The MINAB held the first consultation meeting about Shariah Councils in the UK at London Muslim Centre, London on 13 May 2013.

The meeting was well attended and it was chaired by Maulana Mohammad Shahid Raza OBE. Representatives of all four MINAB founding members were present as were representatives of many other local and national Muslim organisations. The meeting was also attended by many scholars as well as women groups.

In his opening address the Chair of the meeting made it clear that MINAB is an inclusive, non sectarian and community led body; any work it does in the area of Shariah Councils will also be inclusive and community led. He said that there is a difference in standards in the existing Councils and MINAB will be looking to draft standards with a view to publish a code of conduct following public consultation.

The Chair requested Judge Khurshid Drabu CBE, a leading architect of MINAB, to explain his views on the work that he would recommend the MINAB to do.

Judge Drabu said that the challenge that we face as a community in respect of the workings of the Shariah Councils is a challenge worth converting into an opportunity for making improvements wherever needed. He accepted that the Panorama programme was part of the broader agenda linked to Islamophobia but cautioned against us developing a victim mentality. He said it was important in this context to use correct terminology. The Shariah Councils should not be called Shariah Courts because they are not courts. They function by consent of parties and have no enforcement powers. Media often portray Muslims running a parallel legal system and we all have a duty to dispel this myth.

He emphasised the great value that the Councils give to our communities. He pointed out that their work is essential since Islam as religion governs the private as well as public life of Muslims. In that regard most, if not all Muslims, lay greater store on Nikah marriage than marriage conducted under civil laws in the UK. Muslims predominantly believe that living together or parting from each other must have the sanction of Allah and that sanction comes from the Nikah for marriage and divorce through Islamic process. He said that MINAB would shortly launch a campaign to encourage mosques to become centres for registration of marriages.

Judge Drabu said that the aim of MINAB’s work on Shariah Councils is to make them better and fit for purpose. The objective is to empower the Councils to work in a uniform and co-ordinated manner to deliver justice in marital breakdowns and family matters. The process for resolution of disputes must be fair and transparent and which is respectful of the dignity of those who are the users of Shariah Councils.

He made it clear that the MINAB work on supporting and improving the Shariah Councils will have nothing to do with the laws that are dispensed in dealing with disputes that are brought to them voluntarily by parties. He said that like MINAB the work on Shariah Councils would be confined to their governance and procedures and would not spill into interpretation and application of Shariah, which is diverse in different sects and fiqhs. That difference must be accepted and respected. MINAB would only look at how Shariah judgments are made and delivered. To this end, said Judge Drabu, MINAB will need to consult with all stakeholders to devise acceptable solutions.

Judge Drabu said that the Director General of the Central Islamic Centre was also due to attend the meeting but an emergency business prevented his attendance. He said that Dr Ahmed Dubyan had been working on the issue and that MINAB would collaborate with him and seek his guidance.

The Chair said that he welcomed Dr Dubyan’s interest and support. He then took questions and ensured that all present expressed their views. The comments received were positive and helpful. He asked attendees if they wanted the proposed work on Shariah Councils to be done by MINAB and the unanimous response was in the affirmative. Many participants felt that the problem required urgent attention and multi facetted action. Sisters present said that it was very important to give due weight to the views of females in the exercise to improve matters and that they should also be allowed to play a full part in developing strategy and solutions. The Chair assured the meeting that MINAB is committed to work with all and said that he fully understood and accepted the strength of feeling on this issue from sisters.

The Chair thanked all present for their attendance. He asked the participants to request Judge Drabu to start work in this delicate but important area. The suggestion received unanimous support and Judge Drabu said that he felt honoured and humbled. He said that he would start working in consultation with a small group of people and will produce a first draft of the proposed work plan for the next meeting which it was hoped would take place in June.

The participants thanked Maulana Imam Mohammad Shahid Raza OBE for his leadership and for his excellent work at the Shariah Council headed by him.