Are Muslim women's rights
adversely affected by
Shariah tribunals?

by Syed Mumtaz Ali

A less-informed segment of the Muslim community has asserted that Muslims women's rights will be adversely affected because Muslim law is "offensive" and "patriarchal" and therefore the Canadian law is better, fairer and even superior, particularly in matters of child custody.

This is nothing but a false portrayal and an example of a flight of wild imagination of the orientalists and the anti-Muslim propaganda that has managed to brainwash those who fall victim to believing in this absolutely untenable assertion/allegation. All one needs to do to find out the truth is to spend just a little time to study the reliable literature (both Muslim and secular). There is no lack of it nowadays, even in the English language. For instance, to save time in researching relevant material, let me invite your readers to begin with our web site, as a starter, at http://muslimcanada.org. There are several articles, by authoritative scholars, short, long, as well as comprehensive, on this website under the section "Women's Domain" and subsection "Muslim Personal Family law, for example:

1) The Muslim Woman by Dr. M. Hamidullah, Introduction to Islam, quite comprehensive, yet only 12 pages.

2) Muslim women by Jamal Badawi, a medium-length article.

3) By Muhammad Abdul Aleem Siddiqui A concise, brief but comprehensive comparative study of women's rights under different religions [only six pages]. This will give readers a general idea of how Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the savior of womanhood, through the Divine Revelation of the Lord of the Universe Who created both the male and female and who loves them equally, preached to the world that:

I will let the readers decide for themselves whether Muslim women are going to be better off under the Muslim Arbitration system or under the secular Canadian regime. Using the Muslim Courts of Arbitration, Muslim women are guaranteed equity under the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms, a bundle of, say, 100 rights (for the sake of illustration). Under the Muslim Arbitration system, Muslim women are likely to get, say, a bundle of 200 rights, i.e. MORE, NOT LESS, than the Canadian secular bundle of rights. Not exactly equal, but better than equal!

So, in answer to the question, "Why should Muslim women choose the Muslim Court of Arbitration in preferring instead to be led by a secular court?" ... Is it not clear that Muslim women will not only enjoy 1) more rights, but also 2) the satisfaction that they will be "good Muslims" in the eyes of their Creator as well as perhaps in the eyes of their fellow Muslims and fellow non-Muslim counterparts for being true to their faith by following/obeying the Divine injunctions/laws? As Muslims who "surrender" to the Will of God (as expressed through Divine law), obeying the law is what makes them Muslim. Thus by failing to be judged by the Divine laws, they will not be regarded as "no better than 'unbelievers,' 'wrong-doers,' or 'evil-livers' as the Quran would otherwise characterize them.

Having explained the situation in the above matter, the question of whether Muslim law is "superior or inferior" to secular Canadian law, it seems to me, is not directly relevant to the subject under discussion and therefore is no more than an exercise in futility, for the simple reason that an affirmative or negative answer to the question of "better or worse" cannot distract us from the fact that the Muslim Arbitration court system provides a win-win situation, the best of both worlds. The Canadianization of Muslim law/Shariah (as Canadians, for some reason, prefer and keep using the term "Sharia" rather than the correct term "Muslim law") this provides the satisfaction and real peace of mind and tranquility (sakeena) that one is obeying both the Shariah and the Canadian law and avoiding any conflict between the two. The Shariah lays down the injunction that Muslims living in non-Muslim countries MUST obey both the Shariah and the law of the non-Muslim country of origin simultaneously and that in the event of conflict on any point, the relevant Shariah provision (command) would lie "suspended," not "cancelled."

Let me deal with another misconception, a myth that under Muslim law, children's custody is more often than not, (or as some allege, always) given to the father. This is an absolutely untrue, false assertion/allegation. Both the Islamic law and Canadian law act on one common principle that "the best interest of the child" determines the issue as to which of the parents should have custody. Period. Where does all this fury about Muslim law's "peculiar preference and attitude" for custody of children in favour of father come from? Sheer Islamophobia and typical slanderous rhetoric of uninformed, biased Western propaganda, one might say!

Syed Mumtaz Ali
Patron-in-Chief
The Islamic Institute of Civil Justice