On Monday 28th April 2014, London, Diana Nammi, founder and Executive Director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), a leading women’s rights charity representing thousands of Middle Eastern, Afghan and North African women and girls living in the UK, gathered with her colleagues and around 70 protestors, including other human rights campaigners and lawyers, in front of the Law Society’s headquarters on Chancery Lane to demonstrate against its endorsement of Sharia law, which is fundamentally discriminatory against women.
Diana Nammi and her fellow protesters, including the human rights activist Peter Tatchell, demanded that the Law Society, the professional body representing all solicitors in England and Wales, withdraws its guidance on Sharia inheritance law and retracts its decision to start providing High Street solicitors with training on Sharia law. The guidance, which was issued on 13 March 2014, tells solicitors how to draft wills that are compliant with Sharia law and the Law Society has announced that it will start providing training for High Street solicitors to introduce them to Sharia law from summer 2014.
IKWRO strongly oppose the Law Society’s decision to provide training and issue guidance on Sharia law. By doing so the Law Society are endorsing Sharia law and the discrimination which it entails. As explained in the Law Society guidance, Sharia inheritance law is explicitly discriminatory; female heirs are entitled to inherit only half that of male heirs and ‘illegitimate’ children are also specifically discriminated against as they are not recognised as heirs.
By condoning a discriminatory legal system for minority communities, the Law Society is being racist. It is formally condoning an attack on the human rights of Muslim women and other minority communities.
At the protest IKWRO fiercely criticized the Law Society for going completely beyond its secular remit; the law of England and Wales and wading into religious law, over which it has no expertise or jurisdiction. IKWRO expressed grave concern that by issuing the guidance on Sharia inheritance law, the Law Society, which as the professional body for English and Welsh solicitors has significant influence, both within the UK and internationally, could give the false and dangerous impression that Sharia law actually has legal standing in the UK. IKWRO warned that this endorsement plus the fact that their guidance informs solicitors how to practice aspects of Sharia law, is likely to increase both the application and influence of Sharia law in England and Wales and the discrimination that it entails. IKWRO expressed deep concern that there are already at least 85 Sharia courts operating in the UK and that this move could pave the way for increased legal segregation, which is highly detrimental to Muslim women, and undermines the essential principle of one law for all, under which all women and men of all communities, with or without faith are equal.
The protesters chanted “Law Society- Shame on you!” in between speeches from Diana Nammi and other leading human rights campaigners. During the demonstration many members of the public showed their support and several joined the protest.
Diana Nammi said; ‘I know first-hand what Sharia law means for women and girls. I was born in Kurdistan, Iran. I was there when the Iranian Revolution was high jacked by fundamentalists. I was there when Sharia law took over. As a woman my testimony became worth half that of a man’s. As a woman if I were to remarry I would lose custody of my children. And as a woman, under Sharia inheritance law I was entitled to half that of my brothers.
I am here today as Executive Director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, representing thousands of women and girls from the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan who live here in the UK. Many of these women, like me, have fled countries where Sharia law is practiced. They too have experienced first-hand the discrimination of Sharia law. We have come to the UK in search of safety and to live in a country where women and men are treated as equals.
We are here today to take a stand. We are standing up for universal human rights. We are challenging discrimination. We demand that the Law Society withdraws its guidance on Sharia inheritance law. Because although this guidance does not change the law, it legitimises discrimination against women and children.
I am deeply concerned that this move has come from the professional body for lawyers of England and Wales. Lawyers should be leaders in defending human rights.
Money is being put before women’s rights. There is a lot of money to be made by lawyers from drafting Sharia compliant wills. We cannot allow for women’s rights to be sacrificed so that lawyers can cash in.
The Law Society must never step beyond its remit of secular law. It has no just reason to legitimise any religious law. We must protect one law, secular law, under which women and men are equal. We must protect justice.’
Several weeks ago IKWRO wrote to the Prime Minister calling on him to investigate and demand that the Law Society withdraw its Sharia inheritance law guidance. Downing Street has confirmed receipt of the letter but are yet to provide a response.