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Canadian province to introduce Shariah law

UNI, India
July 4, 2004 • Tuesday July 6, 2004

Toronto, July 4 (UNI) Even as the Muslim Personal Law Board in India is making moves to introduce reforms in the Shariah law, Ontario is set to take a step backwards in time by becoming the first province in Canada as well as the first Western jurisdiction to accept the 1,400-year-old religious law in its legal system.

Under the 1991 Arbitration Act, shariah-based marriage, divorce and family tribunals run by the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice are expected to begin later this year in the province of Ontario.

One of the reasons cited by Ontario in allowing shariah tribunals is that Hasidic Jews have been using the Act for years in domestic arbitrations based on Jewish law and therefore Muslims can not be denied access to it.

The Arbitration Act allows religious groups to resolve civil family disputes within their faith, providing that all parties involved consent to the process and the results conform to Canadian law and human rights codes.

The move has created an uproar among progressive Muslims and Muslim women’s organisations who argue that the it will lead to injustices. Women’s groups are vowing to stop the tribunals even before they start to prevent Muslim women from being treated differently from other Canadian women.

The strong protest from the women’s group has forced Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to order a review of the plan. ”We’ve received a number of inquiries and concerns expressed on the part of Ontarians and I want to take a close look at this to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” Mr McGuinty said when asked about the proposal to allow the use of shariah law to settle family disputes, including divorce.

”We have nothing against the Shariah but our interpretation of it is much broader,” says Alia Hogben, president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, whose 900 members come from a variety of Islamic sects.

”When the law in Canada is reasonably good for all women, why introduce a different law here for the Muslim women?” Ms Hogben asks, adding that the root cause of the problem was the Arbitration Act, which allowed different communities to have their own laws. The Ontario Government has now appointed former NDP attorney-general Marion Boyd to review the Arbitration Act itself.

Ms Hogben who, along with other Muslim women activists, has been leaving no stone unturned in her fight against the introduction of the Shariah, is pitted against the ‘Moulvis’ and the ‘Imams’ who are expected to gain control of the proposed tribunals. ”We are cautiously optimistic because our voices are being heard,” says Ms Hogben.

Sheikh Abdul Hamid, a resident scholar of the Islamic Institute of Toronto, is equally concerned at the Government’s initiative though for different reasons. ”There is nothing wrong with the Shariah but the way it is implemented could lead to injustice” says Mr Hamid, asserting that it has to be very clear that the tribunal cannot pass judgments contradicting Canadian law.

”My main concern is whether the right people would be there on the tribunal because the biggest obstacle in implementing the Shariah is the people’s understanding of the law,” says Mr Hamid.

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