The province of Ontario in Canada is in the process of setting up the first Sharia court  to exist anywhere in the world outside an Islamic country.
Below is an article I wrote about it for a secular publication.There is a campaign against the court launched by women who have fled Islamic countries and by secular humanists.
 

Sharia Court to Arbitrate Canadian Muslims - Women and Secularists Outraged

by Ellen Ramsay



On October 21, 2003, a 30-member council called the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice met just outside of Toronto, Canada to form a Darul-Qada, or a judicial tribunal to adjudicate civil matters between Muslims. This move, which according to critics undermines the secular court system in Canada, culminated almost 20 years of campaigning by the Canadian Islamic Congress, the Canadian Society of Muslims, and others to set up an arbitration process for their members which would be recognized by the Ontario Arbitration Act. The initiative grew in the context of constitutional debates concerning the rights and self-governance of Quebec and First Nations Peoples (aboriginal people) which took place in the 1990s. The proponents of the Sharia court capitalized on the multicultural policies of the Canadian government which they saw as empty rhetoric and put forward their plan not only to create a separate Islamic court but to re-introduce religion into public life in Canada. They use the 1982 Canadian Constitution which recognizes “the supremacy of God” as their defence. Ultimately they seek further tax exemptions for their religious activity and state funding for separate schools such as that received by the Catholic school boards in Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba. It is proposed that the Islamic Institute will be arbitrated by imams and ulama (religious scholars) and that it will be a contractual agreement system rather than a mediated process. This means the imam or ulama will sit in judgement over the case, rather than mediating a discussion between the parties who then come to a mutually agreeable conclusion.

The creation of the Sharia court in Canada first made headlines in November and since then there has been a vociferous outcry and growing campaign against the Islamic Institute. Criticism has come from many quarters in Canada. Most interestingly, harsh attacks have come from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women who presented a “position statement”on the imposition of Islamic law in December. This group of women stated clearly that Canadian Muslim women prefer to live under Canadian secular law governed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They cite the problem of the coercion of Muslim women to participate in the court to their detriment in most areas of family law. They point out that Islamic law is “not divine” and will be subject to many interpretations. For instance they state that Islamic inheritance laws favour men, alimony is questionable, the division of property can work against the women, and that child custody can be granted to the man according to the age of the child.There are 600,000 Muslims in Canada making them one of the larger religious minority groups in the country. The Sharia court will preside over civil disputes including matters related to family law (marriage, divorce, separation, maintenance, child support and inheritance) and also civil disputes including disagreements between Islamic centres and imams.

There has also been strident criticism of the Sharia court from secularist sources and a campaign has been launched against it. Most of these critics say that this is the thin edge of the wedge in the eventual destruction of the secular court system. Criticism has come from secular women who have fled autocratic regimes with Islamic rule. These women point to the deterioration of conditions for women under Islamic governments around the world and argue strongly that they do not want the Canadian government to concede to this two-tier court system. These women and others fear that their right to abortion will be denied, that their freedom of assembly (even to appear in public) will end, that their right to wear clothing of their choice will be prohibited, and that they will not be permitted to drive a car. The feared loss of these freedoms goes hand in hand with the family law injustices cited above where a women is worth only half of a man. A petition is being circulated by women who have fled Islamic law and organizations such as the Humanist Associaton of Canada have added their voice to the criticism of the Sharia court.