Activists Savor Anti-Sharia Victory in
Run Date: 10/11/05
By Ann Pappert
When Ontario's premier turned down Sharia law last month, he left a melange of activists--campaign leader Homa Arjomand, writer Margaret Atwood, parliamentarians and the Toronto YWCA--savoring a victory fought on many fronts.
(WOMENSENEWS)--At first Homa Arjomand thought that the telephone call that interrupted her Sunday dinner in mid September was just a prank.
"I thought the caller was joking, but it was true," she said. "No faith-based arbitration. I was so happy."
For more than seven
months Arjomand, coordinator of the International Campaign Against Shari'a
Arjomand, who came
Now she is in the
middle of a victory lap; celebrating the success of her campaign with a
series of lectures this month on the globalization of political Islam that
kicks off in
Under some interpretations of Sharia law--based on four canonical books written in the 10th and 11th centuries and based on oral laws from even earlier--a woman's worth is half that of a man. Women are considered to be under the supervision of men, whether they are husbands or fathers. In a property dispute women can receive only half of what a man receives. Often, men are more likely to get custody of children, particularly boys, in a divorce.
arbitration courts were initially proposed in 2002 by Mumtaz Ali, a retired
lawyer and head of the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice in
Ali called for extending to Muslims existing provincial legislation that allowed religious groups to use religious courts to arbitrate family disputes: divorce, custody and support payments and bypass the civil court system. Orthodox Jews, for example, used the system to obtain a "get," the term for a divorce granted under Orthodox laws. Only a Jewish court can issue a get.
Boyd Asked for Advice
The provincial government responded to Ali's proposal by asking Marion Boyd, a former provincial justice minister and women's rights activist, to examine the proposal. Her December 2004 report recommended allowing Sharia arbitration because the province could not permit some types of religious-based arbitration while excluding others.
The report opened
The ultimate decision to accept Boyd's recommendation belonged to the leader of the province, Premiere Dalton McGuinty, who held his silence after Boyd made her recommendation and gave no hints of how he was leaning.
While the government held mum, Boyd's report touched off an immediate outcry from women's organizations, civil libertarians and human rights groups.
Arjomand, who fled
women are suffering and being oppressed under Sharia law in many different
parts of the world," she wrote in a letter to Boyd. "Even the mere
suggestion of Sharia tribunals (in
Internet Petition Launched
organization launched an Internet petition opposing Sharia tribunals and
within a couple of months it had collected over 10,000 signatures. Every six
months, Arjomand sent the petition and a list of signatories to every member
of the federal and provincial parliaments, as well as lawmakers in such
Close to 90
organizations from 14 countries joined Arjomand's protest and many echoed her
Europeans, women particularly, we think of
The Toronto YWCA, the city's largest and only women's multi-service organization, became an influential opponent of the Sharia tribunals. Prompted by a plea from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women to get involved, the YWCA took a strong public stand against all government sanctioned religious arbitration. It devoted a big section of its Web site to the issue and issued a report last December about the negative effects on women of religious arbitration.
"We feel strongly that it is not only Islamic or Muslim family law that presents this threat," YWCA of Toronto Executive Director Heather McGregor wrote to one newspaper. She noted that the rise in fundamentalist interpretation of most major religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, expressly erodes the rights of women, and that religious law should not be part of the laws of any secular country.
YWCA of Toronto
supporters included the Ottawa-based Canadian Labour Congress; the YWCA
Canada, headquartered in
Talking About Death Threats
At an Aug. 13
One was Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who appeared under a heavy security presence. Hirsi Ali wrote the script for "Submission," a controversial film about Islam and women. The director of that film, Theo Van Gogh, was killed last November and his killer pinned a note to Van Gogh's body with a knife threatening Hirsi Ali's life.
"Why, if you
have equal rights in
decision from the premier, protests heated up in early September, when
organizers staged demonstrations in cities across
The premier also
came under pressure from his own caucus, including 17 female members who
reportedly pointed out that women's rights could not be protected from Sharia
provisions and urged all religious-based arbitration be dropped. "We
were a loud voice in the final decision," one caucus member told a
On Sept. 10, a group of 10 prominent Canadian women, including writer Margaret Atwood and Flora MacDonald, a former member of Parliament, issued an open letter to McGuinty. They predicted that religious arbitration would lead to human-rights abuses, particularly for women and children, and undermine the separation of religion from the state.
The next day
McGuinty announced there would be no Sharia law in
On Sept. 11, the day McGuinty announced his decision, Arjomand sent out 28,000 e-mails to supporters and legislators around the globe to tell them about the victory.
She didn't realize just how many e-mails went out that day until her e-mail provider notified her and added fees because she had exceeded the allowable use on her account.
Ann Pappert is a Brooklyn-based journalist who has covered women's issues for many years. Her pieces have appeared in newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and Canada as well as NBC and ABC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.