Friday, 11 December 2009

Laying out the welcome MAT for Sharia in Wales?

A Sharia Court in Wales by the middle of next year provided courtesy of the MAT (Muslim Arbitration Tribunal)? Well Dragon’s Eye thinks that might be the case! But don’t panic, this is far from a foregone conclusion as Muslims in Wales might have something to say about it. Has anyone even bothered to ask Muslims here if we even want it in the first place? It rather seems like the MAT are simply trying to extend their franchise into Wales.

A non-story, I think, that has been overblown. Essentially, some bloke from England wants to bring a Sharia court to Wales but the key Muslim organisations in Wales that would be the potential partners for him have said ‘No Thanks’ making it virtually impossible for the MAT to make inroads into the Muslim communities of Wales. But let’s scare the public in Wales anyway, and just to make sure, include clips of armed Taliban in the intro to the discussion.

To help get some perspective on the issues and personalities involved in the programme I’ve arranged this blog post in a Q&A format. There will be things raised in the programme I have not addressed but if there IS interest from the blogosphere I can consider tackling some of them.

Question 1: Does Wales already have a Sharia Council?
Answer: No. A council conjures up the image of a group of scholars that gather round a table to make rulings on cases. What we DO have is an Islamic Social Services NGO that mediates and counsels, mainly in the area of relationships and particularly around marital issues and the extended family. The name ‘ISSA Wales’ can clearly be seen on the leaflets the staff/volunteers are handling in the programme. Their services are even used by couples who are not Muslims, which will give you a sense of how inclusive the service they offer is if people of other faiths or no faith are utilising them for mediation and counselling.

Question 2: Have the diverse Muslim communities within Wales been consulted as to whether or not they want a Sharia Court here?
Answer: No. From the response in the programme of a female user of the current provision in Wales there is unlikely to be any appetite for a Sharia Court from those who wish to have a faith-based resolution to issues they are facing and are utilising the legal system that we all share. At a time when Welsh Muslims are becoming more and more integrated into all aspects of our existing institutions and processes in Wales the proposed introduction of what many will regard as a parallel legal system is an unwelcome and divisive development.

Question3: Where is this proposal coming from?
Answer: Nuneaton, England

Question 4: Who is driving this?
Answer: Shaikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi

Question 5: Who is Shaikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi?
Answer: A barrister who is also a ‘pir’ or 'saint' of one of the Naqshbandi Sufi orders known as 'Hijazi' the followers of which in Wales I doubt you could count on one hand. He also led the largest (peaceful) demonstration in Western Europe against the publication of the Danish cartoons. As an aside to this, what most people do not know is that the only place in the whole of the UK where the Danish cartoons were actually published was Wales - twice! The reaction from Welsh Muslims to this was in marked contrast to a lot of other places around the world. Quiet meetings with the bodies concerned to express the offence felt; all very civil and certainly no frothing-at-the-mouth effigy burning antics and not even peaceful street protests. Sales of Lurpak didn’t reach an all-time low either. The bottom line is that Muslims have a very different way of doing things here in Wales and it would be better if OUR way was exported to other parts of the UK rather than the other way around.

Question 6: Who was the lady vigorously opposing the proposals of the gentleman from Nuneaton to bring Sharia courts to Wales?
Answer: Maryam Namazie

Question 7: Who is Maryam Namazie?
Answer: Maryam Namazie (based in London and with no connection to Wales that I'm aware of) was introduced in the programme as being from the ‘One Law for All’ organisation but of course she’s a bit more than just that. A secular fundamentalist par excellence, and central committee member of the Worker Communist Party of Iran, she is also spokesperson for the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain and opposed the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill in the UK. Not quite the middle of the road liberal human rights activist that you might initially consider her. If we wanted to hear the other side of the debate taking her as one extreme of the spectrum we’d need to invite someone from the Taliban's Department for the Prohibition of Vice and Promotion of Virtue.

I don’t hold with the views of either the Shaikh or the Secularist, who I’m sure are both lovely people when their enthusiastic promotion of their pet hates/pet projects is not clouding their judgement, but rather support the harmonious approach adopted by my fellow Welsh Muslims in finding a happy medium in this debate that works for the Muslims of Wales. We don’t have time for the imposition of Sharia from Nuneaton-based organisations nor for the anti-religious attitudes of secular humanists from London.

Alas, it would appear none of us here in Wales are immune to unsolicited interference from England.


  1. Thanks for that - I didn't see the programme but it's a shame Dragon's Eye didn't bother to go for the less dramatic but more accurate Welsh Muslim view.

  2. Thanks Meccanopsis. Very informative and reasonable.

  3. Who is Mona Bayoumi and does she represent any community here?

  4. MB studied law at Cardiff Uni and now she's a lawyer for a firm down the Bay. I think she was invited on to the programme as a legal expert rather than a community representative - and the term 'community representative' is a very much contested one anyway.