Allowing Muslims to regulate their communities using Sharia law would “systematically disadvantage Muslim women”, a commentator has warned.
Last week it emerged that the Court of Appeal had ordered a Muslim leader to support his ex-wife financially.
After the ruling Dr Zaid Al-Saffar, who believes maintenance payments are illegitimate or illegal according to Islamic culture, said that “family law in this country is biased against Muslim people”.
But Alasdair Palmer, a Sunday Telegraph columnist, said: “Dr Al-Saffar’s complaint against the English legal system is echoed in the increasingly vociferous chorus arguing that Muslims should be allowed to regulate their communities by their own laws: that they should, for example, be allowed to follow the requirements of Islamic religious law or Sharia.
“This, it is said, is necessary if Britain is to treat Muslims ‘fairly’. Unfortunately, the result would also be to systematically disadvantage Muslim women.
“It is essential, if Britain is to remain a society based on equality before the law, that we do not start allowing communities to discriminate against women.
“Muslim men can be part of British society, and most already are, without having to suppress Muslim women. Ultimately, that’s why Dr Al-Saffar has to pay his ex-wife the money that he so bitterly resents.”
The ruling comes amid increasing concern about the creeping influence of Sharia in Britain, and the emergence of a parallel legal system.
It is not known how many Muslim couples take their family disputes to Islamic Sharia tribunals, but critics warn that they often discriminate against women.
A Bill, tabled by Lady Cox, aimed at tackling the problem of Sharia courts in England and Wales was introduced to the House of Lords earlier this year.
Under the Bill, it will become a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to falsely claim legal jurisdiction over criminal or family law.
The Bill also makes clear that laws against sex discrimination apply to arbitration tribunals, firmly outlawing the Sharia practice of treating a woman’s testimony as worth half that of a man’s.