired-up
members of Toronto's Muslim community have gathered to debate a
proposal to establish a Shari'a court.
In Canada? When she first heard about it last year, women's rights
activist Azar Majedi thought the idea of a tribunal in Canada based
on Islamic jurisprudence was a joke. "I was overwhelmed, shocked,"
Iran-born Majedi told the audience. "To see the seeds of an Islamic
republic being sown here in Canada is terrifying."
Her fears were repeated by a succession of speakers during the
conference. Many expressed concern that women would be pressured to
appear before the Shari'a court. Azam Kamguian, founder of the London-
based Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East, worried
that Canada's tendency toward tolerance would make people turn a
blind eye to a system that would allow "Islamists to impose their
agenda" on Canadian Muslims. "We cannot let multiculturalism become
the last refuge of oppression," she said. Another speaker said
Shari'a law is racist and misogynist. "The Shari'a court is an
extension of that movement that stones women and hangs apostates from
cranes in the streets of Iran," human rights activist Maryam Namazie
said, eliciting wild applause. "Enough is enough."
Proponents of the court disagree. They say adjudicators would mediate
only civil and family disputes, would not hand out penal punishments,
and their decisions would be subject to appeal to a Canadian court.
But if the system of Islamic justice, which could be instituted this
year, would not be vastly different from Canadian legal norms, why
create it? Because, Mubin Shaikh, a Shari'a proponent, said during a
break in the debate, it is a tenet of Muslim belief that Islamic law
is superior to "man-made law." Canada's Muslims want to live in a
secular, parliamentary democracy, he told Time. But, Shaikh claimed,
they also want to be judged by fellow Muslims, not white Anglo-Saxon
Protestants. "How can these people relate to any of [Islam's]
cultural nuances?" he asked...
[NOTE: Since Islamic law grants women the right to maintainence and
dowry, it is important for the protection of Muslim women's rights to
be able to have a court which will force husbands to support their
wives financially and other such issues.]
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