Two inquiries in to the use of sharia law in the UK are currently on-going; one such inquiry was ordered by Prime Minister Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, the other a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry. Given this, the BBC has had cause to cover the issue of sharia law in recent weeks.
BBC coverage of this topic has been both unbalanced and incomplete, with vital information excluded.
Please address the following points.
On the Sunday Morning Live programme of November 6th 2016 (BBC1), sharia councils in the United Kingdom were discussed. At no point during the programme were the following facts mentioned:
Sharia councils in the UK are overwhelmingly run and overseen by men with a history of expressing jihadist and deeply misogynistic notions. For example, Suhaib Hasan – a senior figure at the Islamic Sharia Council – is on record as calling for “The chopping the hands of the thieves, the flogging of the adulterers, the flogging of the drunkards, then jihad against the non-Muslim”. Furthermore, Haitham al-Haddad, another senior ‘judge’ at the same organization, has stated clearly: “A man should not be questioned why he hit his wife”. He also advocates “lashing” and “stoning” as punishment for adultery. Why, on full discussion of sharia law in the UK, are these highly relevant facts not included?
Programmes did not mention the fact that a woman has no unilateral right to divorce under sharia law (even in cases of domestic violence) and are obliged either to seek the permission of a husband or a group of clerics, a woman’s testimony is worth less than a man’s, and fathers have exclusive rights over children.
Campaigners who seek the abolition of these councils were not present in any debate. All voices on the Sunday Morning Live programme for example were in favour of continually allowing sharia councils to operate.
Also on Sunday Morning Live, a guest announced that sharia law is “absolutely” compatible with UK laws, and this was left unchallenged. Given the ruling of the ECHR below, this is evidently untrue. Sharia law is not compatible with UK laws or norms, but at no point is the public informed of this by the BBC.
The Victoria Derbyshire programme, broadcast on November 1st, did not mention the above facts either. Furthermore, only voices of Muslim or ethnic minority women were included. During the programme, Shaista Gohir, the chair of Muslim Women’s Network UK, implied that some of those who object to sharia from a secular or Islam-critical perspective, were doing so “using women’s rights as a guise”. Gohir therefore implied that such critics are merely pretending to be concerned about women’s rights. This was not challenged, and no speaker who approaches this from a secular or Islam-critical perspective was present to refute it, or to offer their side of the argument. Muslims alone should not decide whether or not Britain can or should incorporate sharia law in to our legal system.
Of even greater significance however is the complete exclusion, from all coverage, of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2003. This ruling declared that sharia family law, the area of law being practiced in the UK, is “wholly incompatible” with human rights, due to its treatment of women. The ECHR’s annual review of 2003 included the following paragraph [emphasis added]:
The Court found that sharia was incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy as set forth in the Convention. It considered that “sharia, which faithfully reflects the dogmas and divine rules laid down by religion, is stable and invariable. Principles such as pluralism in the political sphere or the constant evolution of public freedoms have no place in it”. According to the Court, it was difficult to declare one’s respect for democracy and human rights while at the same time supporting a regime based on sharia, which clearly diverged from Convention values, particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervened in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts.
Given the potential implications, both legally and ethically, of the above ruling, we contend that no coverage of the issue can be complete without its inclusion. Why did the BBC fail to inform the viewer of this ruling, despite it being brought to your attention by Sharia Watch prior to the debates?
As a publicly-funded broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to fully inform the public of the facts surrounding any issue. Moreover, it has a duty to include the voices of all communities and perspectives in the UK. This includes the duty to include those who approach the issue from a secular or Islam-critical perspective. Given that sharia law is derived from Islamic scripture, it is right and proper that Islam-critical voices be included. All people in Britain have the right to express a view on the inclusion of archaic and misogynistic pseudo courts in the British legal system.
We demand that the BBC explain why it has excluded vital information from the sharia debate and why its presenters left many dubious assertions unchallenged.
Does the BBC agree that all people, regardless of religion (or none) or ethnic background, have a right to participate in discussions surrounding sharia law, and will the BBC inform viewers of the vital ECHR ruling referred to above in all future discussions?
As licence-fee payers, we insist that the BBC give coverage to all voices critical of sharia law, and in particular, that it informs viewers of all relevant information surrounding the issue.
We look forward to your reply and your assurances that future coverage of this issue will include all perspectives and facts, so that the viewer is fully informed.
Anne Marie Waters