Proposed Islamic Arbitration Tribunals Trigger Intense
Debate in Canada
By Anne Pélouas
Thursday 05 May 2005
"If you put one finger in that wringer, your whole body will follow." Fatima Houda-Pépin, Muslim Québec Deputy, her voice strong, like those of the other women who are trying now to prevent Canada from becoming the first Western democracy to allow Islamic courts - even if only arbitration courts - to settle family differences by sharia.
The argument has been simmering since 2002, the year when the project was put on the table in
In response, the provincial government ordered a report from Procurer General Marion Boyd. In December 2004, she said yes to religious arbitration to settle family differences (guardianship of children, disposition of assets in cases of separation ...) in the name of defending minority rights as well as from a desire to unclog the civil courts.
It's that report that put fire to the powder. Conservative Muslims applauded with both hands, but the report rather embarrasses the
The opposition side is already in battle formation. A petition launched on the Internet site nosharia.com/color> by a
Equality of Law
The Muslim community itself is divided on the subject. Imams from the Canadian Muslims' Society are pro, demanding equality of rights with other religions. "The Jews already have these courts, why not us?" asks Mr. Mumtaz Ali. In fact, the Orthodox do practice arbitration by virtue of the 1991
Homa Arjomand reminds us in this respect that "according to sharia, women are under trusteeship," that "many arrive destitute, dependent on their husbands, without knowledge of their rights. They live in a ghetto and Islamic courts will isolate them even more."
Jean-Louis Roy, President of Rights and Democracy, also believes that this "viscious" project will affect "the most vulnerable," in short, Muslim women immigrants. He adds: "Everywhere in the world people are fighting to abolish references to religion and here we want to back up on such a principle? There can be no question of having Islamic courts in Canada, of finishing with the concept of equality before the law, of privatizing family law to the benefit of religious authorities, which runs counter to Canada's international obligations with regard to human rights and discrimination against women."
Some also fear that the