WHEN MUSLIMS BECAME MINORITIES IN THE MUSLIM MOST POPULOUS COUNTRY IN THE WORLD
Muslim Minority in East Flores Intimidated
They reported that in July 1993, a mosque in the predominantly Roman Catholic Batuata village had been demolished by a mob led by Aloysius Wisu Labina, an outrage which had been approved by the local authorities, namely Drs. M.B. Hayon, the district head of Larantuka, and Paulus Seran BA, the head of the Office for Religious Affairs. Paulus Seran defended the incident saying that the requirements.Other complaints concerned the fact that many Muslim students in the area did not receive any Islamic instructions, whether in private or in public schools. They were also not given the opportunity to perform Friday prayers, whereas they were obliged to participate in all Roman Catholic celebrations. The school management refused to employ Muslim teachers sent by the Ministry of Education and Culture and many Islamic religious teachers from the Ministry of Religious Affairs had been re-assigned without any official explanation.
The local Muslims also reported that the Roman Catholics had defecated on the mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca) of a mosque in the village of Wulanggitang; burnt eight houses belonging to Muslims in 1990 arguing that the houses were ramshackle and noisy; poured battery acid onto two Muslim children, killing one; stabbed a Muslim teenager; and even dubbed the military district commander and his staff, who were Muslims, as “the Islamic army because they had donated money for the reconstruction of the demolished mosque. They had received no response to their reports of all these incidents from the local authorities. Apprised of the situation, the Jakarta-based Humpuss business group, owned by Hutomo Mandala Putra Soeharto, a son of the Indonesian president, had offered funds for the construction of a mosque for the local Muslim community. Muhammad Zulkarnaen added that he himself had been subjected to threats of murder and extortion. (MD, March 1994; PM, 11-20 April 1994)
Muslim Minority in Tana Toraja Attacked by Christians
The magazine Media Dakwah reported that the Muslim minority in the village of Dandang Desa Buangin, Sabang District, Luwu Regency, South Sulawesi, had twice been attacked by Christians. The first attack was launched before dawn by about 2000 people when the local Muslim community was preparing salvir (the last meal before a day of fasting) in the month of Ramadan (end February/beginning of March 1994).
The local Muslims compared the Dandang tragedy with the butchering of Muslims by communists in Madiun (1948) and in Kanigoro (1965), two towns located in East Java. They saw a parallel between it and the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia. The magazine did not reveal the reasons for the attacks.
After the ‘Id al-fitr, the disputing parties held a meeting and agreed to re-establish peace. Not long afterwards, however, this agreement was broken by Christians who attacked Muslims in Tonangka, a village near Dandang, and expelled the native villagers. This brutal act inspired Muslim students of the Universitas Muslimin Indonesia in Ujungpandang to bring the case to the provincial council of people’s representatives and to stage a demonstration to demand the authorities to investigate the aggression. (MD, May 1994)
Muslims Intimidated in Peniwen
The Muslim minority in the predominantly Christian village of Peniwen, Malang, East Java, reportedly suffered obstruction and intimidation from the local authorities and Christian leaders. A Muslim couple was hindered to marrying in the Islamic way in Peniwen, while other couples, who had concluded an Islamic marriage elsewhere, were banned from entering the village unless they were to remarry according to the Christian rite.
Media Dakwah Responds Logos
The Islamic monthly magazine Media Dakwah in its edition of September 1994 responded to the July 1994 edition of the Roman Catholic magazine Logos, which was distributed on the occasion of a scientific meeting held by the Ikatan Sarjana Katolik (ISKA) in Bandung, West Java, on 25 and 26 July 1994. Logos is published by the ISKA.
The magazine also criticized an article entitled “Menghindari Sentimen Primordial dan Diskriminasi” (Avoiding Primordial Sentiments and Discrimination) written by Dr. Krishnanda Wijaya Mukti, MSc, an official at the Department for Guidance of the Buddhist Community of Jakarta’s Office for Religious Affairs. It considered his analysis misleading. In his article, Mukti spoke about religious majorities and minorities. Referring to Zen philosophy, he compared the majority to a big wave and the minority to a small one. The big wave, he argued, was too strong rendering the small one miserable and powerless because it does not know that actually the two waves are the same, namely water.
Responding to this analysis, Media Dakwah emphasized that it was an indisputable fact that majority of the Indonesian population is Muslim. Throughout Indonesian history, it went on, this majority had never made religious minority groups miserable, or vice versa. The magazine reminded its readers that the Muslims in Indonesia are renowned for being very tolerant towards other communities. It added that even at the global level, Muslim tolerance had been recognized by Arnold Toynbee. (MD, Sep. 1994)
Muslim Leaders Upset by Government List of Mass Organizations
A number of Muslim leaders were upset by the announcement of a list of mass organizations in the country by the Director-General of Social and Political Affairs of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Soetoyo N.K., on 6 August 1994.
Sahar called upon the government to offer clarifications, reclassify, and do additional research. He said that a great deal of information on Muslim organizations had not yet reached the directorate-general. Al-Hassan also questioned the inclusion of several Christian organizations which were of only local or regional importance. According to a government decision, he argued, a mass organization should have branches in at least 14 provinces in order to be recognized as a national organizations. Small church organizations should be registered with the local administration. Imagine if the co-ordinator of mosques throughout the country listed each mosque as a national mass organization, he added. On the other hand, he warned the government not to take action against all Islamic organizations not yet listed. Speaking at the same subject, K.H. Zainuddin M.Z. said that what counted was the quality of the Muslim organizations, not their number. Adding his support, the chairman of the Jakarta branch of the NU, Drs. H. Achmad Suaidy, urged the co-ordinators of the Muslim organizations to register with the Ministry of Home Affairs as soon as possible. (PE, 8 Aug. 1994)
ISKA and PIKI Worried about National Seminar on Human Resources Being Haunted by Jakarta Charter
Four days later, the idea was conveyed to President Soeharto when a delegation of representatives of various associations of intellectuals met him in the Presidential Office. The ISKA also disagreed with the plan that Habibie should accompany the President at the opening ceremony of the seminar. The ISKA argued that this function should be fulfilled by Yogic S. Memet, the Minister of Home Affairs, who is officially in charge of the development of mass organizations in the country, not Habibie, who, besides his function of state minister of research and technology, is chairman of the ICMI.
The PIKI apparently followed in the footsteps of the ISKA. It threatened to with-draw from the seminar too if a pledge were to be issued, especially one containing the above-mentioned phrase. Cornelius Ronowidjojo, the Secretary-General of the PIKI, claimed that the phrase was reminisent of the one used in the “Piagam Jakarta”, the Jakarta Charter, which was drawn up as a common statement of national principles during the preparation of the Indonesian constitution of 1945, but was finally dropped after vehement discussions between groups with different conceptions on the place of the Islamic religion within the state.
The phrase of the Jakarta Charter which aroused particular opposition from the “secular” nationalists and the Christians contained the so-called “seven words”, “dengan kewajiban menjalankan Syari’at Islam bagi pemeluk-pemeluknya” (with the obligation for adherents of Islam to practise Islamic Shariah). The PIKI also wanted to change the phrase “Tuhan Yang Maha Esa” (One God) in the official declaration of the seminar into “Tuhan Yang Maha Kuasa” (God Almighty). Peter Sumbung, the chairman of the PIKI, said that the phrase “menurut agamanya masing-masing” could be misused by those who still wanted to introduce the Piagam Jakarta. Ronowidjojo accused ICMI of hiding political objectives behind the phrase.Referring to the personages who would accompany President Soeharto at the opening of the seminar, Drs. H. Lukman Harun, a member of the team which had formulated the proposed statement, explained that Yogie S. Memet was indisposed. He added that the team agreed to change the word of “pledge” (afar) to “joint statement” (pernyataan bersama). He expressed his astonishment about what he called the far-fetched and fabricated interpreta¬tion of the statement by the PIKI. Why should the ICMI want to dig up old sentiments? Neither the KCBI and nor the FHCI had questioned the phraseology, he noted. He said that the fiery stance of the PIKI called to mind the congress of different religious communities in 1967, at which both Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians had refused to sign a statement which banned making members of existing religious communities the object of propagation of another religion.
Dr. Sri Bintang Pamungkasof the PPP commented that Christian circles would refuse anything which reeked of Arabic, which was the case with the word ‘ikrar’ (from Arabic iqrar). He added that he had been reminding people for a long time not to give priority to co-operation with other intellectual organizations such as the PIKI. It would be more useful to co-operate with non-governmental organizations or foundations which touched the people directly. The attitude of the PIKI moved Lukman Harun to observe that the harmonious relations between the different religious communities in Indonesia apparently had been no more than a false rumour. “They are growing more and more arrogant,” said another member of the ICMI, quoted by the magazine Media Dakwah. (MD, Sep. 1994)
Muslim Youth Request Amelioration of Rights in East Timor
On 18 October 1995, 18 Muslim youth originally from East Timor, living in the Jabotabek (Jakarta Bogor Tangerang Bekasi) stated their position, as read by the General Chairman of the Formattim (Forum Muallaf Asal Timor-Timur, Forum of Recent Converts of East Timor), Abdel Malik K.A. Soares. His audience consisted of the Jamaah Majlis Taklim se-Jakarta and the organizing committee of the second Istiqlal Festival in the Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta. In the statement, the Government was asked to place civil servants in the area who are capable of taking care of all strata of the East Timorese society and who have a national outlook. They also expected the Government to abolish the three-pillar system in East Timor. Those three pillars are: the church as policy-maker (highest authority), the regional government/bureaucracy (intermediate level), and the Armed Forces.
The Formattim claims that the three-pillar system is not in accordance with the democratic system of the Pancasila for it reflects the Portuguese system which confers all power to the Roman Catholic Church. As such, this system applied in East Timor is unconstitutional. Furthermore, they also appealed to the Government to immediately reconstruct public facilities (e.g. market places, mosques, schools, offices, administrative residences) which had been destroyed during the uprisings. Muslim youth from East Timor are currently being educated in various Islamic educational institutions such as the IAIN in Jakarta, the Universitas Muhammadiyah, the Universitas Ibnu Khaldun in Bogor, and the Institute for Islamic Sciences and Arabic (LIPIA). (RE, 19 Oct. 1995)On 23 October 1995, nine students who called themselves the Anti-Oppression Solidarity Group (SAP), welcomed approximately 2,000 East Timorese youth who were candidates for positions in civil service, as they disembarked from the Pelni vessel “Dobonsolo” in the Tanjung Perak harbour in Surabaya. They deplored the common anti-outsider sentiment of the East Timorese which had caused the unrest. They even went as far as to consider Bishop Belo partially responsible for the overflow of anti-Islamic feelings in East Timor. At the same time, about 50 East Timorese students, currently residing in Java, responded to the SAP action with threats. Security officials managed to separate the two groups and removed the SAP group away from the harbour. Meanwhile, the East Timorese students continued by ordering the group of civil servant candidates to return to Dili, saying they had been humiliated. (GA, 4 Nov. 1995)
Mosque Restoration in East Timor
The open letter was sent to, among others, the Minister of Defence and Security, the Commander of the Armed Forces, the Home Secretary, and the Minister of Religious Affairs. Furthermore, a number of ulamas of the Ittihadul Muballighin pressed the DPR to ensure that the Central Government would revoke the Governor’s decree for national unity. They viewed the decree as detrimental to continued development of religion and the Muslim community in this, the youngest province. On 7 November 1995 Hasan Basri met with the Vice President, Try Sutrisno, in the Jakarta state palace. He voiced his objections to the decree. The Home Secretary, Yogic S. Memet, ordered the East Timorese Governor to retract the decree. (HT, 9 Nov.; JP, 2, 9 Nov.; KO, 10 Nov.; PE, 31 Oct.; 1, 2 Nov.; RE, I, 2, 11 Nov. 1995)Apparently not only the Muslim community protested against the decree; Protestants did the same. The Secretary General of the PIKI (Persatuan Inteligensia Kristen Indonesia, Unity of Indonesian Christian Intellectuals), Cornelius D. Ronowidjojo, said that the decree which contained the word paroki (parish) in relation to matters of construction, had already politicized religion for certain objectives. As a civil servant, Governor Abilio ought not to have made such a regulation, he said. (PE, 4 Nov. 1995) The Chairman of the PPP faction of the DPRD of East Timor, Ilion Lap Sinjak, said that the decision was made without clear and valid procedures.
A number of involved parties such as the head of the Regional Directorate of Social Political Affairs, the head of the Regional Office for the Guidance of the Islamic Community, as well as local religious figures, had never been invited to study the decree. The concept was very one-sided and had a negative impact on other religions. Sinjak also mentioned the decree as proof of a misunderstanding of Governor Abilio about act no. 5/1974, which regulates the rights of the central and regional governments. The act clearly mentions that matters pertaining to defence and security, religion, monetary affairs, and education, are the domains of the Central Government.Furthermore, it is said that the Governor has to understand this matter and cannot, at will, make decrees, let alone decrees that cause conflict. (RE, 2 Nov. 1995)
After digesting all the criticism, Governor Abilio, in Viqueque (200 Km SE of Dili) finally stressed that the decree could not possibly be retracted but could only be modified. He also considered it rightful that a permit for a construction religious edifices had to be completed by a recommendation of the Roman Catholic priests of a given paroki because the great majority of East Timorese are Roman Catholics. Apart from that, Abilio objected to the statement of the MUI that the decree limited construction of religious buildings in East Timor. He explained that until now, no request has entered his office for the rehabilitation of religious places destroyed as a result of the riots of last September. (JP, 10 Nov.; RE 11 Nov. 1995)
Apart from the Minister of Religious Affairs, the signing ceremony was attended by the nuncio of Indonesia, Monseigneur Pietro Sambi, the head of the Regional Military Command of the Armed Forces (Udayana), Major General A. Rivai, the Governor of East Timor, Abilio Soares, Bishop Belo, Dr Din Syamsuddin (MUI), Prof. Dr Sularso Sopater (PGI), Mgr. Dr A.B. Sinaga OFM Cap (KWI), Drs Made Sudiarta (PHDI), Drs Teja S.M. Rasjid (WALUBI), and four directors of community guidance of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, notably a Muslim, a Roman Catholic, a Protestant, and a Hindu Buddhist. All attendants optimistically welcomed the formation of the forum. (JP, KO, RE, 25 Oct. 1995; GA, 4 Nov.; MD, Nov.; UM, 13 Nov. t995)
The establishment of the FKKPA was an initiative of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and formulated a recommendation of the Tim Komnas-HAM (Team of the National Commission for Human Rights) which had conducted an investigation on 21 September 1995, where three types of serious human rights offenses in East Timor were encountered: arson, torture, and expulsion. The team concluded that the latter is a grave violation of human rights.The Secretary General of the Komnas-HAM, Dr Baharuddin Lopa, proposed the establishment of a cooperation platform for local religious leaders. In fact, a platform similar to the FKKPA, had been created in 1994; however, it was unable to prevent the numerous riots which occurred in East Timor. (MD, Nov. 1995)
Dialogue on Religious Pluralism
He said the East Timorese actually do not understand Indonesia in its greatness, complexity, and pluralism because of their relatively recent integration. If their wishes are not fulfilled, the East Timorese immediately assume discrimination, he said. He claimed that the riots in East Timor do indeed contain an element of grave human rights violations and that it just so happened that its victims were Muslim. Therefore, he suggested that the Government quickly deal with every form of human rights violations irrespective of the religious affiliation of the perpetrators. (WP, 9 Oct. 1995)
Sources: INIS Newsletter XII 1996, XIII 1997, XIV 1997, XV 1998
“I LEARNT to cook while doing my compulsory service in the Taiwanese army,” reminiscences Dr Nouruddin Y. Ma. We are chatting at a café in Taipei, where he is accompanying a media delegation from the UAE and Jordan.
“No halal food was served in the army, of course. But Muslim soldiers like me were given separate utensils and supplied with fish, which we could cook for ourselves. This was the respect shown by the government. In fact, my comrades envied me as I would be comfortably cooking fish for myself while they attended the drills. I am very happy and proud to be a Taiwanese Muslim.”
The majority is made up of foreign workers, mainly from Indonesia and Thailand. Put together, Muslims are but a drop in the ocean in this country of 24 million. But they face no discrimination and are allowed to practise their faith freely.
Professor Nouruddin, a PhD from San Francisco State University, has made it his mission to increase awareness about Muslim culture among the Taiwanese, and also to make Taiwan a destination favoured by foreign Muslim travellers, especially those from the Middle East.
“We have a very limited number of Muslims here. People don’t really understand us. But that is actually an opportunity for us. Chinese people respect anyone who follows any religion — they think that those who go to mosques, temples and churches are good people.”
But has the negative press that Islam and Muslims have received, especially since the attacks of 9/11, changed people’s attitudes? “Not at all. There is no effect of any news coverage. Local people just don’t care about international issues. They are simply not familiar with that stuff,” he said.
Dr Nouruddin believes that Chinese people feel their social mores and those of other Eastern cultures, such as Islam, are similar. “We, Chinese, value family a lot. People work all their lives to earn money for their families. Education is given prime importance; it is very crucial for Chinese people. We also appreciate children being disciplined. These are also Muslim values. Those who know about Islam appreciate its social values, such as absence of drinking and gambling. Both the government and people of Taiwan are very welcoming.”
The country has six mosques, with two in the capital Taipei, including the largest and oldest, the Taipei Grand Mosque. These mosques not only serve as places of worship but also act as community centres. On Fridays, there are sermons in both Chinese (Mandarin) and English (for the small but growing number of people from south Asia and the Middle East who have either made Taiwan their home or are frequent business visitors). There is a festive atmosphere every Friday, with people of different nationalities bringing along homemade food from their respective cuisines and sharing with others.
The authorities are trying to attract more and more visitors from the subcontinent and the Middle East to the small island. The idea is to find a niche market for travellers. Several small businessmen from the region visit Taiwan regularly or have small trading offices on the island. The country is a world leader in the manufacture of high-tech components, such as semi-conductors, which are sought by businesses worldwide. “This is where bodies such as the Chinese Muslim Association come in. The government is trying to create a Muslim-friendly environment by cooperating with the CMA, which issues the Halal certification for restaurants. The Tourism Bureau is working with travel agents and providing training courses.”
Many people have an image of Taiwan as just a manufacturing, almost industrial centre. While this is true to an extent, an hour’s drive from the bustling capital reveals the beauty of this island, 70 per cent of which is mountainous. In the central and eastern parts of Taiwan, one finds some of the most spectacular mountain-biking trails, and sights such as the Sun Moon Lake.
If Taipei aims to attract Muslim travellers, it has its work cut out. Language can be the main obstacle, followed by food. Even some of those in the tourist trade hardly speak any English. And the shortage of restaurants serving halal food is obvious enough. Dr Nouruddin believes there is a reason for this. “The Muslims who first came to the island in 1949 [from mainland China] tended to be very well educated. They didn’t want to do non-white-collar jobs such as working in or even running restaurants. Hence, there was always a shortage of halal restaurants. This gap was filled, to an extent, by Muslim immigrants from countries such as Thailand.”
Seated in his small office inside the Taipei Grand Mosque complex, Salahuding Ma, the secretary-general of the CMA, is very optimistic about attracting more visitors from the Middle East and the subcontinent and increasing the cultural exchange. “Our association [the CMA] was established in 1937, in mainland China. In Taiwan, we are registered with the government but are supported by donations from local Muslims. We are trying to bring communities and people together, especially travellers from the Middle East. We are working with the authorities to increase the number of a) halal and b) Muslim-friendly restaurants. We are making huge progress — even exporting halal food to other Far East countries.”
Salahuding, too, asserts that his community faces no discrimination in democratic Taiwan. “We are fully free to follow our traditions. And socially, there is no friction at all between the communities. Taiwanese society is tolerant.”
USCMO: NEW US MUSLIM UMBRELLA ORGANIZATION
The leaders of ten Muslim-American organizations on Wednesday announced the launch of the group to better voice the concerns of the country’s Muslim community.
“This is an announcement which has been long-awaited by the Muslim-American community,” said Oussama Jammal, secretary general of the newly formed U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO).
“We’re delighted that these major organizations have gotten together in response to the aspirations and hopes of the American Muslim community to have a voice and an umbrella organization.”The new U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) includes:  the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR),  the Muslim Legal Fund of America,  the Muslim American Society,  American Muslims for Palestine,  the Islamic Circle of North America,  the Muslim Alliance in North America,  the Muslim Ummah of North America,  The Mosque Cares, , the American Muslim Alliance, and  the Mosque Foundation.
Among the new organization’s first priorities is conducting a nationwide census.
“This census will create a database that will be used to enhance political participation in upcoming elections,” Oussama Jammal said Wednesday during a news conference. “Hopefully, this will give inspiration to American Muslims who are interested in public service to know they have the votes behind them.”
Talib Abur-Rashid, deputy amir with the Muslim Alliance in North America, said the census can provide “a practical step toward the exercising of our faith community’s civil and humans rights in American society.”
Over the last century, the passing of civil rights, voting rights and immigration laws were major steps for the country, he said.
“The political landscape of the nation is one in which issues tied to these very same pieces of legislation … are hot-button topics of discussion and sources of political controversy and struggle,” Mr. Abur-Rashid said. “As Muslims we are just as concerned about these issues as any other American.”
No official start date has been set for the census, as the resources and materials need to be assembled, Mr. Jammal said, but the goal is to have the database completed in time for the 2016 presidential election.
The U.S. Census Bureau does not include questions about religious affiliation and practice. According to the Pew Research Center, various studies estimate that 6 million to 7 million Muslims are in the U.S.
Mr. Jammal noted that a growing number of Muslim Americans have been elected to various leadership positions throughout the country. Two members of Congress are Muslim — Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, both Democrats.
“The Muslim community is one of the most diverse communities, if not the most diverse religious community in America,” said Khalil Meek, executive director of the Muslim Legal Fund of America. “We have a vast amount of resources and education and principles and values that we want to share with this great country. We want to contribute and we hope this platform is the beginning of that opportunity to better serve and unite our voice for the benefit of all.”
“We we want to fully participate and engage in the civic process,” said Osama Abu Irshaid, of the American Muslims for Palestine. “We also want to ward off the evils of bigotry and Islamophobia, and begin to define ourselves instead of allowing others who don’t understand us [but] fear us … tell us how to live and how to worship in this country.”
Any Muslim organization can apply for membership to the council. Voting and non-voting membership opportunities are available.
Among the eight organizations represented at Wednesday’s announcement at the National Press Club, no women were present. Mr. Jammal said the hope is to have female leaders step forward as their organizations become members of the council.
Nihad Awad, executive director for CAIR, said his organization would likely take the lead in advocating for civil rights for Muslim Americans.
“This is the dream for every American Muslim, which is to unify the approach, the agenda, the aspirations and the vision of the Muslim community,” he said. “American Muslims, through this platform, are going to tell their own story, are going to define themselves through their own reality. A platform like this, we believe, is going to be representative of the reality of the Muslim community.”
Thu, March 13,2014
MUSLIMS IN SINGAPORE TO GET TWO NEW MOSQUES BY 2016
Two new mosques will be built in Woodlands and Jurong West at a cost of about $15 million each by 2016.
Two sites of about 2500 sq m each have been selected and construction will start later this year, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) on Monday at a media briefing. Both mosques can each accommodate as many as 6,000 worshippers during peak periods, it added.
The mosque in Jurong West will be built near the junction of Jalan Bahar and Jurong West Avenue 2, while the one in Woodlands will be located along Woodlands Drive 17.
Mosque-building committees have also been appointed to raise about $5 million of funds for interior furnishings and to reach out to the local Muslim communities in both areas.
The Strait Times
Tue, 17 March 2014
ISLAMIC LAW IS ADOPTED BY BRITISH LEGAL CHIEFS
ISLAMIC law is to be effectively enshrined in the British legal system for the first time under guidelines for solicitors on drawing up “Sharia compliant” wills.
Under ground-breaking guidance, produced by The Law Society, High Street solicitors will be able to write Islamic wills that deny women an equal share of inheritances and exclude unbelievers altogether.
The documents, which would be recognised by Britain’s courts, will also prevent children born out of wedlock – and even those who have been adopted – from being counted as legitimate heirs.
Anyone married in a church, or in a civil ceremony, could be excluded from succession under Sharia principles, which recognise only Muslim weddings for inheritance purposes.Nicholas Fluck, president of The Law Society, said the guidance would promote “good practice” in applying Islamic principles in the British legal system.
Some lawyers, however, described the guidance as “astonishing”, while campaigners warned it represented a major step on the road to a “parallel legal system” for Britain’s Muslim communities.
Baroness Cox, a cross-bench peer leading a Parliamentary campaign to protect women from religiously sanctioned discrimination, including from unofficial Sharia courts in Britain, said it was a “deeply disturbing” development and pledged to raise it with ministers.
“This violates everything that we stand for,” she said. “It would make the Suffragettes turn in their graves.”
The guidance, quietly published this month and distributed to solicitors in England and Wales, details how wills should be drafted to fit Islamic traditions while being valid under British law.
It suggests deleting or amending standard legal terms and even words such as “children” to ensure that those deemed “illegitimate” are denied any claim over the inheritance.
It recommends that some wills include a declaration of faith in Allah which would be drafted at a local mosque, and hands responsibility for drawing up some papers to Sharia courts.
The guidance goes on to suggest that Sharia principles could potentially overrule British practices in some disputes, giving examples of areas that would need to be tested in English courts.
Currently, Sharia principles are not formally addressed by or included in Britain’s laws.
However, a network of Sharia courts has grown up in Islamic communities to deal with disputes between Muslim families.
A few are officially recognised tribunals, operating under the Arbitration Act.
They have powers to set contracts between parties, mainly in commercial disputes, but also to deal with issues such as domestic violence, family disputes and inheritance battles.
But many more unofficial Sharia courts are also in operation.
Parliament has been told of a significant network of more informal Sharia tribunals and “councils”, often based in mosques, dealing with religious divorces and even child custody matters in line with religious teaching.
They offer “mediation” rather than adjudication, although some hearings are laid out like courts with religious scholars or legal experts sitting in a manner more akin to judges than counsellors.
One study estimated that there were now around 85 Sharia bodies operating in Britain. But the new Law Society guidance represents the first time that an official legal body has recognised the legitimacy of some Sharia principles.
It opens the way for non-Muslim lawyers in High Street firms to offer Sharia will drafting services. The document sets out crucial differences between Sharia inheritance laws and Western traditions.
It explains how, in Islamic custom, inheritances are divided among a set list of heirs determined by ties of kinship rather than named individuals. It acknowledges the possibility of people having multiple marriages.
“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class,” the guidance says. “Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised.
Similarly, a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir, as the entitlement depends on a valid Muslim marriage existing at the date of death. This means you should amend or delete some standard will clauses.”
It advises lawyers to draft special exclusions from the Wills Act 1837, which allows gifts to pass to the children of an heir who has died, because this is not recognised in Islamic law.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “This guidance marks a further stage in the British legal establishment’s undermining of democratically determined human rights-compliant law in favour of religious law from another era and another culture. British equality law is more comprehensive in scope and remedies than any elsewhere in the world. Instead of protecting it, The Law Society seems determined to sacrifice the progress made in the last 500 years.”
Lady Cox said: “Everyone has freedom to make their own will and everyone has freedom to let those wills reflect their religious beliefs. But to have an organisation such as The Law Society seeming to promote or encourage a policy which is inherently gender discriminatory in a way which will have very serious implications for women and possibly for children is a matter of deep concern.”
22 Mar 2014