Leaving Islam




Is Canada next?

Azar Majedi  

When I heard about the Sharia court in Canada , I first thought it was a joke. When I realised it was real; that it was really happening, and when I read that soon Islamic courts may become a reality in Canada , I was overwhelmed; I was shocked. It sounded like a fantasy world. As a friend called it: the Islamic Republic of Canada is coming into being. I thought of my friends, like Homa, who escaped one Islamic republic only to end up in another. How many Islamic republics do we have to fight? One in Iran , one in Afghanistan , fighting the creation of another in Iraq , and now one in Canada .  

I am sure, right now, some of you will think: `please don’t exaggerate, this is going too far. This is not about the whole of Canada , it is only about the so-called “Moslem community”. And it is only going to concern the civil and the family codes not other legal aspects. You are talking as though there is going to be stoning on the streets of Toronto , and furthermore, this is a voluntary matter, no one is forced to refer to these courts if they do not choose to. It is going to be purely their own choice.”  

Fine.  Let’s examine and see whether I am exaggerating, or this statement is underestimating the graveness of the situation, the enormity of this action, and the extreme risk we are taking vis a vis women’s rights, children’s rights and human rights.  

The defence of this legislation is based on fallacies.  

The first is the argument that by creating Islamic courts parallel with the national courts - that is by allowing every community to have its own judicial system - we are respecting the rights of minorities, and by doing this we are thereby creating a less discriminatory society and supposedly a more egalitarian one.  

This is totally a false assumption. By defining the rights of communities as opposed to the rights of individuals or rather citizens, we are discriminating against a section of the society. We are depriving some citizens of their equal rights and universal rights recognized by the society. In the face of the law we should recognize citizens and not collectives, or communities. By recognizing communities and assigning some arbitrary rights based on a particular culture or religion to that collective we are leaving the members of that particular community at the mercy of the inherent power struggle of the community. The so-called leaders of that community, be it elders, or the mullahs are gaining power over the individuals.  

To recognize two or more sets of values, laws and rights in a single society is a discriminatory practice. By doing this, we are, in fact, defining different categories of citizens, and to do that on the basis of different ethnicity, religion and culture is nothing but racism, pure and simple. We are assigning different laws, rights and norms and standards to each different ethnic or religious group.  

The concept of citizen and citizen’s rights are modern concepts achieved by decades of libertarian struggle. The reduction of the church’s power over society is another achievement. The world has made important strides towards the recognition of concepts such as human rights. In fact the struggle against sexism and for women’s rights has been such a process.

In the case of Islamic courts and empowering them with legal procedures regarding civil disputes or family disputes, we are leaving women in the so-called Moslem communities at the mercy of Islamic laws and traditions, which are clearly discriminatory against women. There has been a long battle in countries under the rule of Islam by the women’s liberation movement to achieve a secular system and secular legislation in order to diminish discrimination against women and promote the recognition of equal rights for women in the realm of family as well as the society as a whole.  

The second fallacy is the argument that says referrals of family disputes to Islamic courts, and Islamic arbitration is voluntary and a matter of personal choice. This argument sounds very libertarian and legitimate. But this is only a fancy façade for imposing a patriarchal value system on women and children. Intimidation and force of communal moral pressure are tools of keeping women subjugated. No human being in her right mind would choose to deprive herself of equal rights, and into a subordinate position. Under the patriarchal value system, such as Islamic traditions and norms, women are deprived of equal rights in matters such as marriage, divorce, custody and running of family matters and family disputes. Women in these communities are forced by intimidation and the communal moral pressure to accept this inequality as the norm, as the natural and divine law and to respect it. Creating a legal system and empowering the so-called leaders of the community with legal powers as well as religious and moral power will reduce the choice for women to live a more equal life. It will diminish women’s rights to equal opportunity; it will isolate women from the broader society and ghettoize their lives. Any women’ rights activist and analyst will tell you that the family and the dynamism of family life and family order are the pillars of women’s subordination in the society. Some argue that Islamic courts only deal with mundane issues, such as family law. This is a self-serving argument to fog the real issues involved. The women’s liberation movement has fought long and hard to reform family laws and the structure of power inside the family. By recognising Islamic courts we are turning the clock back for women living under Islamic traditions. The society is duty-bound to offer every woman equal opportunity and equal access to equal and universal laws. No one has the right to deny any woman, whether in Islamic communities, Jewish or any other, from this basic right. In an environment based on patriarchy, an old value system, and traditions so clearly misogynist, there can be no question of exercising your choice freely. The choice will be that of the strong partner in the relationship.  


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