Dear Editor, I write with grave concern about the development of Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (MAT). The purpose of these courts seem extremely worrying as it is evidential that traditional Sharia law does not meet the contemporary needs and rights of women, certainly not in relation to domestic violence, marriage and (post) divorce.
For example, in some Muslim countries, rape is evidenced "if there are four adult, pious, male, Muslim witnesses to the act of penetration". Four female witnesses are not sufficient! Clearly the impossibility of this evidence leaves many women abused and silenced. In Britain MAT will further serve to undermine women's constitutional rights should we wish to access a non-Sharia pathway to settle disputes related to marriage and the family, it is crucial that the civil law of the country should not be destabilised by what MAT is advocating.
Religious law, used without due regard to the relative powerlessness of women and children in society and without proper and transparent monitoring can be and is used to strengthen and extend the control and abuse perpetrated by individuals. Any form of arbitration, conciliation or mediation in cases of abuse from partner or relative is dangerous and inappropriate. It is not recommended by the UK's Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee domestic violence sector which has over 35 years of experience in domestic violence and forced marriage cases. There are no guarantees from MAT that in cases involving abuse and violence towards women that the victim is supported independently, sensitively and appropriately, that she will be given information in a way that she understands and be sign-posted to appropriate services.