According to The Guardian, the debate regarding how Sharia councils should be integrated into English civil law continues to rage, prompting a House of Commons inquiry.
The main concern is for those Muslim women who, without the aid of the legal system to support them, are at risk of losing their civil rights.
Although Muslim men can easily obtain a religious divorce under Sharia law by pronouncing triple talaq, their wives often have to pay several hundreds of pounds to an imam and agree to give up all financial rights in return for a religious divorce. Even when granted however, the divorce is not legally recognised in this country, unless a separate claim is filed in an English court.
The inquiry is being led by Elham Manea, who is associate professor in Middle East Studies at Zurich University. Manea has expressed her concerns about the disparity between Sharia and legal marriage processes and systems. This, she says, can currently leave Muslim women very vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their husband, as rendering them financially unstable.
Manea points out that in some African countries including Tunisia and Morocco, a religious divorce must always be preceeded by a legal divorce. This, she insists, is the legislation which must be adopted in Britain if the two systems are to work hand in hand.
The 85 or so Sharia councils in Britain have received bad press in recent years, amidst reports of the condoning of child marriage, abuse and marital rape. Many of these councils, it is alleged, are not formally recognised; nevertheless, their importance to the Muslim community is undoubtable, which gives them considerable religious influence.
Nus Ghani, tory MP for Wealda, who campaigned for the inquiry, is recommending that a nationwide survey be undertaken to document every marriage that is recognised under Sharia law but not under English civil law. Couples currently in this situation should be made to register the marriage through the formal legal channels. In future, she says, all imams who conduct a religious wedding should also be responsible for registering the marriage.
These proposed moves are being supported by The Muslim Law Council UK, which says that it is the only way in which Muslim women will be able to safeguard their financial and legal rights in this country.