Sharia training course, anyone?

By LSS member Sadikur Rahman

Not satisfied with issuing guidance on sharia inheritance and succession rules, the Law Society it seems is now even more enthusiastic about sharia law than we previously thought. Clearly, none of the criticism it has faced has led to a re-think.

It held a talk on 24 June 2014 called “Developing services for Muslim clients – an introduction to Islamic rules for small firms”The Law Society was very keen to ensure its members (or those who attended the talk) knew how to apply sharia law provisions for clients who may request such a service.

The talk focused on three areas: wills and succession; Islamic finance; and marriage, divorce and child custody. It was led by a panel of senior lawyers who seemed to have quite a lot of knowledge of the intricacies of sharia law, although it must be said not a particularly “reformist” one.

From a secular perspective I do not see a huge problem with Islamic finance and the products which are being offered by financial institutions as “sharia compliant”. Indeed the talk focused on what that might mean and highlighted the fact that so-called “scholars” (who the speakers seemed to have a very high opinion of) might have divergent views on what is “sharia compliant”.  As long as these products are available to all, then they are simply another form of bond or financial transaction not very different from any other. The proponents of Islamic finance try to argue that it is a form of ethical finance, so for example there would be no investments in gambling, alcohol or pornography. This really is no different from many other “ethical” products/banking services currently in the system. On the whole the products offered such as Islamic mortgages or car finance add an amount to be repaid in addition to the capital sum, which seems to be roughly the same as if interest were charged although of course it is not called that.

It is far more concerning, however, when sharia moves into the personal realm of family life. The debate about sharia compliant wills has been going on for a while, and despite all the criticism it has faced the Law Society do not seem in the least bit concerned that discriminatory practices are being endorsed. It seems to have been accepted by the panel that the sharia rules in relation to succession are discriminatory, again highlighting that, contrary to what many Muslim reformers might argue, there is a long way to go before sharia law is reformed.  The panel’s point of view was that although it is discriminatory, as we have freedom of testamentary disposition it does not matter that it is discriminatory because people can behave in such a manner anyway in relation to their assets. The right to freedom of testamentary disposition is used as an argument in favour of promoting these services.

What I feel is missed, is that for Muslims or at least those Muslims who feel very strongly about their religion, it is not a choice as to whether to follow sharia or not: they must follow it. If the service is offered, Muslims may feel compelled to use these services as part of their religious obligations. Surely, this is in fact taking away their freedom of testamentary disposition. These rules are sanctioned by the Quran – there is no freedom for Muslims to distribute their assets otherwise. The only part which is in any way similar to an “English” will is the “freely disposable third”. However, that can only be given to charities and not to other members of the family such as a daughter who may have been disinherited by the rules.

By promoting these services for Muslims in England and Wales, they are offering the prospect for Muslims to live according to a different set of rules than other people. From the Law Society’s point of view it’s simply a matter of choice, but for Muslims, it may not be a matter of choice; in fact the option to choose is being taken away from them, especially if one goes to a solicitor who then tells them their will may not be sharia compliant. I accept that people can discriminate in their wills anyway, but why promote it or bring it to people’s attention?

The talk then ventured into even more worrying territory, such as how sharia law views marriage, divorce and child custody. It was made clear that Muslim women can request a divorce from their husband or the sharia council, but it wasn’t made clear that a man need not request anybody’s permission to divorce his wife. In keeping with the tone of the talk that little bit of fundamental discrimination and inequality was ironed over or studiously ignored. The talk focused on the kind of proofs a wife may need to obtain a divorce and also tackled the “straw man argument” that apparently everyone thinks Muslim men can divorce at will, as if that, rather than the fundamental inequality between men and women was a cause for concern. We were told that this was not the case and in fact the couple should wait a month before each pronunciation of divorce.

With mediation being encouraged by the family courts and becoming the way forward to resolve all marital disputes, it is inevitable that sharia councils and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal will step in to offer these services in a sharia law setting. Firms approached by Muslim clients will be able to offer their services to represent them at these tribunals. This, I fear, will lead to the operation of a parallel system of law – used solely by Muslims, albeit nominally under the aegis of English law.

Finally, we were advised on the rights of divorcing couples in relation to children. It was pointed out very clearly that all things being normal – no abuse, mental illness, etc – the sharia law position is that children will go to the mother until the age of 7, and thereafter return to the father. It was said the family courts ought to take this into consideration. If someone went to a sharia council to mediate on this, that is the advice they would be given. No thought, it seems, is being given to the fundamental principle in English family law that the interests of the child are absolutely paramount.

Most worryingly the panel seemed completely unaware of the very relevant case of EM (Lebanon) (FC) (Appellant) (FC) –v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) 2008.

The case concerned an appeal by a divorced mother to be allowed to remain in the UK on the basis that if she were forced to return to Lebanon her right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights would be breached, because of the impact of sharia child custody rules on her and her family. The Lords agreed with her. It is I think worth quoting the relevant paragraphs from Lord Hope in full, as it a clear statement of the incompatibility of certain sharia laws with human rights (emphasis added):

5. There is however one aspect of this case which I have found particularly difficult. The appellant came to this country as a fugitive from Shari’a law. Her son had reached the age of seven when, under the system that regulates the custody of a child of that age under Shari’a law in Lebanon, his physical custody would pass by force of law to his father or another male member of his family. Any attempt by her to retain custody of him there would be bound to fail. This is simply because the law dictates that a mother has no right to the custody of her child after that age. She may or may not be allowed what has been described as visitation. That would give her access to her son during supervised visits to a place where she could see him. But under no circumstances would his custody remain with her. The close relationship that exists between mother and child up to the age of custodial transfer cannot survive under that system of law where, as in this case, the parents of the child are no longer living together when the child reaches that age. There is a real risk in all these cases that the very essence of the family life that mother and child have shared together up to that date will be destroyed or nullified.

6.  This system was described by counsel during the argument as arbitrary and discriminatory. So it is, if it is to be measured by the human rights standards that we are obliged to apply by the Convention. The mutual enjoyment by parent and child of each other’s company is a fundamental element of family life. Under our law non-discrimination is a core principle for the protection of human rights. The fact is however that Shari’a law as it is applied in Lebanon was created by and for men in a male dominated society. The place of the mother in the life of a child under that system is quite different under that law from that which is guaranteed in the Contracting States by article 8 of the Convention read in conjunction with article 14. There is no place in it for equal rights between men and women. It is, as Lord Bingham points out, the product of a religious and cultural tradition that is respected and observed throughout much of the world. But by our standards the system is arbitrary because the law permits of no exceptions to its application, however strong the objections may be on the facts of any given case. It is discriminatory too because it denies women custody of their children after they have reached the age of custodial transfer simply because they are women. That is why the appellant removed her child from that system of law and sought protection against its effects in this country.

The case law is therefore quite clear. Why then was this talk advising us what the sharia law was in relation to these areas of law? It was not simply giving information – which would be understandable. I would even understand it if the talk was giving guidance on say the law in Gulf states or Egyptian law or Bangladeshi law which all have elements of sharia law in them and which one could quite easily point to, by reference to statutes. Indeed there are many clients, for example British Bangladeshis, who would benefit from guidance and advice about Bangladeshi law. Plenty of firms operate in the Middle East and so need to be aware of the laws in those countries. Even if it is based on sharia law, any such country guidance would be based on clear law and statute – not a nebulous concept of “sharia law”.  The point being that the laws in those countries may not tally with an agreed version of sharia law as there is no such thing, but would nonetheless be a more useful piece of guidance.

So again why is the Law Society doing this? It intends to have more detailed seminars in the future.  I feel it is another example of national identities and cultures being subsumed into a stronger religious identity. It seems to me that the Law Society is developing and promoting sharia law because it has been lobbied by groups wanting to promote sharia law.  It was positively encouraging the listeners to be aware of these rules so they could advise their Muslim clients when preparing wills, prenuptial agreements or divorce settlements whether financial or in relation to children.

I found the tone of the talk to be one of an unquestioning belief that sharia rules are worthy of being considered law. Sharia is not law, it should not become law and it should not be given the credibility of being considered as law. If people want to live according to what they consider sharia law in the UK they can do so, as far as is legally possible in the civil matters stated above and they can get advice from the mosque and the internet. It should not, however, be the job of the Law Society to advise us what “sharia law” is.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS

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Update: SRA letter confirming withdrawal of sharia endorsement

The Lawyers’ Secular Society has now received written confirmation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority confirming withdrawal of the reference in their recent wills guidance to the Law Society’s practice note on “sharia succession rules”. The letter, dated 15 July 2014, is here (PDF).

On 5 June 2014 the LSS wrote an open letter to the SRA, which is the regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales, asking it to explain its decision to endorse the Law Society’s sharia practice note of 13 March 2014. The SRA is a public authority for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 and is bound by the public sector equality duty. The Law Society’s practice contains guidance which is fundamentally discriminatory towards women and non-Muslims.

On 11 July 2014 the SRA’s wills guidance was updated, with the reference to the Law Society’s practice note having been removed.

In its letter the SRA says that references to Law Society practice notes “are regularly attached to our guidance and are not an endorsement of the contents”. The letter goes on to say:

“However, given the concerns that have been raised in relation to the inclusion of the reference to the practice note, the reference has now been removed from the appendix to the SRA guidance note.”

The letter closes by saying:

“In removing the reference to the Law Society practice note, the SRA does not accept it has been in breach of any duty under the Equality Act 2010 and the decision to remove the reference should not be taken as any comment or inference as to the Law Society’s practice note.”

The Law Society’s practice note remains in place and the LSS continues to challenge it.

Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:

“It was important for the LSS to receive written confirmation from the regulator for solicitors in England and Wales that it was wrong to incorporate a reference to sharia succession rules in its wills guidance.

“It remains the view of the LSS that the SRA’s original reference to the sharia succession rules did constitute an endorsement. The SRA wording was: “If you are acting for clients for whom sharia succession rules may be relevant you will find the Law Society’s practice note on the subject helpful.” Clearly the views of the LSS and the SRA differ on whether this constitutes an endorsement, but it is now an academic point.

“Regardless of the SRA’s view on whether the reference breached the Equality Act 2010, the letter sends a strong message to public authorities that they should not be endorsing, or being seen to endorse, sharia law. The written confirmation of withdrawal sends a powerful and reassuring message to the legal profession and the public at large.

“The SRA has been careful not to make life uncomfortable for its colleagues at the Law Society, but the reality is that the SRA’s withdrawal of its endorsement increases quite considerably the pressure on the Law Society, and its isolation. The LSS can assure all those who are concerned about this practice note that it will continue to press vigorously for its removal by the Law Society.

“For the time being, though, we welcome the SRA’s withdrawal and we are pleased that good sense has prevailed.”

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Good news: Solicitors Regulation Authority withdraws sharia endorsement

The Lawyers’ Secular Society has welcomed the news that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has today (11 July 2014) withdrawn its endorsement of the Law Society’s recent practice note on “sharia succession rules”.

On 6 May 2014 the SRA issued ethics guidance on drafting and preparation of wills. The very final sentence of that guidance stated:

“If you are acting for clients for whom sharia succession rules may be relevant you will find the Law Society’s practice note on the subject helpful.”

The Law Society’s practice note, which remains in place, states:

“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class”

“Non-Muslims may not inherit at all”

The SRA is the regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales, whereas the Law Society is the representative body. The SRA’s endorsement of the Law Society’s practice note was particularly troubling given that the SRA is a public authority for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 and is fully subject to the public sector equality duty.

The LSS was the first organisation to draw attention to the SRA’s endorsement of the Law Society’s practice note and sent an open letter to the SRA asking it to explain its actions here (PDF).

The SRA’s ethics guidance on drafting and preparation of wills has now been updated, with the final sentence that referred to the Law Society’s sharia practice note having been deleted.

The Law Society’s practice note on sharia succession rules unfortunately remains in place, and the LSS continues to challenge it.

Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:

“Clearly the SRA has seen the error of its ways and we welcome its decision to withdraw its endorsement of the Law Society’s practice note. This sends an important message to the public, to the legal profession and indeed to the rest of the world.

“Not only was the SRA’s decision to endorse the sharia practice note troubling, but so too was the method in which it did so. There was no accompanying press release and the endorsement came in the very final sentence of lengthy general guidance on the drafting and preparation of wills.

“Our attention now turns once again to the Law Society and we very much hope that the SRA’s decision will lead to a serious rethink of policy at Chancery Lane. It is confusing to the public and the legal profession for two closely-related and key institutions within our legal system to have such different views on a matter of such importance to human rights generally, and female equality more specifically.”

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Speaking engagement with East London Humanists – Trojan Horse

LSS member Sadikur Rahman will be speaking to the East London Humanists about the recent Trojan Horse controversy affecting various schools in Birmingham.

Sadikur was brought up in Birmingham and is familiar with some of the schools involved. He is a school governor and a very active member of the LSS, contributing regular blog posts to this website.

The Trojan Horse discussion is on Monday 14 July 2014 from 7.30pm to 9.00pm at Wanstead Library, London E11.

Further details here.

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Event: Speech, Spaghetti and Sensibility

LSBU AtheistsThe LSS is delighted to support the London South Bank University Atheists Society “Speech, Spaghetti and Sensibility” event.

The event will take place on Friday 13 June 2014 at 6pm, at the LSBU Students’ Union, Student Centre, 103 Borough Road, London SE1 0AA. The Facebook event is here.

LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian will be speaking, as will the philosopher AC Grayling.

The event is to celebrate the Society’s first birthday and more importantly, to acknowledge the crucial importance of free speech and the right to offend in the context of religion.

This year the Society was – in their words – “sent to the naughty step” by their students’ union for using posters which replaced the image of God from the Sistine Chapel with a picture of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster”. The students’ union removed the posters. Thankfully the Society eventually received an apology. You can read more here and here.

Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:

“Unfortunately the university campus has in some ways become the front line in the battle of free speech, and of the tension between established secular values and religious demands more generally.

“The LSS acknowledges the supreme importance of asserting the right to free speech in the context of religion, even where this offends, and it will continue to do so without reservation or apology.

“The LSS wholeheartedly thanks LSBU’s Atheist Society for their resilience this past year.”

Update: you can watch Charlie Klendjian’s speech from the event on YouTube here.

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Solicitors Regulation Authority endorses Law Society’s sharia wills guidance

The LSS is very disappointed to learn that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has endorsed the Law Society’s recent practice note on “sharia succession rules”.

The LSS is already challenging the Law Society on its decision to issue its practice note. The Law Society refused to answer virtually all the questions in the LSS’s recent open letter (see here), and the LSS is currently awaiting responses to two (non-open) letters it has sent to the Law Society.

The Law Society is the representative body for solicitors in England and Wales (it is occasionally referred to as a trade union), whereas the SRA is the regulator.

The reason the SRA’s endorsement of the Law Society’s practice note is so significant is that, unlike the Law Society, the SRA is a public authority for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 and it is fully bound by the public sector equality duty (PSED).

The PSED places a firm statutory duty on the SRA to, amongst other things, advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not, to foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not, and to work in a way that complies with human rights. This duty is at odds with the Law Society’s practice note, which contains guidance that clearly discriminates on the basis of two protected characteristics, gender and religion:

“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class”

“Non-Muslims may not inherit at all”

The SRA recently issued its own “ethics guidance” on drafting and preparation of wills. The final sentence of that guidance includes a clear endorsement of the Law Society’s guidance:

“If you are acting for clients for whom sharia succession rules may be relevant you will find the Law Society’s practice note on the subject helpful.”

Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, things have got much worse.

“For the Law Society to give guidance on sharia law was bad enough, but the stakes in this unnecessary and disturbing game now seem to have been raised even higher: the SRA is a public authority, performing a public function by way of the regulation of solicitors, and it is fully bound by the public sector equality duty. The LSS is appalled that the SRA has so clearly endorsed the Law Society’s discriminatory practice note.” 

The LSS has this morning (5 June 2014) sent an open letter to the SRA asking them to explain their decision to adopt the Law Society’s guidance. You can read it here (PDF) and it is reproduced below:

Mr Paul Philip
Chief Executive
The Solicitors Regulation Authority
The Cube
199 Wharfside Street
Birmingham
B1 1RN

Dear Mr Philip

The SRA’s ethics guidance on “Drafting and preparation of wills”, and the Law Society’s practice note on “Sharia succession rules”

This is an open letter which we have published on our website this morning.

I refer to the SRA’s recent ethics guidance on “Drafting and preparation of wills”. In particular I refer to the very final sentence of that guidance, which states:

“If you are acting for clients for whom sharia succession rules may be relevant you will find the Law Society’s practice note on the subject helpful.”

The Law Society’s practice note to which the SRA’s guidance refers states the following (at section 3.6, paragraph 6):

“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class”

“Non-Muslims may not inherit at all”

As you will no doubt be aware, and as the SRA website itself states very clearly on its “Equality Framework” page, the SRA is a public authority for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 and it is bound by the public sector equality duty.

As that page of the SRA website correctly states, amongst other things the duty covers religion or belief, and sex, and it requires the SRA in the exercise of its public functions to have due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not, to foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not, and to work in a way that complies with human rights.

I would be very grateful if you could answer the following questions:

1. Please explain the process the SRA went through before adopting the Law Society’s guidance on sharia succession rules.

2. Please explain how, in the course of that process regarding adoption of the Law Society’s guidance on sharia succession rules, the SRA discharged its public sector equality duty.

Very importantly, please note that the Lawyers’ Secular Society is in no way challenging the concept of testamentary freedom under the law of England and Wales. The Lawyers’ Secular Society fully understands, and accepts, that testators are free to dispose of their estate as they see fit, subject only to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. But it is clearly a major step to go from that to saying that the SRA should endorse guidance to solicitors on how to draft wills which give effect to a set of rules which avowedly discriminate on the grounds of gender and religion, as it would be for guidance on writing racist wills, or homophobic wills. Nor is that in any way affected by the fact that the rules in question are religious rules – what matters is their effect, not their provenance. It would be most appreciated if you could focus your response purely on the two questions above, rather than any discussion of testamentary freedom.

I look forward to receiving a substantive response to the questions at the earliest possible opportunity. I am happy to correspond on this matter purely by email.

Yours sincerely

Charlie Klendjian
Solicitor (SRA ID 344649)
Secretary, Lawyers’ Secular Society

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Meet the LSS: Richard Scorer

Richard ScorerHello! What’s your name and your current position?

Richard Scorer. I am Head of Serious Injury and Abuse litigation at a leading law firm. I am based in Manchester but work all over the UK.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I grew up in London and got my university education in Scotland and America, studying history and working briefly as an investment analyst in the City before retraining as a lawyer.

I work as a solicitor in private practice, specialising in serious injury, human rights and child abuse cases. I have written extensively on these areas, both legal textbooks and articles and more recently a study of the Catholic abuse crisis in England, written for the general reader. I have also been politically involved as a Labour councillor and parliamentary candidate.

Secularism as a concept is often misunderstood. If you had to explain it to someone in your own words, what would you say?

Very simply, separation of church and state: no religion has special political or legal privileges, or public money; religion cannot be a pretext for discrimination/denial of fair and equal treatment to minority groups.

Of course, religion can influence people’s political views, and in general terms I have no problem with that. The Labour party historically owed much to nonconformist Christianity. Many other progressive movements in history, e.g. the black civil rights movement in the USA, have drawn inspiration from religion. The problem comes when people try to use religious dogma to assert special legal privileges for religious groups, or to deny equal treatment to others, as happened recently with the debate over same sex marriage and when Catholic adoption agencies sought to discriminate against gay and lesbian adopters. That’s where secularism rightly calls a halt.

What’s the most common misconception that you come across about secularism?

That it’s the same as atheism. Of course, secularists can themselves be guilty of fostering this impression, but the idea that secularism and atheism are the same is actually quite a parochial British misconception.

In America, the founding fathers saw separation of church and state as a means to protect dissenting religious views from state  repression, and it remains a core American value, although the religious right have tried to undermine it.

In Turkey, Kemal Ataturk was a devout Muslim but believed in the separation of mosque and state (he abolished sharia courts in 1924 – how ironic that 90 years later, the Law Society of England and Wales seems keen to promote sharia law). To conflate secularism with atheism is ahistorical.

Why do you think secularism is important?

It is becoming more important all the time. We live in a multicultural, multifaith society which is becoming, in a world of global population movement, ever more diverse. Such a society can only function fairly and justly on the basis that all are equal under the law, one law for all, with no religion getting special privileges. Once you have special legal privileges for the Church of England – now very much a minority faith in this society – then other religions want a slice of the action and you end up with the balkanisation of society into competing religious interest groups.

As a secularist, what concerns you the most?

For the last few years much of my work has concerned abuse of children in religious settings, and the reluctance on the part of some religious groups to submit to secular authorities in their handling of abuse allegations. That has obviously been a problem in the Catholic Church. More recently my focus has shifted to Islamic religious institutions, where abuse has been a taboo and many victims feel terrified to disclose.

What also concerns me right now is the active promotion of Islamic extremism in some parts of British society, often fuelled by Saudi/Wahabbi money and using sharia law, and, predictably, faith schools. Public discussion of these issues is conflated with debates about immigration and some on the left feel reluctant to talk about what is happening for fear of fostering ‘Islamaphobia’. The right response is a robust secularism in which no religion has special privileges or public money and where all citizens are subject to the same law of the land.

Complete this sentence: “I’m a secularist because……”

I’m a secularist because it’s the best basis for a fair and just society which treats all its citizens equally.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS.

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The Law Society should stay out of the theology business

Law Soc protest flyer

By LSS member Sadikur Rahman

The Law Society’s response of 8 May 2014 to the LSS’s open letter of 24 April 2014 concerning the practice note on “Sharia succession rules” is, it seems, to simply ignore the criticism and protests and to bury its head in the sand about the misogynistic and discriminatory nature of its guidance. The Law Society has also chosen to ignore virtually all the questions the LSS had asked, including key questions about the Public Sector Equality Duty.

The LSS (and many other campaigners) have always made it clear we are not challenging the English law concept of testamentary freedom, and so the repeated (correct) argument by the Law Society that people are free to do what they want in their wills is really a moot point. Frankly, it’s getting boring now. The LSS has always focused on the fact that the Law Society’s guidance gives legitimacy and credibility to discriminatory practices and to sharia law more generally, because this guidance comes from a respectable organisation which the legal profession, and the wider public, are entitled to trust.

The Law Society believes that in publishing this guidance it is not promoting or endorsing sharia law, or Mohammed Al Jibaly for that matter. The Law Society claims it is simply explaining the law on wills and sharia law. In fact it does even state in its response that “there is no such thing as ‘Sharia Law’”, and so it does encouragingly acknowledge, at least, that sharia law has no basis in English law. But as the LSS statement of yesterday said, this begs the question even more: why give guidance on it?

Given the Law Society’s response I think it’s important to direct people to the actual guidance rather than all the numerous articles since its publication. People can then see for themselves the reason this guidance has caused so much public outrage.

Section 3 is titled “Drafting a Sharia compliant will”. It states:

In order to prepare a Sharia compliant will, you need to understand how the estate is applied under Sharia succession rules.

  • First, the cost of the burial and any debts are paid.
  • Secondly, a third of the estate may be given to charities or individuals who are not obligatory heirs.
  • Finally, the remainder is given to a defined set of ‘primary’ and then ‘residual’ heirs”.

Section 3.6 is titled Drafting techniques and amending precedent clauses. It states:

“Certain principles of Sharia are different to English succession laws. For example, it is not possible to inherit under Sharia rules via a deceased relative. No distinction is made between children of different marriages, but illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs.

“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class. Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised. Similarly, a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir, as the entitlement depends on a valid Muslim marriage existing at the date of death.

“This means you should amend or delete some standard will clauses. For example, you should consider excluding the provisions of s33 of the Wills Act 1837 because these operate to pass a gift to the children of a deceased ‘descendent’. Under Sharia rules, the children of a deceased heir have no entitlement, although they can benefit from the freely disposable third.

“Similarly, you should amend clauses which define the term ‘children’ or ‘issue’ to exclude those who are illegitimate or adopted. The burial clause should also specify whether the deceased wishes to be buried in accordance with Sharia rules”.

It is quite clear from the headings and the text that this is more than simply an explanation. The guidance is specifically advising solicitors how to draft a document in accordance with a specific interpretation of sharia law. Furthermore, given the above, consider whether the following statements from the Law Society’s letter make any sense whatsoever:

“We have been transparent about the source material because we recognise that there is no such thing as “Sharia Law”. The law of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or any other country whose law reflects Islamic values is based on different interpretations of Sharia principles.

“Naturally we would be happy to consider other available guidance on Sharia succession rules.

“Our approach to the guidance does not seek to offer opinions on faith based systems of law or secular based systems. We simply seek to assist our members in properly advising on this aspect of the law of England and Wales.”

If the Law Society acknowledges there is no such thing as sharia law (I’m sure many Islamic scholars might beg to differ) then why exactly is it giving guidance on something that doesn’t even exist as a legal concept? Perhaps the Law Society means there is no uniform “sharia law”. In that case why is the guidance it has chosen to publish one that is based on the most discriminatory and patriarchal interpretation, supported by reference to the work of a writer, Mohammed Al Jibaly, who holds disturbing views (see paragraph 9 of the LSS letter of 24 April 2014)? The Law Society says it is not endorsing Al Jibaly’s book, but what is the reasonable reader supposed to conclude when he or she sees this book specifically referenced in the practice note? Whatever the Law Society says, its judgment in referencing this book in the first place, and then subsequently defending its inclusion after the LSS had pointed out Al Jibaly’s disturbing views, is highly questionable.

The Law Society states that its guidance “does not offer an opinion on faith based systems of law”, when it has clearly done so. Indeed it is a Sunni interpretation. This is stated in the guidance itself and is also reflected in the fact that some sharia law experts say you can use the freely disposable third to equalise the shares for women, whereas this guidance specifically states that this is not possible. So perhaps it is not only secularists who should be outraged, but Muslim groups as well, on the basis their own alternative interpretations haven’t been catered for.

Since there are a multitude of interpretations, why bother to focus on only one interpretation? Perhaps it would be interesting to know who lobbied for this guidance. Unfortunately the Law Society has chosen not to tell the LSS who the “sharia law experts” who produced this guidance were, even though the LSS specifically asked this question.

The Law Society seems to be suggesting in its letter that it would be open to producing further sharia guidance in the future (“Naturally we would be happy to consider other available guidance on Sharia succession rules”). This “keep everyone happy” approach is a dangerous game to play. The Law Society might decide to issue what it perceives as non-discriminatory sharia guidance. In some ways this would be even more harmful than the discriminatory guidance it has produced because it would create a wholly misleading impression that sharia law is benign and that it treats men and women equally. We know this is not the case. The only acceptable thing for the Law Society to do is to leave the business of theology to theologians. As my LSS colleague Charlie Klendjian noted in his protest speech, to the extent the Law Society has any role to play in sharia law it is to call attention to the legal harm it creates. If the Law Society is not willing to do this, is it too much to ask that it just stays out of the theology business completely?

The only sensible thing in the response is that the Law Society acknowledges sharia law has no legal basis. We already knew that, though. It’s a simple statement of fact. The LSS’s complaint was always that the decision to issue this guidance gives sharia law the credibility of a legal discipline, and legitimises and endorses it. For the Law Society to say it is not endorsing sharia law ignores the influence practice notes have, and the influence the Law Society has. The LSS’s concern is that although sharia law may not at present have any basis in English law, this guidance helps it to become an acceptable part of the legal and wider social landscape, because it helps it achieve crucial respectability. It enables it to become a de facto legal discipline.

The Law Society’s analogy in its letter to gay/lesbian rights is particularly poor. There is a massive difference in simply stating that there was discrimination against gays and lesbians before civil partnerships, and actually advising people on how to discriminate. I’d be interested to see any historic guidance from the Law Society that advised lawyers specifically how to discriminate against gay and lesbian people. The analogy is also poor because there was previously in fact unequal legal treatment of gays and lesbians, whereas the sharia guidance the Law Society has produced effectively turns the clock back on a legal battle that has more or less been won in legal terms in this jurisdiction: equal legal treatment for women, for people of all faiths and none, for adopted children and for “illegitimate” children.

I am thoroughly disappointed and saddened that the Law Society has decided to keep its guidance. It is a slap in the face to all those organisations and individuals, Muslim and non-Muslim, who have protested so vociferously. The Law Society has chosen to enter a theological debate, which by definition is not within its remit, and it has produced blatantly discriminatory advice.

I recognise that guidance is only guidance, but in that case why give guidance that doesn’t cater for people who might want, say, a Shia compliant will? This is not to suggest that the Law Society should offer guidance on Shia wills, or Jewish wills, or Protestant wills, or Mormon wills, or Scientology wills, but to hit home the point of how ridiculous it is for the Law Society to enter the business of theology at all, and how this completely undermines the idea of a secular legal system. It certainly is not one law for all.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS

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