An informal arbitration system that has been quietly settling marital or business disputes in Ontario using Islamic law, or sharia, for several years has now become a more formal structure known as the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice — and a national Muslim women's organization is "gravely concerned" that women's rights will not be protected.
Supporters of judicial tribunals say they reduce the need to go to court, are more private, speed up resolution and keep costs low in civil disputes.
These are some of the reservations of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women:
Sharia, or more accurately Muslim law, is not divine, as argued by some. It is based on divine text, the Quran, but it was interpreted a few centuries after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, by jurists in different countries, who themselves insisted that these were only interpretations. It is a vast, complex judicial system, with many schools of thought and with adaptations to local customs.
For example, some countries where Muslim law is applied, such as Tunisia, have interpreted the law as limiting marriage to monogamy, while others, like Pakistan, allow polygamy if the first wife consents.
Also, there are some interpretations and practices which adversely affect women. For example in some schools of jurisprudence, inheritance favours males; a husband can divorce his wife without legal recourse; financial support for wives can be for a limited period of time; alimony is questionable; division of property can be against the woman; and child custody can be given to fathers , according to the age of the child. How and who will ensure that these are not the interpretations which are used by the arbiters?
They also note that although the participants in the arbitration can choose either the Canadian law or the sharia law, many religious women would feel obligated to choose the sharia interpretation, even when it is not in their best interest.
Thanks to Mystic Bovine for the links.