“Serious questions remain” over Muslim women’s treatment in British Sharia courts, a BBC programme has said.
Radio 4’s The Report spoke to women who had suffered at the hands of their husbands.
Reporter Jenny Chryss heard from one woman who said her husband tried to suffocate her and that the Sharia system treated her like a second-class citizen.
‘Nadine’, not her real name, told the BBC she was not allowed any friends, could not use social media and was attacked by her husband.
She said he punched her and tried to stop her breathing by putting his hands over her mouth and nose.
Nadine is not married under UK law – she only has an Islamic marriage – but she wanted to access a divorce through a Sharia court.
She contacted a Sharia council in London, but it said it would only give her a divorce if she talked with her husband to “get things back on track”.
“That wasn’t an option for me”, Nadine said, and added that she felt she was treated unequally by the Sharia system.
The Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton responded to the complaint saying any staff member who had acted in such a way would be disciplined.
The reporter Chryss said that while some Islamic councils have “embraced public scrutiny, serious questions remain about the treatment of women behind firmly closed doors elsewhere”.
In March Home Secretary Theresa May raised the issue of Sharia courts and said she wanted to see an investigation into the use of Sharia law in England and Wales.
She commented that there was evidence of women being “forced to return to abusive relationships” and Sharia courts “giving the testimony of a woman only half the weight of the testimony of a man”.
Baroness Cox, who has worked on combatting the issue, welcomed the Home Secretary’s call but said it is vital that innocent behaviour is not caught, or people’s religious liberties infringed.
Lady Cox said: “We cannot continue with the present situation where vulnerable women are suffering from coercion, intimidation or unfairness.”