“Our aim is quite simply to tell the truth," says Waters. "There is a large lack of knowledge of what Sharia Law actually stands for, what it does to women, how it treats women. And our aim is simply to tell the public – warts and all – what Sharia is: its views of women, its views of free speech, its threat to democracy, how it is operating in Britain, the organisations behind it and what their agendas are, and, indeed, the public support that such organisations receive from public figures.

Where do you see the threat coming from?

“It’s acceptance of it by the mainstream, that is a huge issue. If you look at what Sharia says about women, for example, it essentially advocates the slavery of women. If you strip it away and bear it down, that’s what it is, it’s the slavery of women, it’s the ownership of women. It degrades and humiliates women and yet it is accepted by the mainstream and supported by mainstream figures."

You say it's accepted; Britain still applies the rule of British Law, where do you see Sharia law coming in or being accepted in a way that makes you fearful?

“We have a network of Sharia councils and tribunals which are dealing increasingly with matters of family law, such as divorce, child custody, but also with domestic violence, which is a criminal matter. No private tribunal or council has any right, any legal right, to adjudicate on criminal matters and yet they are doing it without a murmur of protest from the Establishment.

“We’re consistently told that the English law is there for everyone who needs it. This is a non-answer, a non-response. It’s cowardly.

“What they’re essentially saying is that women who are brutalised often don’t speak English, often are newcomers to this country. The government’s response is that those women should somehow find the confidence and courage to stand up and demand rights they don’t even know they have."

You believe there are a number of women in Britain - Muslim women -who you think are facing Sharia justice in some kind of community set-up?

“We know it’s happening. The Islamic Sharia Council’s quite open about this, as is the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal. So we know it happens.

“In research for Baroness Cox’s [Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality)] Bill, for example – the bill she is introducing into the {House of] Lords to bring these places into line with human rights laws, many women who have been through them were interviewed. It was confirmed to us, for example, that Muslim women need a witness for every testimony she gives, because a woman’s word is worth half of a man’s. This is even confirmed by, for example, Aina Khan, who is a pro-Sharia advocate and a lawyer, so we don’t suspect it’s going on, we know it’s going on."

Presumably you oppose the Law Society's recent decision to issue guidance to British lawyers who are asked to draw up Wills according to Sharia Law?

“Absolutely! It’s the same message, it’s the sanitising of Sharia. It creates in the public mind an impression that there’s nothing wrong with Sharia, that it’s not misogynistic. It sanitises Sharia. It makes people think, ‘well if the Law Society is issuing guidance on it, it can’t be that bad’."

You feel the authorities, the Establishment are turning a blind eye - why would they do that?

“There are many reasons.... fear is chief among them. I think they’re afraid of being accused of Islamophobia, for example. Individuals are afraid of violence. I get death threats."

You personally have had death threats?

"Yes. I get threats into my e-mail inbox on a regular basis. For example, I was due to give a speech in a university in East London. A man came in with a camera, filmed everyone there and said he knew who we were and he would track us down if we said anything negative about the Prophet. The government is afraid of upsetting the Islamist establishment."

Do you have any notable figures or MPs who are behind Sharia Watch?

“I am not a one-woman band. I do not have any specific MPs, but we are very new, we are only launching today and we hope to gain support as we go along.

Are you prepared for an outcry among those Muslims and non-Muslims who say Britain is a multi-faith, multi-ethnic society, the setting-up of Sharia Watch is going to be labelled at best racist?

“I'm used to it. This has got nothing to do with race. Islam is not a race. Sharia is not a race. This is a civil rights issue, a human rights issue, a democracy issue, a freedom-of-speech issue. We’re not against anyone, we are defending gender equality, defending freedom of speech. If that brings us into conflict with Sharia, then so be it.”

Lawyers threaten legal action against Law Society over Sharia law

VoR's Tim Ecott also spoke to Aina Khan, head of the Islamic department at Duncan Lewis, solicitors.

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What do you make of the charges made by Sharia Watch that Muslim women in this country are facing discrimination because in their words, Sharia Law values women less than men?

"I am not able to agree with that at all because the Sharia that I practise under English law, which I provide solutions under for my clients, works extremely well in favour of women, particularly those who can't be helped by English law.

"For example, a woman who believes she is married under English law, but only had a Muslim ceremony in the UK - that marriage is not recognised under English law unless it is registered. If she didn't know that that wasn't a valid marriage she stands to lose all her matrimonial rights to property and a share of the family assets. English law will do nothing because she will be classed as a girlfriend or co-habitee, and co-habitees don't have any rights under English law.

"Sharia law actually gives that woman and others like her great security by giving her the Islamic financial settlement that is in every Muslim marriage. So I take those cases to court under English contract law. If a woman has been promised a lump sum by her husband and then he divorces her, it's only Islamic law that will help her get back to the position she was in before the marriage."

That seems to imply that you see a way of allowing Sharia to operate in parallel with the official English legal system.

"I would never say that it's in parallel - it's always under the English legal system. Over a century ago, the Jewish communities started the beth din (Rabbinical court of Judaism) in this country and indeed around the world, and they’ve been happily providing those solutions for the Jewish community under English law. What on earth is wrong with other communities doing the same?”

If any community’s laws coincide with English law in this country, all well and good. But what about the assertion that under Sharia law, women’s rights as not as forceful or as equal as they would be under English law?

“In certain situations that can happen because Sharia law was brought into being 1,400 years ago, and we had laws in England even 100 years ago that were discriminatory. Women couldn’t own property – Islamic law gave women the right to own property 1,400 years ago.

“My view is Sharia is not set in stone, it should move with the times and also the country it finds itself in. As long as it’s not producing inequalities in society, Sharia law can accommodate all levels of debate.”

And you don’t believe it puts women in an inferior position?

“It doesn’t if we apply it correctly under English law. It will put women in an inferior position if you apply it in a country where there is no progression since 1,400 years ago – that’s where we have issues.”

Next week there are to be protests against the Law Society because the Law Society has issued guidance to British solicitors about how to advise clients who come with a Sharia dispute or contention.

“This was a non-story that was blown out of proportion. The law has not changed in any way. There are certain mischievous elements that want to create discord in our society, and it’s the same groups again and again who use an emotive word – Sharia.

“The Law Society did a simple thing – they told solicitors what the guidance would be if they wanted to make a Will according to Islamic law. It doesn’t change the law in any way regarding Wills, you’re still free to give all your money to the local dogs’ home. The only thing Islamic law would do is not allow that - it says you can only give one third away, the rest has to go to your family in certain set shares.”

For many, Sharia represents a different system that in some parts of the world allows for the amputation of hands, the stoning of unfaithful women – you can see why that worries people.

“Absolutely, and it’s the Muslim community’s duty to explain how one system can apply different ways of law to different situations. Criminal law we won’t accept in the UK, family law people want to accept in the UK.

“It’s not about an alien system, which many people see. There are countless thousands of Muslim converts in the UK alone who are born in Britain – they may be African-Caribbean, Irish, Scottish… What are you going to do about those who are voluntarily choosing Islam as a faith? You can’t just get emotive, you have to increase your knowledge and understand what attracts them to that faith, and then we can have a dialogue.”

Do you think it’s a malicious movement where people are projecting a fear of all things Islamic, and are using Sharia as an example of something they fear which may eventually be so popular it will demand official recognition, such as Sharia law equals English law?

“I can understand where the fear comes from. I would probably find it frightening if I didn’t understand it. It also plays into the hands of extremism, and people like the English Defence League, and other right-wing groups. It’s important to stay calm because we don’t want to see victimisation of any one community.”

(VoR)