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By: Homa Arjomand
Adapted from the speech delivered by Homa Arjomand at the panel discussion & debate on “The Sharia courts and women’s rights in Canada” on March 7th 2004 in Toronto – Canada.
Universal rights of women irrespective of where they come from can not be achieved without a stiff resistance. The history proved that the norm and standard of modern society depend on an ongoing struggle for social progress, freedom, equality and justice. Thanks to women’s rights’ movements all restrictive and backward cultural, moral codes and customs which contradicted women’s independence; and all laws and regulations which restricted women’s right; and sexual discrimination have disappeared from the text of modern society.
The formation of “The Islamic Institute of Civic Justice” in Canada creates yet another obstacle that must be overcome. In trying to conquer this obstacle one must know what motivated this reactionary move?
The reality is that the Islamic movement has been trying to gain more shares from Parties on power in the West. For this main reason they need to have “followers” whom can be used as “extras” and their army whenever it is necessary. Islamic schools, mosques, business are all used to blind fold their followers. But, it has never been too easy for them. As secularism was their main barrier. Secularism and the movement for equality has attracted immigrant women especially those from Islamic countries in a fast progressive pace that it is hard to make the second generation of Muslim immigrants obedient to backward culture. More and more youth are using group homes and shelter as run away. The rate of divorce is ascending. Family violence is no longer a private matter and it is wide open in the air. Women are not ashamed to charge their abusers as it is not considered a shame anymore. Secular law is here to protect her and her children therefore there is no need to rely on their abusers neither financially nor mentally.
No wonder the Islamic movement attacks secularism in any way possible. In Iran, Afghanistan, and Algeria they did it by mass execution of women activists and terrorizing their families. And in Canada and the west, they use all their power to prevent Muslim population from integration within the society by expanding Islamic ghettos, Islamic school, mosques and of-course by setting up Islamic Courts.
But the reasons they have presented to the public are different .As they have stated in their proposal:
· Muslims do not want their family problems (violence) get to public
· These tribunals will deal with civil disputes not criminals
· It is optional. One can choose not to attend Sharia’ tribunal
· The process of Islamic tribunal is shorter.
· The cost is less
Let us pay attention to why Initiatives of the proposal do not want family disputes get out of their community. In communities where Sharia law interferes with people’s life, family problems are not simply the disagreement between a man and a woman and who gets what? In fact the private matter and religion are linked together. To make my point clear, I like to present one case study. I have a client in Toronto, who was taken out of school by her parents at the age of 15 and was pushed to marry to 29 year old man by the Sharia law. According to the Sharia, they are married but in the eyes of Canadian legal system they are not. At the age of 16, this young pregnant girl is going through separation because of abuse. In a secular court, the fact that she was forced to marry at a young age is considered a crime and her husband will be charged for assault and child abuse. As for her parents, they too will be charged. The children Aid Society will get involve and if they have any other children younger than 16, all will be moved out to the care of “Children Aid society”. The most, these cases will be exposed to society, members of society will take this matter seriously and will act upon it. Male- chauvinism and the anti-women culture will immediately get repealed. While in eye of Sharia tribunal no crime has taken place and matter is civil and can be resolved. In modern secular system any law and regulation that is in violation of the principle of universal rights of women will get repealed.
It is said that these Sharia’ tribunal are optional?
My question is optional to whom? I am afraid that Muslim women lose their options right at the birth. But for the sake of argument, lets go back to our case study. Let us say that the 15 year old girl refused the arranged marriage, and put a complaint against her parents to a secular court. I don’t know in reality if that could have happened due to social and financial restriction. What do you think would have happened to her? I know it is hard to imagine. Her family will disown her, for sure.
For a moment, imagine, being born and brought up in a Muslim family, Muslim community and studied in an Islamic school and never had a chance to integrate within the society. And now being disowned by not only her family but also from her entire community. No wonder she chose marriage over isolation. I think it is fair to say that she had no choice, even though the choice was legally there. As I mentioned before, her choice was taken away right from birth. In her case after going through tremendous abuse (verbally mentally, financially and sexually), for eight long months and being five months pregnant, she could not take it anymore. What are her choice now? Because she married according to the Sharia, in the eye of her community and her family, her divorce has to be according to the Sharia too. Or else it is not legitimate or “Halal”
It is also said that the cost is less and process is short!
During the recession, these two excuses are may be acceptable for the government and its right wing parties. Whatever brings done the cost of social services, health care, education and social justice is to their advantage what would be the consequences of these low cost? And who will pay the price? And how much damage does it cause to humanity? It is not their problem. The above two solutions are exactly the same as letting unprofessional do the heart sugary on patients in order to reduce the cost. The percentage of survivors in this case is obvious. Or discharging a sick patient right after his critical operation in order to bring down the cost of the hospital? Or to be able to shorten the process of recovery!! If this is not inhumane, then what is it?
My point is why should Muslim women pay the heavy price to bring down the cost?
If the cost of courts are high and process are long, because of its bureaucracy, then, it is everyone’s duty to fight it and make sure that our justice system is fair and affordable for everyone, while remains secular, modern and progressive.
And finally it is said that it is not your problem, why do you care? This is what Muslim women want.
The modern society is not built of different “clans and tribes” that can make their own law and practice it, without influencing others. A modern, secular society has its own norm and standards. We obtain them by going through harsh struggle for many years. Rights to live, rights to education, rights to health, rights to socialize and have a social life, and all other rights such as rights of gays and lesbians and children make the society’s standards and norms. Disturbance of any, will affect others. For example, it is not accepted to discipline children physically. In fact it is consider as abuse and has legal consequences, and when some “Amish” claim that it is their rights to punish their children and has nothing to do with others and that they are doing it out of love for their children. The whole society opposed it. And we had every right to do so. Exactly, the same as the rights to have “the Islamic Institute of civil Justice”. This right, too, must be taken seriously and must be opposed internationally, as it will bring down our social norm and standard.
To come to part two of this statement: “This is what Muslim women want”. I should clearly indicate that in real world, not every “ RIGHT” should be respected . To have rights to attempt suicide or have rights to drink and drive, or have rights to institutionalize male domination, gender apartheid and segregation between man and women are not respected. Whether 1000,000 people demand it or one, will not matter to our argument.
At the end, I’d Like to emphasize that we still have to face many challenges for many years ahead for a complete purging of the state and administration from religion, ethnicity, nationalism, racialism and any ideology and institution that contradicts the absolute equality of all in civil rights and before the law.
Long Live Universal Rights & Equality!