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Tory MP for Shipley, Philip Davies, has called on the Government to shut down Sharia councils in the UK to ‘protect Muslim women.’

As it stands in the UK today, Muslim women have less rights to property and finances in the event of a divorce than gay men and lesbian women do. Gays have the right to civil ceremonies in the UK that protect both partners financial and property rights in the event of a divorce. Muslim women don’t. And when gays go around holding up their ‘queers for Islam’ and ‘queers against Islamophobia’ banners, I really do have to shake my head at the stupidity of it all. Why not take those banners and head off to the nearest sharia council and fight for the rights other minorities’ so that they too can enjoy the equal status under the law?

Muslims have a religious ceremony called a ‘nikah’, which should be followed up, by a separate civil ceremony so both partners’ rights are protected under British law. If the couple do not have a civil ceremony then the women will have no rights under British law.

A survey found that Muslim women in the UK enjoy fewer rights than their sisters in Islamic countries where Muslims are required to register their marriages under civil law. Why are Muslims refusing or neglecting to do this in the UK? Is this a sign that Muslims do not recognise the law of the land in which they are living? The Imams who are performing these ‘nikahs’ have a responsibility to be aware of the UK laws, which seek to protect both partners in marriage. Are they refusing to let Muslims in their community know of these rights for fear of them no longer using Sharia councils?

There have also been reports by Muslim women who claim that the husband doesn’t want to have the marriage recognised by British law because it would affect his benefits or because he doesn’t want to lose money if they divorced. Other reasons given for not registering the marriage are that the woman is afraid the man won’t keep his promise to marry her. Pre-nuptials agreements are rare in Muslim marriages and women are kicked out of their homes with no money or property and often they are not allowed to have access to their children.

There’s no legitimate reason why any women in the UK today should be at a disadvantage if her marriage dissolves. And it’s not only if her marriage falls apart – what happens if her husband dies suddenly? His family would have all the rights to finances and property. There is a campaign called ‘Register Our Marriage’ which focuses specifically on the Muslim community in a bid to protect women’s rights in the event of death or divorce.

Muslim leaders, in the wake of this statement by Mr Davies, are now saying that Sharia councils are being demonised and are totally misunderstood. They claim that councils simply act as a sort of gentle intermediary or advisory service for couples whose marriage might be breaking down. They present themselves as the calm voice of reason but there are countless horror stories and undercover footage of women being sent back to their abusive husbands.

There is little legitimacy to these councils. Any Muslim man can open one in his back bedroom if he pleases. No licenses need to be obtained either. Councils’ ethics also differ wildly and some women suggest researching them before choosing the one you think suits you best. No matter which one you go to, even if you get your divorce, Islam will still discriminate against you. A man can use the triple talaq (instant divorce method) and say ‘I divorce you’ three times and hey presto, just like a magic act your marriage has gone up in a puff of smoke. A woman on the other hand, in order to finalise her divorce requirements must wait until three menstrual cycles have passed before the divorce is official.

A 7th century barbaric legal system has no place in a modern society such as the UK where anti-discrimination laws are in place to protect everyone. There is no need for parallel legal systems to exist. I would argue that parallel legal systems create more problems for everyone. If a crime was committed by me or against me, whose justice system should I be tried under or seek compensation from?

The easiest solution would be of course for every Muslim woman to be aware of her rights and to insist on a ceremony that is recognised and registered under UK law, but the problem is not that simple. With arranged and forced marriages being the cultural norm, a woman doesn’t often have too much to say in who she is being married to. There is also a sizeable proportion of Muslim women in the UK who do not speak English and David Cameron came under fire for proposing that all Muslim women must learn to be fluent in English. The left shouted him down as a racist as did a lot of ‘human rights’ groups’. He made a lot of sense because if women can’t speak English they are prisoners in their homes and communities. They can’t get an education, find a job or socialise and make friends. So if they can’t participate in things that are very ordinary, why should we expect them to be able to read up on and understand a legal system that is alien to their own?