Friday, September 09, 2005

Protesting Canadian Sharia

The BBC reports protests in Ontario, Canada over the pending institutions of a modified kind of Sharia in that Province:

Approval would make Ontario the only Western jurisdiction to adopt a form of sharia arbitration.

The demonstration outside the Ontario legislature was the focal point for several protests across Canada.

Sharia-based laws would be similar to faith-based tribunals already permitted by the Canadian province for Catholics and Jews to use the principles of their faiths to settle family disputes.

The government insists that the process would only have its roots in sharia and that the equal rights of women would continue to be protected under Canadian law.

I've argued against the expansion of religious personal law in the past, citing India as a place where it has produced many problems. But it's hard to take a strong position against it here when it's already in place for Catholics and Jews.

Still, there is this to consider:

One of the major challenges for the Ontario government is that sharia law is subject to a great deal of interpretation.

There are virtually no existing formal standards in appointing someone to interpret Islamic law.

Perhaps the argument against Sharia courts in Canada might be made on the grounds that there is simply too much disagreement over what Sharia actually is (and no definitive authority figure to authorize it).

I hope Sikhs and Hindus in Canada aren't thinking of trying to do this.


Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

This sounds identical to the situation in India, doesn't it? There as well, religious personal law is followed as long as it doesn't interfere with the constitution or the penal code.

This applies to Hindus as much as it applies to Christians and Muslims. Actually, I must admit, none of this makes any sense to me anyways. Best to avoid the Indian penal system altogether. As the Bengalees say, "You get 18 festering wounds if the police merely touch you".

10:14 AM  
Amrit said...

Why I would argue against the Sharia law is because unlike other religions (Ok, going to be politically incorrect here), Islam is a bit averse to progress and change and hence, once their antiquated laws are implemented, they never change them because they are straight from the Prophet's holy mouth. Other religions, even Hindus and Sikhs for that matter, change with times, and even re-orient their religious outlooks. Christians, for instance, regularly update their theological perceptions according to progress in scientific evolutionary evidences.


10:24 AM  
Jay said...

Will be very interesting to see how the Ontario government manages to block this without appearing to have double standards. A real fix the NDP has got Ontario into! :)

12:52 PM  
Niraj said...

I honestly don't know how this works in Canada, but I can guess.

Is it a forced arbitration or a voluntary one? If it's the latter, I don't see the problem. If it's the former, I'm against it.

5:20 PM  
sepoy said...

Not that I am for Shari'a in Canada but it is patently absurd to suggest that "there are virtually no existing formal standards in appointing someone to interpret Islamic law". Before ulema became mulla became an insult, it meant a scholar trained and accredited in a school of fiqh who can be hired as a judge.

One can pick up contemporary account of such an 'alim and how he got many such jobs.

8:56 PM  
Amardeep said...


Ok, thanks for schooling me. I should be a little less cavalier in talking about the Islamic clerisy. Would you accept that there are such standards, but that the standards are often disregarded?

And Niraj, I'm pretty sure it's voluntary, though 'voluntary' sometimes gets into a gray zone when we're talking about gender relations within families.

10:41 AM  
Jay said...

Update: the Ontario govt. rejected the use of sharia law today, with consequences for other faith-based arbitration:

9:21 AM  
Anonymous said...

From Ikram

(I've already commented above, but there are a few points that fit better here)

The proposed Islamic Arbitration Panel would have set its own rules, as the Jewish and Ismaili panels currently do. Given that the proponent of the plan is an Indian-Muslim (a graduate of Osmania University in Hyderabad), he probably would have borrowed from Anglo-Muhammadan law -- one of the three South Asian varieties.

Alternatively, the panel could have used one of the four/five Islamic legal schools. The issues the panel would have dealt with -- divorce and inheritance -- are pretty clearly fleshed out.

If a group disagreed with the panel's rules, they could have set up their own panel. Analogous (but not the same) as what is doen in India, where there are now at least four different Muslim Personal Law Boards (none of which have legal standing).

(As an aside, its not a suprise that Islamic Arbtration in Canada was proposed by an Indian Muslim, and opposed by Iranians and Pakistanis. There's your Ummah for you.)

2:49 PM  

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