A resurgence of the dhimmi doctrine and practice in Islam
The above heading on dhimmi-hood may be a bit misleading as it implies that the Islamic doctrine and practice of the dhimmi had largely disappeared but was now returning with particular force. This is not exactly true as the Islamic practice, and enforcement, of the dhimmi status, has never died out in many Muslim majority countries. You just need to look at the plight of the Christian minority in Egypt to see the reality of this (as cited in Pipe’s article below). Coptic Christians have never come out of the shadow of the Islamic doctrine and practice of the dhimmi. Pakistan is another example of this.
Raymond Ibrahim documents the situation in the Middle East when it comes to Christians extensively and focuses on Egypt’s Coptic Christian community – he is well worth following if you care about this issue.
The real issue for me as a Christian living in the UK is that most people in Europe, or the West in general, do not take note of what is happening in the Middle East when it comes to non-Muslim minorities – not only the Middle East but all Muslim majority countries – and how this may affect us as more and more Muslims from these countries migrate to the West. Do we seriously believe that multiculturalism only brings positive benefits to our societies? Being married to an Asian from a Muslim majority country (who is from a non-Muslim minority) I understand more than most what it means to live in a Muslim majority country as a non-Muslim. I also understand that in many ways multiculturalism can be a good thing if our society embraces the positive elements of various cultures and rejects the harmful elements of other cultures – like female genital mutilation. honour violence, child marriage intolerance of those who are different and so much more.
Douglas Murray’s comments that migrants do not shed their belief systems just because they come to Europe (or the West in general) is true. If we invite mass Muslim migration to the UK then we invite many people that believe in the Islamic doctrine of dhimmi-hood for non-Muslims. The Islamic worldview as expressed and codified in Sharia law is all that matters and the concept of the dhimmi is quite prevalent in Sharia law.
In the article that follows Daniel Pipes gives an overview of the book by Eibner originally posted here. It is a book well worth reading if you want to understand the plight of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim majority countries and what would happen in the West as Islam becomes more and more influential.
Book edited by John Eibner
Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, pp. 13-20.
For details about the book and to order it from the publisher, click here.
To order it from Amazon.com, click here.
Edited and updated transcript of a talk delivered for Christian Solidarity International in Zurich, Switzerland, on March 7, 2012.
Other contributions by: Taner Akçam; Cengiz Aktar; Madawi Al-Rasheed; Fabrice Balanche; Patrick Cockburn; Marius Deeb; John Eibner; Amine Gemayel; Joshua Landis; Habib Malik; Michael Nazir-Ali; Franck Salameh; Mariz Tadros; Bassam Tibi; Hannibal Travis; Bat Ye’or; William Warda and Daniel Williams.
A new strain of thought has developed in Sunni Muslim thinking: ethnic cleansing. It’s not genocide, but it involves expelling non-Sunni populations. Its spread means that non-Muslim minorities have a grim future in Muslim-majority countries; and some may have no future there at all.
I shall trace the origins of ethnic cleansing in the Middle East, note its impact especially on Christians, and consider responses to it.
To begin, let us look at the standing of non-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries before 1800.
Muslims viewed non-Muslim in two categories: monotheists recognized by Islam as adhering to a valid faith (this being mostly Jews and Christians) and polytheists (especially Hindus) lacking that recognition. The former category, our topic here, are known as People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab).
Muslims were relatively tolerant of People of the Book – but only if they accepted becoming dhimmi (protected persons) who acknowledged the rule of Muslims and the superiority of Islam; in other words, if they accepted an inferior status. They had to pay special taxes (called jizya) could not serve in the military or the police or, more generally, exercise authority over Muslims. Sumptuary laws abounded; a Christian or Jew should walk or go by mule but not on a horse and should defer to a Muslim on the street. (Of course, actual practice differed from one country to another and from one era to another.)
The recognized place granted to religious minorities made Muslim-ruled countries quite unlike premodern Christendom. Christians under Muslim rule enjoyed better conditions than Muslims under Christian rule; in 1200 or so, one would much rather be a Christian living in Muslim Spain than a Muslim living in Christian Spain. Likewise for Jews: Mark R. Cohen observes that “the Jews of Islam, especially during the formative and classical centuries (up to the thirteenth century), experienced much less persecution than did the Jews of Christendom.”
But we must not romanticize the dhimmi status. Yes, it offered a degree of tolerance, cohabitation, and deference – but these were premised on the assumption of Muslim superiority and non-Muslim inferiority. It could also be abused at whim by Muslims. No modern citizen would accept the disabilities that accompanied living as a dhimmi.
Indeed, the dhimmi status came crashing down in modern times, which is to say after 1800, as European powers (British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and others) overwhelmed nearly the whole Muslim world. Even those few countries – Yemen, Arabia, Turkey, Iran – that escaped direct European control felt Europe’s predominance.
Christian imperialists flipped the dhimmi status on its head, favoring Christians and also Jews, both of whom showed greater willingness to accept the new rulers, learn their languages and skills, work for them, and serve as intermediaries to the Muslim-majority population. Naturally, majority Muslim populations resented this heightened status of Christians and Jews.
When European rule came to its inevitable end, Muslims on returning to power put the minorities roughly back in their place – and worse, for the dhimmi status had earlier been discarded and was not to be revived. Unsure of themselves, the new rulers generally looked darkly at Peoples of the Book, angry at their having serviced the imperialists and suspicious of their abiding connections to Europe (and in the Jewish case, new ones to Israel).
One could say that the second-class dhimmi status now became a third- or fourth-class post-dhimmistatus. The break-up of the Ottoman Empire witnessed more persecution of Christians and Jews than perhaps ever before, starting with the Armenians of Turkey in the 1910s and culminating with recent Christian traumas in Iraq and Syria.
.Before continuing with the Christian experience, a few side words on the Jewish one. Ancient Jewish communities disappeared as a result of the collapse of the dhimmi status and the creation of Israel in 1948. Jews decamped or were pushed especially out in the 20-year period after World War II. The small but lively Jewish community of Algeria offers perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the post-imperial changes. The Jews there had so connected themselves to French rule that the entire Jewish community fled the country along with the French rulers in July 1962.[i] In 1945, the Jewish population in Muslim-majority countries numbered about a million; today, it hovers between 30,000 and 40,000, nearly all of whom live in Iran, Turkey, in Morocco. No more than a handful live elsewhere: maybe 60 Jews in Egypt, 9 in Iraq, and even fewer in Afghanistan; these nearly defunct communities of the elderly will no longer exist within a few years.
As the expression goes, “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.” And now is the Christian turn. Christians are now recapitulating the Jewish exodus. From 1500 to 1900, Christians made up a consistent 15 percent of the Middle East’s population, according to David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson. In 1910, that number had dipped to 13.6 percent, according to Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo; and in 2010, Christians had been reduced to a meager 4.2 percent, or less than a third as large as a century earlier. The downward trend, of course, is steeply continuing.
As the journalist Lee Smith puts it: “Being Christian in the Middle East has never been easy, but the wave of uprisings that has swept the region over the past year has made the situation for the region’s Christian minority almost unbearable.”[ii] The examples are alarming, and in many ways unprecedented in the long history of Muslim-Christian relations. Here are some of them (with thanks to Raymond Ibrahim):
In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram in 2011 killed at least 510 people, mainly Christians, and burned down or destroyed more than 350 churches in ten northern states.
In Uganda on Christmas Eve 2011, Muslims threw acid on a church leader, leaving him with severe burns.
In Iran, a church celebrating Christmas was raided by security, and all those present, including Sunday school children, were arrested and interrogated.
In Tajikistan, a young man dressed as Father Frost (i.e., Santa Claus), was stabbed to death while visiting relatives and bringing gifts.
In Malaysia, parish priests and church youth leaders had to get caroling permits, requiring them to submit full names and ID numbers at police stations.
In Indonesia, “vandals” decapitated a statue of the Virgin Mary.
The interior of a Coptic church burned 2013 in Minya province, Egypt.
The message is clear: “Christians, you are unwelcome. Go.”
Christians have responded by rapidly exiting the Middle East, to the point that the faith is dying in its birthplace. In Turkey, the Christian population numbered 2 million in 1920, but now numbers some thousands. In Iraq, CSI found in 2007 that close to half of the roughly one million Christians who had living there in 2003 had fled the country. The Iraqi Christian Relief Council cried out, “We’re on the verge of extinction.”[iii] In Syria, Christians represented about one third of the population at the beginning of the last century, today they count for less than 10 percent. In Lebanon the number went from about 55 percent 70 years ago to under 30 percent today. Copts are leaving as never before in their long history.
In the Holy Land, Christians made up 10 percent of the population in the Ottoman period; that figure is now down to about 2 percent. Bethlehem and Nazareth, the most identifiable of all Christian towns, enjoyed Christian majorities for nearly two millennia, but no more: they are now majority Muslim towns. In Jerusalem, Christians outnumbered Muslims in 1922; today the Christian population of Jerusalem is a mere 2 percent. Despite this emigration, Khaled Abu Toameh, a Muslim Palestinian journalist, notes that “Israel remains the only place in the Middle East where Arab Christians feel protected and safe.”[iv]
The Wall Street Journal reports that, today, “more Arab Christians live outside the Middle East than in the region. Some 20 million live abroad, compared with 15 million Arab Christians who remain in the Mideast, according to a report last year by a trio of Christian charities and the University of East London.” Quoting Samuel Tadros of the Hudson Institute, it finds the number of Coptic churches in the United States jumping from two in 1971 to 252 in 2017.
Eastern Christians are dealing with this crisis in various ways. I’ll review three of them.
Patriarch Gregory III Laham of Antioch (b.1933).
Melkite Catholics (who live primarily in Lebanon and Syria) have tried to avoid trouble by telling Muslims exactly what they want to hear. Patriarch Gregory III Laham of Antioch, memorably announced in 2005:
We are the Church of Islam. … Islam is our milieu, the context in which we live and with which we are historically associated. …We understand Islam from the inside. When I hear a verse of the Koran, it’s not something foreign to me. It’s an expression of the civilization to which I belong.[v]
Gregory blamed Islamism entirely on the West: “Fundamentalism is a sickness that gets loose and takes root because of the void of the Western modernity.”[vi] In the same spirit, Gregory in 2010 blamed Israel for jihadi attacks on Eastern Christians: The violence
has nothing to do with Islam … But it is actually a conspiracy planned by Zionism and some Christians with Zionist orientations and it aims at undermining and giving a bad image of Islam. … it is also a conspiracy against Arabs … to deny them their rights and especially those of the Palestinians.[vii]
He added in 2011 that the Palestinian-Israel conflict is the “sole” reason for the migration of Eastern Christians from the Middle East, and this is causing them to face “demographic extinction.”[viii]
Gregory’s approach amounts to: Muslims, please do not hurt us; we will say anything that you wish. We have no identity of our own. We are, in fact, a kind of Muslim. It’s full-dhimmi supplication for the post-dhimmi era.
“Petit Liban” corresponds to roughly the area in yellow.
Maronites historically offered the most dramatic contrast to this self-denigration. For theological (the Catholic Church) and geographical (the mountains) reasons, they represented the most assertive and free Christian community in the Middle East. Armed and autonomous, they kept Muslim overlords at a distance.In 1926, they uniquely induced an imperial power, France, to create a state, Lebanon, for them. But the Maronites were greedy: rather than accept a “Petit Liban” where they and other Christians made up 80 percent of the population, they demanded and won a “Grand Liban” where they made up under 40 percent of the population. Fifty years later, in 1976, the Maronites paid the price for this over-reach when the Muslims mounted a 15-year civil war which broke Maronite power.
Maronites responded by turning on each other. While some remain defiant, the most important faction has become akin to the Melkites. Former general Michel Aoun in 1991 stood up to the Syrians; today he toadies to Hezbollah and serves the jihad. Again, Lee Smith:
The Maronites had always distinguished themselves as among the region’s most stubbornly independent of confessional sects. But fear, resentment, and short-sided political calculation have led them today to seek protection and patronage from the Middle East’s most dangerous and retrograde elements: Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah.[ix]
In brief, the Maronites have gone from being free Christians to partial dhimmis.
Since the Islamic conquest of Egypt nearly fourteen centuries ago, Egypt’s Copts pursued a path nearly opposite that of Maronites. Their geography (flat), history (strong central government), and society (interspersed among Muslims), were all unfavorable to independent power, forcing Copts to bow their heads. Fully accepting the dhimmi status, Copts survived and withstood Islamization more successfully than most other Middle Eastern Christians, as their relatively large numbers attest.
Boutros Ghali served as prime minister of Egypt in 1908-10.
The colonial era offered them a bigger role and they readily took it, as symbolized by the grandfather of former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who served as prime minister of Egypt in 1908-10. That interlude of power shuddered to a close with the British departure in the 1950s.Starting about 1980, two parallel developments have taken place. On the one hand, Islamists have systematically targeted Copts, engaging in various forms of coercion and violence against them, abetted by the government of Egypt. which generally places higher priority on maintaining good relations with the Islamists than on protecting its Christian minority. Christians became a political football; for example, Husni Mubarak played a double game, pretending to be the protector of the Copts while he was anything but.
On the other hand, after centuries of near-silence, the Copts found their collective voice. They have organized to defend themselves, become vocal about their plight, and lead the protests when a visiting Egyptian president visited Washington. Despite a very long tradition of quiescence, Copts are becoming the new Maronites.
Notwithstanding these disparate methods of coping – super-dhimmi, dhimmi, and assertive – the general future of Christianity in the Middle East looks bleak. The dhimmi‘s accepted place gave way to fleeting improvement followed by a mentality of ethnic cleansing.
One hears a great deal about the hatred and fear of Islam, now called “Islamophobia.” But Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the ex-Muslim and former Dutch parliamentarian, finds the real problem to be something quite else: Christophobia.
A fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and the severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other. The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity – and ultimately of all religious minorities [among Muslims] – is at stake.[x]
In combination, the ethnic cleansings of Jews and Christians mark the end of an era. The attractive multiplicity of Middle Eastern life is being reduced to the flat monotony of a single religion and a handful of beleaguered minorities. The entire region, not just the minorities, is impoverished by this trend.
What can Westerners – and specifically Christian Solidarity International – do about this problem?
Only two options exist: to protect non-Muslims – Christians and others – to continue living in majority-Muslim countries or to help them leave, giving up on their historic homelands.
The first option is obviously preferable; Christians have an inalienable right to stay put. But how do Westerners help them achieve this? That requires both acts of will on their part and a willingness on the part of Muslims to change. But neither of these looks in the least like a realistic prospect. Especially when the human rights of others are at stake, democratic governments alone cannot simply make decisions; they need popular support. At present Westerners appear unwilling to take the steps required – such as economic and military pressure – to ensure the survival in place of Middle Eastern Christianity.
Which leaves the less attractive alternative: helping Christians to leave and then open doors to let them in. Emigration is an inherently painful experience and democracies will have difficulty formulating policies to give priority to adherents of certain faiths. These and other negatives notwithstanding, migration is a real option, and one that is daily being acted on.
And so, Middle Eastern Christians, tragically, are disappearing before our eyes from their ancient homes.
[i] Lloyd C. Briggs and Norina Lami Guède, No More For Ever: A Saharan Jewish Town, (Cambridge, Mass: Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 1964).
[ii] Lee Smith, “Agents of Influence,” Tablet, January 4, 2012, http://www.tabletmag.com/ jewish-news-and-politics/87240/minority-interest (accessed February 17, 2017).
[iii] Quoted after Judson Berger, “Mob Attacks on Iraqi Christian Businesses Raise Security Concerns,” Fox News, December 9, 2011, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/12/09/mob-attacks-on-christian-businesses-raise-security-concerns-as-iraq-enters-new.html (accessed February 17, 2017).
[iv] See Khaled Abu Toameh, “Arab Spring Sending Shudders Through Christians in the Middle East,” Gatestone Institute, December 20, 2011, https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/2685/arab-spring-christians (accessed February 17, 2017).
[v] Quoted after Gianni Valente, “We are the Church of Islam. Interview with the patriarch of Antioch Grégoire III Laham,” Synod of Bishops no. 10 (2005), http://www.30giorni.it/articoli_id_9596_l3.htm (accessed February 17, 2017).
[vii] Quoted after Jack Fowler, “Melkite Patriarch Absolves Islam, Blames ‘Zionist Conspiracy,'” National Review, December 13, 2010, http://www.nationalreview.com/ corner/255224/melkite-patriarch-absolves-islam-blames-zionist-conspiracy-jack-fowler (accessed February 17, 2017).
[viii] Quoted after The Free Library, “Catholic patriarch warns Christians face ‘extinction,'” The Free Library, n.d., https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Catholic+patriarch+warns+Christians+ face+%27extinction%27.-a0250613492 (accessed February 17, 2017).
[ix] Lee Smith, “Agents of Influence,” Tablet, January 4, 2012, http://www.tabletmag.com/ jewish-news-and-politics/87240/minority-interest (accessed February 17, 2017).
[x] Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World,” Newsweek, February 6, 2012, http://europe.newsweek.com/ayaan-hirsi-alithe-global-war-christians-muslim-world-65817?rm=eu (accessed on February 17, 2017).
As the Western definition of marriage loosens from its once-strict notion of one man and one woman, all sorts of novel arrangements are turning up – notably homosexual “marriages” and polygamy. This development has come at just the right moment for the growing, demanding Muslim populations in the West, which are asserting their right to one husband and multiple wives. This weblog entry looks, in reverse chronological order, at some of the more interesting signs of polygamy’s advance in the West.
British websites: Azad Chaiwala, 33, owns two polygamous matchmaking sites: secondwife.com, which is exclusive to Muslims, and polygamy.com, open to everyone. His explicit goal is to spread the practice of multiple wives in the United Kingdom, despite the fact that it’s in most cases against the law. (July 3, 2016)
Important harem developments: In “Polygamy: Europe’s Hidden Statistic,” Judith Bergman notes some recent developments in Europe’s acceptance of polygamy.
Sweden’s Center Party raised the idea of legalizing polygamy but then dropped the idea. But its youth division still advocates this change: “We think it is important for the individual to decide how many people he or she wants to marry.”
Likewise, the youth division of Denmark’s Radical Left has proposed that polygamy be legalized.
The number of European countries that recognize polygamous marriages when legally contracted abroad has grown and now includes the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
It was estimated in 2012 that 30 percent of Arab men percent in Berlin had married more than one wife.
Daham Al Hasan is making headlines in Denmark. Bergman explains: “He has twenty children with three wives, but two years ago fled alone from Syria to Denmark, and left his wives and children behind. Recently, under the Danish rules of family unification, one of his wives and eight of his children have joined him in Denmark. But Al Hasan wants all his children with him, as well as all his wives. He has been granted permission for nine additional children to join him, but as Denmark does not allow polygamy, the two remaining wives, under the same rules of family unification, are not permitted to join him. Lawyers, however, estimate that the remaining wives will also be able independently to join their children in Denmark.” There’s a shock in Denmark “not only because of the extraordinary size of the family, and what it will cost the Danish state just in child allowance, but because Al Hassan claims that he is too ill to work or even to learn Danish.” In contrast, however, hardly anyone – and not a single Danish feminist – mentions that Al Hassan is a polygamist.
In a television documentary, “Sharia in Denmark,” several imams secretly recorded on camera endorsed polygamy.
Tina Magaard did a study for the Danish Ministry of Welfare in 2012 in which she documented the extensive practice of polygamy among Danish Muslims.
A 2013 German documentary found that “Muslim men used polygamy as a means to commit fraud and obtain more welfare benefits. The tactic was to have their wives claim at the Employment Center that they were single women who did not know the father of their children.”
(June 5, 2016)
United Muslim Masjid normalizes polygamy: Founded in 1994 by Kenny Gamble (aka Luqman Abdul-Haq), UMM has announced an eventnext month:
An upcoming workshop/symposium that UMM will offer April 30 will center on the book, Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands.
light on families whose form and function conflict with U.S. civil law. Polygyny—multiple-wife marriage—has steadily emerged as an alternative to the low numbers of marriageable African American men and the high number of female-led households in black America.
This book features the voices of women who welcome polygyny, oppose it, acquiesce to it, or even negotiate power in its practices. Majeed examines the choices available to African American Muslim women who are considering polygyny or who are living it. She calls attention to the ways in which interpretations of Islam’s primary sources are authorized or legitimated to regulate the rights of Muslim women. Highlighting the legal, emotional, and communal implications of polygyny, Majeed encourages Muslim communities to develop formal measures that ensure the welfare of women and children who are otherwise not recognized by the state.
(March 19, 2016)
Lauren Booth at a demonstration against the war in Afghanistan.
First prominent Western 2nd wife: Lauren Booth, 45, is half-sister to Cherie Blair, wife of former prime minister Tony Blair, and a well-known anti-Israel activist as well as a convert to Islam in 2010. She’s in the news because a Manchester, England woman, Faiza Ahmed, claims Booth “stole my husband – and destroyed my home.” But Booth did not so much take the husband, Sohale Ahmed, away from Faiza as become his second wife. The larger point of interest here is that Booth has thereby become (to the best of my knowledge) the first well-known Western female to become the polygamous wife to a Muslim man. (May 11, 2013)
Additional benefits for additional British wives: The Daily Mail reports from Great Britain that
Immigrants with more than one wife will qualify for extra benefits under reforms to Britain’s welfare system, after an attempt to crack down on the problem backfired. … Currently, any additional wives can receive reduced individual income support, meaning the husband and his first wife are paid up to £111.45. Subsequent spouses living under the same roof receive around £40. Under the new system of Universal Credit, which comes in next year, polygamous marriages will not be recognised at all. Ministers pledged to end the ‘absurd’ benefits regime which has seen multiple wives allowed to claim extra welfare payments.
But a House of Commons Library paper has highlighted a loophole in the rules which will allow additional wives to claim a full single person’s allowance, currently worth up to £71, while the original married couple will still get a married couple’s allowance. The paper said: “Treating second and subsequent partners in polygamous relationships as separate claimants could mean that polygamous households receive more under Universal Credit than under the current rules.”…
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions told MailOnline said that the loophole will exist because extra wives in a polygamous home are treated as single. “Polygamy is illegal in this country and it would be wrong for the benefits system to legitimise these arrangements by recognising them in any way.”
(July 30, 2012)
Muslim man arrested on polygamy charges in UK: Fazlur Rahman, 42, the owner of five or so restaurants, was arrested at Manchester Airport and charged with bigamy as well as an immigration offence. He was arrested and taken to Workington Police Station in Cumbria where he was interviewed and charged. A man-bites-dog story or the beginning of a trend? (January 27, 2010)
Increase in French polygamous families: According to Sonia Imloul, a specialist on French Muslims, there were 8,000 polygamous families in France in 1992, 16-20,000 families in 2006, and now 40-50,000. Adding in the children, this means some 400,000 individuals are connected to a polygamous marriage. (November 17, 2009)
45 registered polygamous marriages in Antwerp, Belgium: These involve mainly immigrants from Morocco, Pakistan, Mauritania and other countries where polygamy is allowed – and have not been contracted in Belgium. (August 17, 2009)
UK polygamists rely on taxpayer funding: A Daily Mail investigation by Sue Reid reveals how easily for Britain’s thousands of harems rely on state benefits. For starters, she notes that polygamy was first made illegal in England and Wales in 1604, when parliament made it illegal for “evil persons” to marry more than one wife and made death the punishment for this crime.
So much for then. Now, as noted elsewhere in this weblog entry, polygamy is legal in Great Britain if formally contracted in another country – Reid mentions “Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia and across huge tracts of Africa.” If that is the case, then a Muslim husband legally can claim state support of more than £10,000 a year to keep his wives.
For example, a man can receive &£92.80 a week in income support for wife number one, and a further £33.65p for each of his subsequent spouses. Therefore, if he has four wives – the maximum permitted under Islamic teachings – he can claim nearly £800 a month from the British taxpayer. Controversially, a polygamist is also entitled to more generous housing benefits and bigger council houses to reflect the large size of his family. He is also able to claim £1,000 a year in child benefit for each of his growing brood. … critics claim our generosity simply encourages more Muslim men to keep several spouses.
She then gets into the details:
So how do the polygamists get away with it here? Firstly, it needs to be understood that the generous benefits system allows any man and the partner he lives with to claim benefits together – even if the woman is not officially registered as his wife. If they do marry, to avoid breaking Britain’s bigamy laws, such men often engage in a ceremony with their second or third wife in a Nikah secretly in their own homes and never register the union officially in this country.
Another technique is for the man to divorce his first wife under British law while continuing to live with her as his spouse under Islamic law. He then gets a visa for a new wife to enter the country and can legally marry her here. Moreover, our politically correct immigration rules state that if a husband has divorced his first wife under British law – and even if that divorce is actually suspected to be part of a plan to set up a polygamous household – a second wife from abroad must be allowed to come and live here.
Reid then provides some compelling testimony from women caught in polygamous relationships. (February 24, 2009)
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Tory spokesman on community cohesion.
Tory speaks out against polygamy: In a rare instance of public resistance to polygamy, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Tory spokesman on community cohesion and herself a Muslim, warned that growing numbers of Muslim men are “marrying” up to four wives in Britain and that this leads to tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. She accused Labour of turning a blind eye to the practice; “in the name of cultural sensitivity,” the topic is avoided. The Government, she said, must make it clear that “in this country, one married man is allowed to marry one woman” (not perfect phrasing, but one understands what she means). “There has to be a culture change and that has to brought about by policymakers taking a very clear stance on this issue.” She suggested a system to register polygamous “weddings.” (February 21, 2009)
“Westerners Welcome Harems”: That’s the title of my column today, noting the major developments that have taken place in 2008, summarizing this weblog entry, and drawing some conclusions. (November 26, 2008)
Polygamy rampant and accepted in Israel: Israel, like Albania and Russia, differs from the rest of the “West” in that its Muslim population is mostly indigenous, so Islamic customs have persisted rather than newly arrived. Still, it’s of note to learn about a first-of-its-kind conference at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev focusing on polygamy in Israel, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, “Israel 2008: State of Polygamy.”
According to data presented at the conference, 20 percent to 25% of Israel’s Bedouin families practice polygamy, and most of the women and children in such families suffer deep psychological, financial and social difficulties.
The conference chairman, Alean al-Krenawi, a professor of social work at Ben-Gurion, presented findings from a three-year study that compared polygamous and monogamous Bedouin families in Israel.
Prof. Krenawi took a sample of 973 subjects, half from polygamous families and the other half from monogamous ones. He questioned fathers, wives and children about their psychological, family and social functioning, as well as the quality of their marriage, father-child and mother-child relationships, and even checked the children’s scholastic success.
Children from polygamous families reported more distress, depression, anxiety and problems in establishing social relationships than those from monogamous households, the study found. Children from polygamous families also have much lower self-esteem and tend to quarrel with their fathers more. “There is always going to be tension between the women, which ends up creating different camps in the family,” Krenawi said. “The father tends to prefer the junior wife and abandons the senior wife and her children.”
Men in polygamous families are also not generally happy with their situation, mostly due to the constant arguing between wives and children, Krenawi’s research found. Many of the men said that in retrospect they would not have chosen to marry multiple wives.
The article ends on this sobering note: “While polygamy is illegal, participants at the conference said the law wasn’t enforced and that nobody in Israel had ever been arrested or punished for the practice.” (October 30, 2008)
Dutch statistics office registers polygamous marriages: Statistics Netherlands (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS), the government office that registers all marriages, has been removing polygamous marriages from its files on the innocent assumption they these must be administrative mistakes. But polygamous marriages legally entered into in other countries are legal in Dutch eyes, so these will be registered. The change was prompted by an internal order in Amsterdam about procedures for writing up such marriages. (August 9, 2008) Sep. 21, 2008 update: Amsterdam’s records show 171 marriages with two wives and 2 with three.
Man jailed in the Netherlands for polygamy: On a different note, an unnamed 56-year-old man of Pakistani origins living in the Netherlands since 1983 and a Dutch citizen since 1992 was sentenced yesterday to one month in jail and a one-month suspended sentence for practicing polygamy. The Rotterdam resident married one woman in the Netherlands and one in Pakistan during the 1990s; in 2007, his arrangement came to the authorities’ attention when he applied at the Dutch embassy in Pakistan for passports for children of his second marriage.
Polygamy is a crime that can lead to up to six years in prison. In this case, noted Magistrate L.K. Rapmund, the prison sentence is deserved because the man had lived long enough in the Netherlands to know it is illegal there. Incidentally, the prosecutor asked only for a €750 fine but the judge heightened the penalty to do justice to the seriousness of the offense.
Comment: This prosecution would seem to contradict the statement by Dutch justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin (discussed below), who said in April 2008 that polygamous Muslim marriages should be dealt with via dialogue, not the legal system. (August 3, 2008)(August 3, 2008)
Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act of 2008: Harry Reid, majority leader of the U.S. Senate, has sponsored a bill that would create a Federal Polygamy Task Force within the Department of Justice to
formulate effective responses to the unique set of crimes committed by polygamist organizations;
establish partnerships with State and local law enforcement agencies to share relevant information and strengthen State and Federal efforts to combat crimes perpetrated by polygamist organizations;
assist States by providing strategies and support for the protection of witnesses;
track the criminal behavior of polygamist organizations that cross State and international borders; and
ensure that local officials charged with protecting the public are not corrupted because of financial, family, or membership ties to a polygamist organization.
Comment: Everything about this bill screams Mormons; were it to pass, it presumably would not notice the growing phenomenon of Muslim polygamy. (July 23, 2008) Mar. 27, 2009 update: Reid’s bill failed to go through in the last session of congress, so he is trying again, reports theSalt Lake Tribune. Again, every indication suggests that he is thinking exclusively of Mormons:
Reid, a Nevada Democrat and Mormon convert, made a push for his measure last year after the raid of a polygamous community in Texas grabbed national headlines. Now, a year later, the Nevada senator says he still believes the federal government needs to step in. “These people who are doing this—many of them are doing things that are immoral, and in many instances illegal,” Reid said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. “There’s a lot of welfare fraud that goes on, domestic abuse that goes on. … I think we have an obligation to help these women and children who are being victimized.”
Polygamous wives in South Africa may inherit from husbands’ estates: Johan Jacobs, executor of Ebrahim Hassam’s estate, refused to recognize the claim of Fatima Gabie Hassam, his second wife to an inheritance. Jacobs argued that the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act and the Intestate Succession Act do not recognize polygamous marriage, therefore Fatima could not be treated as a survivor or a spouse. Fatima sued for her portion of the estate.
Now, in a landmark judgment, Judge Dennis van Reenen of the Cape High Court has ruled that women in polygamous Muslim marriages do have inheritance rights. That means that when a man in a polygamous marriage dies intestate, each of his wives inherits her share. The court reasoned that Fatima would be entitled to her share had her marriage been monogamous; so, denying her from inheriting her portion of her husband’s estate is “unfairly discriminatory” and against the Constitution. Van Reenen ordered that spouses in polygamous marriages be covered by both the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act and the Intestate Succession Act.
The Women’s Legal Centre responded favorably, noting that this judgment “takes us one step closer to reducing discrimination against women.” (July 19, 2008)
Moroccan immigrant fights polygamy in Italy: Souad Sbai, 47, a Moroccan immigrant living in Italy since 1981, is fighting an uphill battle against harems in Italy, Tracy Wilkinson reports for the Los Angeles Times. She estimates the existence of 14,000 polygamous families in Italy and argues that polygamist husbands practice a particularly abusive household: feeling threatened by Western culture, they often imprison their wives, leaving the wives “in a kind of ghetto,” according to Sbai. She created a hotline for Muslim immigrant women and heard from about 1,000 of them in the first three months. She realized she had found a hitherto hidden community, many isolated in polygamous households, most of them Moroccan and illiterate. (July 15, 2008)
Keysar Trad and his wife Hanifeh pictured at their Sydney, Australia, home.
Australia recognizes polygamous marriages contracted elsewhere: Natalie O’Brien, a senior writer with the Australian, tells the story of Keysar Trad, 44, drops and in the course of it, drops a bombshell. She reports that “In Australia it is illegal to enter into a polygamous marriage. But the federal government, like Britain, recognises relationships that have been legally recognised overseas, including polygamous marriages. This allows second wives and children to claim welfare and benefits.”
O’Brien presents Trad’s polygamous urges with great sympathy, telling how his wife Hanifeh returned with their six children to the couple’s native Lebanon for several months, leaving him lonely in Sydney’s western suburbs. Taking a second wife “seemed the natural thing to do for Trad,” writes O’Brien, for he
had already lived through the experience of being the son of his father’s second wife, who became part of the family after the first wife became too ill to look after their children. A childhood spent living with a mother and a stepmother was completely normal. “There was nothing out of the ordinary,” Trad tells The Australian. “My mother and my stepmother were always best friends. They never argued. She looked at my mum like she was her sister.”
Their extended family took shape in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in the 1960s. “That society was very open-minded,” Trad recalls. “Even though it was not the norm. I was not aware of any other family with that sort of relationship. But generally, I found people didn’t care as long as the relationship was a peaceful one.” But Trad’s mother warned him not to talk about the family arrangements, saying people really were not that open-minded.
Back to Sydney in 2008, however:
Whether a second wife would work in the Trad household remains another issue. The Trads say they have discussed the idea only in principle. Trad’s wife, Hanifeh, is not against the idea of having another woman in her husband’s life. She says she has enough confidence in herself not to let it affect her ego. However, she’s concerned of the effect it might have on her children and how they would be affected by the stigma. “We don’t know whether it would work for us. We have only intellectualised, we have never practised it,” Trad says.
Although Trad in the end did not marry a second wife, he supports Khalil Chami’s call (see below) for Australia to recognize polygamous marriages on the grounds that doing so helps protect the rights of women in such relationships. Now, Trad says women are left in a vulnerable financial position if the man dies.
O’Brien also quotes Silma Ihram, described as an Anglo-Australian convert to Islam and a pioneer of Muslim education in Australia, urging a public discussion of polygamy, and not just for Muslims. “Take away the Islamic tag because that is irrelevant. There are many people whose marriages are not registered and there are a large number of people having affairs. … Where are we going with the family structure? Where are we going on relationships? We need to ask the questions: How important is it to have a one-on-one relationship and is it acceptable to have more than partner?” (June 26, 2008)
More privileges to polygamous marriages in Belgium: The Belgium Constitutional Court annulled a stipulation in the alien law of 2006 that denied the right of family reunification to children born of a polygamous marriage and who were descended of an alien established in Belgium or from an alien who was already permitted or authorized to an unlimited stay and from one of the spouses not living in Belgium. (June 26, 2008) July 15, 2008 update: In another ruling, the Belgian Constitutional Court has forbidden discrimination against the children of polygamous marriages, for example in the handling of visa applications to enter the country. The ruling does not clearly apply to spouses in polygamous marriages, though Freddy Rosemont, head of the Alien Affairs Department (DVZ), says that the court also annulled the article of the law that bans spouses in polygamous marriages.
Australian sheikh calls for polygamy to be legalized: Khalil Chami of the Islamic Welfare Centre in Sydney has called for polygamous marriages, which already exist in the country, to be recognized and regularized in Australia. Chami told a radio program that he is asked almost weekly to conduct polygamous ceremonies; although he declines, other sheikhs accede. “There are a lot of sheikhs here without any qualifications, without any place. They’ll conduct that marriage no problem at all.”
To this, Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia added his agreement (for the rights of women to be protected, of course), revealing that he
once proposed to another woman with the consent of his wife, Hanefa, but the second marriage did not proceed. “I certainly would not have entertained the thought of having a relationship without a religious marriage and I thought the relationship with that person was developing to the stage where we had become too friendly with each other,” he told the program. “Rather than entertain any thoughts of an affair I thought the only decent thing to do was to consider a proper commitment to that person. This idea of plural sexual relationships, it is not so much frowned upon by society as long as these people don’t say we want a polygamous relationship.”
Trad also told about his own mother being the third wife in a polygamous relationship and praised the family setup in which the women admired, respected, and supported each other.
In a sense, it’s a compliment to the original partner that if he didn’t find marriage to be so good why would he go into it again,” he said. “In a sense, he’s saying that his first wife has made life like heaven for him so he’s willing to provide the same service, love and support to a second woman.” He said women were choosing to enter into such marriages.
Trad’s mother also got on the radio and praised polygamy. Then, asked if it is about men wanting sex with several women, she replied: “Yeah it can be, but having it in the right way instead of having it in like go to prostitute or just date.”
To this talk, Attorney-General Robert McClelland responded severely: “Everyone should be on notice that the law in Australia is that marriage is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. That’s based on a long tradition. It’s based on the culture of our community and polygamous relationships are entirely inconsistent with that culture and indeed with the law. Polygamous relationships are and will remain unlawful.” (June 25, 2008) June 26, 2008 update: This exchange appears to have inspired Ismail Yusanto, the head of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Indonesia (and husband to two wives), to advise Australia to legalize polygamy immediately. “Do you allow prostitution [in Australia]?” he asked. “Why? Even though it enables women to become chattels, to be traded, and given a price?” Polygamy, he argues “should be accepted. If you believe in what you call human rights and freedom of expression, then it must be allowed. If someone wants to marry and take responsibility for a woman, why wouldn’t you let them?”
More pro-polygamy propaganda from National Public Radio: Barbara Bradley Hagerty focuses on Philadelphia’s African-American Muslims and recounts the story of Zaki and Mecca, who are in their late 20s, have been married to each other for nearly 12 years, live in the Philadelphia suburbs, work in the real estate business, have a 5-year-old son – and also a second wife. How this jolly development came to pass:
Two years ago, Mecca told her husband she wanted to study Arabic in the Middle East, which would mean a lot of time away from home. (NPR is not using any full names in this story because some of those we interviewed could be prosecuted for bigamy.) “We were talking about it,” Mecca recalls, “and the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘I’m going to have to find you another wife!'”
Zaki was game. After all, he had been raised in a polygamous home in Philadelphia. Like many black Muslims, his father subscribed to an orthodox view of Islam that allows a man to marry several women. Zaki says he loved having seven siblings and four mothers, especially at dinnertime. “I would find out who’s making what that particular night. I know that this mom makes barbequed chicken better than my other mom makes fried chicken, so I’m going with the barbequed chicken tonight. Things of that nature,” he says with a laugh. …
When it came to finding a second wife, Zaki said he had no one in mind, and he asked Mecca to conduct the search. “You know, he gave me the baton, and I took it and ran with it,” Mecca says. Mecca launched a nationwide search. She found candidates by word of mouth. She scoured the Internet. Eventually, she interviewed about a dozen women. “I had to make sure that she’d be the right fit — not just for my husband, but for our whole family,” Mecca says.
But the ultimate match was right under their noses: 20-year-old Aminah, who was a friend of Zaki’s younger sister. Aminah knew Mecca was looking for a second wife but thought she was too young. That is, until one night after a dinner party when Mecca pulled her aside. Mecca asked Aminah if she would consider marrying Zaki. “And I said, ‘That’s funny, because I was thinking the same thing,'” Aminah says.
Zaki was the last to know the identity of the final candidate to be his bride. He could have vetoed the choice, of course, but he was delighted. In October 2007, he and Aminah married in a religious, not civil, ceremony. Many polygamous marriages are conducted in secret and are not legally binding because state laws prohibit them.
Aminah recalls that Mecca helped prepare the wedding feast. Aminah, who’s finishing college, lives in an apartment a few miles away from Mecca’s house. Zaki moves between homes on alternating nights. But every week after Friday prayers, they get together as a family. “It can be a variety of things,” Zaki says. “Going to a nice restaurant, catching a movie, going bowling, maybe seeing a concert. All kind of things.” “I always call it family date night, because it’s one big date,” Mecca says. “We just chill. I always look forward to it. We always have a ball, laughing, goofing around.”
(May 28, 2008) July 23, 2008 update: In an interview, Debra Majeed, the chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Beloit College, provides NPR with more pro-polygamy views. She tells how she thought polygamist women crazy but then changed her mind and came to see plural marriage as a feminist statement:
I discovered that there are women for whom there are no available men, particularly Muslim men, or African-American Muslim men, or however they want to perceive of what would be a good mate for them. Some women I have interviewed look for an opportunity to be a second wife because they want to continue their careers, they do not want the full-time responsibilities of a husband and they are economically set, but they do want to experience the benefits of marriage. And in Islam, the family is the nucleus of Islamic society, and legitimate sexual intercourse can occur only within the bounds of marriage. So for some women, sharing a husband is preferred.
Majeed goes on to state that pedophilia, incest, and other forms of sexual abuse among African-American polygamists is rare.
50,000-100,000 American Muslims live polygamously: So reports National Public Radio in the first of a two-part series. It quotes Daisy Khan, head of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, to the effect that polygamy is more common among Muslim immigrants from Africa and Asia and rarer among those from the Middle East. Being NPR, it stresses the cheery aspects of polygamy, as in this story about Mona, a Palestinian woman with six children from her first marriage, who is happy to have had the chance to become a second wife.
When Mona got divorced in 1990, she became a pariah in her conservative Muslim community in Patterson, N.J. “When ladies divorce,” she says, “the people look down on her — looking to her like [she’s] second class.” Then 14 years ago, a man approached her to be his second wife. She resisted at first but then grew to admire him and agreed to become his wife. She says her problems evaporated.
“When I married the second husband, everybody’s OK,” she says, smiling. “If I go anywhere, I’m free, nobody talks, because I have a husband.” He provides for both of his families, and he divides time between the two homes. Mona says the first wife was initially angry, but she got used to it. “What is the problem? If he is not happy with the first marriage, why he stay all the life like this? You know, my religion is good because it gives man and woman another chance to be happy.”
(May 27, 2008)
Toronto imam officiated at over 30 polygamous marriages: Noor Javed of the Toronto Star tells the story of Aly Hindy and his polygynous marriage-making:
Safa Rigby holds the youngest of her five children.
There were no pleasantries, there was no small talk. Safa Rigby had expected to hear her husband’s voice when the phone rang one morning. Instead, the caller didn’t even bother to say hello. “You think you know your husband. You don’t know him at all,” said the man, a friend of her husband’s. “His car is parked outside my house right now. He is with my ex-wife. They just got married last week,” the man said.It took a minute for the news to sink in. Then she called her husband of 14 years, demanding to know if what she had just been told was true – that while she spent a year in Egypt raising their four children in a more Islamic environment, he had used it as an opportunity to marry not just one, but two other women in Toronto.
“Yes, I’m married,” he said, quashing all her dreams of their future together. He told her he was married in a small ceremony 20 days earlier, officiated by Aly Hindy, a well-known Toronto imam, at his Scarborough mosque.
“I cried for six days straight. Lost my appetite, ignored the kids, even had to start taking antidepressants,” said Rigby, 35. “What I couldn’t understand was how such a thing could happen in Toronto, my hometown, where polygamy is supposed to be illegal.”
It was easy. He simply found an imam willing to break a Canadian law, in exchange for upholding an Islamic one. “Polygamy is happening in Toronto; it’s not common, but it’s happening,” said Hindy, imam at Salahuddin Islamic Centre.
Aly Hindy, a pro-polygamy imam at the Salaheddin Islamic Centre in Scarborough, Canada.
Hindy says he has “blessed” more than 30 polygynous marriages, most recently just two months ago. “This is in our religion and nobody can force us to do anything against our religion. If the laws of the country conflict with Islamic law, if one goes against the other, then I am going to follow Islamic law, simple as that.”
The laws of the country do indeed conflict with the Shari’a when it comes to polygamy, outlawed in Canada in 1892, punishable with up to five years in prison. That said, the last time the Canadian authorities prosecuted polygamy was over 60 years ago.
Despite this record, Hindy is not an enthusiast for the practice. “I don’t encourage people to do it, unless they have reason for it. Life ends up being very complicated. You have to jump from one house to another all the time.” (May 24, 2008) June 1, 2008 update: Publication of the above story in the Toronto Star inspired Fouad Boutaya, the man who made that telephone call to Safa Rigby, to go public with his side of the story. Particularly dramatic was how he found out about his wife suddenly being married to Rigby’s husband, Hossny Ismail.
Boutaya remembers every detail of the moment of revelation he has relived in his mind many times since. The former civil servant came home early from a job-hunting trip to Ottawa to surprise his wife and two children, picking up a cake on his way. When he arrived, he found Ismail sitting at the dinner table, eating comfortably, as if he was in his own home.
“I asked him, ‘What are you doing here, my friend? You should not be here alone with my wife when I am not here,'” said Boutaya. “What’s the problem?” Boutaya said Ismail replied. “She is my wife.”
In shock, Boutaya stormed out with his two children – a daughter, 7, and son, 11 – and drove to the local police station in Hamilton. “It was my first reaction. I just needed someone to listen to me and protect me,” said Boutaya. Instead, he was told that he didn’t have much of a case.
So Boutaya sought proof. He spent the next month talking to imams while taking care of his children and trying to adjust to life at the Good Shepherd Centre, a local shelter, where they lived for four months. His wife continued to live in their home. “It’s been so hard for my kids. They were in shock for weeks afterwards,” said Boutaya, who now lives in subsidized housing.
Dutch will not prosecute polygamy: Dutch justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin told parliament that polygamous Muslim marriages should be dealt with via dialogue, not the legal system. Hirsch Ballin gave this response in answer to questions from two Labor Party members, Khadija Arib and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who suggested the government should actively persecute polygamists. They noted some of the problems of such marriages, for example that children produced from them cannot be registered and thus are not eligible for official papers. To this, the minister replied that if the father recognizes the child, there should be no problem. (April 21, 2008)
Mohammed Anwar, restaurant owner, polygamist, speed driver.
Scottish court accepts polygyny as reason for speeding while driving: Mohammed Anwar, owner of “Sanam,” a restaurant in Falkirk, Stirlingshire, was caught driving at 64 mph in a 30 mph zone in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 21, 2007, driving so much above the speed limit that he ordinarily would have automatically lost his driving license. Except that he offered an excuse that tugged on the heart strings of Sheriff John C. Morris in Airdrie Sheriff Court who allowed Anwar to keep his license in the course of a five-minute court appearance. The excuse? Let Anwar’s lawyer, Paul Nicolson, explain the argument he made in court:
He realises his licence is at risk, but this is an unusual case and is very anxious to keep his driving licence. He has one wife in Motherwell and another in Glasgow and sleeps with one one night and stays with the other the next on an alternate basis. Without his driving licence he would be unable to do this on a regular basis. He is also a restaurant owner and has a restaurant in Falkirk, which he has had for the past 30 years. He has had a clean driving licence until now, and on this particular evening was on his way home after a busy evening at his restaurant.
When caught speeding, by the way, Anwar was on his way from the restaurant to the Glasgow wife. Given these special circumstances, Morris merely fined him £200 and gave him six penalty points.
Commenting afterwards, Anwar told Alex Dowdalls of the Daily Mail: “It is true I have two wives. Muslim men are allowed up to four. But I am not a religious leader and it is not my place to comment. As a matter of respect to my wives I would not comment on my home life. The sheriff did not ban me because I need my licence to run my business, although my wives were also part of the decision.” (April 5, 2008)
Italian harems “on the rise”: Muslim scholars estimates the number of polygynous marriages in Italy at 15,000-20,000, La Repubblica reports, with the phenomenon increasing along with Muslim immigration as well as conversions. Unlike Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Ontario, however, the Italian state does not offer welfare benefits to more than one wife per husband. The paper tells the story of Baba Kar, who reached Italy wifeless in 1999 from Senegal. He began by bringing Fadu, along with their three-year-old son. On getting a work permit, Kar brought Nkeir. The four of them lived in a two-room apartment in Brescia. “The Koran says I can have up to four wives. I observe my religion, and I have never had any problems with the Italian state,” Kar reflected.
Indeed, the Italian state, while only recognizing Fadu as Kar’s wife, has indicated that polygamous marriages legally contracted abroad are acceptable. Recently a court in Bologna allowed a Muslim immigrant to bring the mothers of his two children to Italy on the grounds that the dual marriages had been legally contracted. (April 2, 2008)
Polygamous Canadian wives recognized and receive benefits: The Ontario Family Law Act accepts polygamy. It defines “Polygamous marriage” as “a marriage that is actually or potentially polygamous, if it was celebrated in a jurisdiction whose system of law recognizes it as valid.” In other words, the act recognizes polygamous marriages legally contracted in other countries.
Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims.
According to Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims, “several hundred” Muslim men in the Greater Toronto Area engage in polygamous marriages, for “Polygamy is a regular part of life for many Muslims.” They do this by the man and one wife and children first entering Canada as landed immigrants, then they sponsor the other spouses and children, or these arrive as visitors.
Ali also says some of them receive welfare and social benefits for their additional wives. “There are many people in the community who are taking advantage of this,” Ali said. “This is a law and there’s nothing wrong with it.” He is proud of Canada’s record: “Canada is a very liberal-minded country. Canada is way ahead of Britain in this respect.” That said, the families receiving benefits keep their identities hidden, fearing too many questions and a cut off of benefits, Ali added.
In contrast, city and provincial officials say that welfare applicants can claim only a single spouse; other adults living in the same household must apply on their own for welfare. According to Brenda Nesbitt, Toronto’s director of social services, “There may be polygamous cases we are not aware off. They can apply as single people and we won’t know.” Erike Botond, spokesman for the Ontario Community and Social Services, notes that social assistance may only include a single spouse. “Other adults residing in the same dwelling place as a recipient and their spouse may apply as individuals.”
The immigration authority seems not to realize that the rules have changed. “I can assure you,” says its spokesman, Karen Shadd-Evelyn, “that polygamy is not recognized under immigration legislation. A conjugal relationship, whether involving marriage or a common-law partnership, must be exclusive.” (February 8, 2008)
Polygamous UK wives recognized and eligible for benefits: British law recognizes only a single spouse and bigamy is punished by up to seven years in jail. But if a husband should arrive in Britain from a country that permits polygamy is legal, then the law recognizes multiple wives. More than recognizes; the UK benefits system formally accepts multiple wives as dependents and pays for them. The Department of Work and Pensions guidelines on housing and council tax benefits read:
If you were legally married to more than one partner under the laws of a country that permits this, then your relationship is called a polygamous marriage. In this case your household consists of you and any partners who live with you and to whom you are married.
The DWP pays couples up to £92.80 a week (in jobseeker’s allowance, housing and council tax benefits) and each “additional spouse” receives another £33.65. Now that this policy has become public, however, and raised a small furor, the DWP is reviewing its policy. (April 18, 2007) Feb. 3, 2008 update: A year-long government review has confirmed this policy, The Sunday Telegraph reveals today in “Multiple wives will mean multiple benefits” by Jonathan Wynne-Jones. In addition to the DWP, three other departments were involved in the review: Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs, and the Home Office. They reached their conclusions in December 2007 but did not publicize the results. Despite the fact that bigamy is punishable in Britain by up to seven years in prison, the departments concluded that recognizing multiple marriages entered into in foreign countries was “the best possible” option. Wynne-Jones explains the implications:
Even though bigamy is a crime in Britain, the decision by ministers means that polygamous marriages can now be recognised formally by the state, so long as the weddings took place in countries where the arrangement is legal. The outcome will chiefly benefit Muslim men with more than one wife, as is permitted under Islamic law. Ministers estimate that up to a thousand polygamous partnerships exist in Britain, although they admit there is no exact record. …
New guidelines on income support from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) state: “Where there is a valid polygamous marriage the claimant and one spouse will be paid the couple rate … The amount payable for each additional spouse is presently £33.65.” Income support for all of the wives may be paid directly into the husband’s bank account, if the family so choose. Under the deal agreed by ministers, a husband with multiple wives may also be eligible for additional housing benefit and council tax benefit to reflect the larger property needed for his family.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Mamadou Soumare (second from left) and Moussa Magassa (third from left).
New York City establishment accepts polygamy: A space heater set off a fire that climbed quickly through a three-story Bronx row house, killing ten immigrants from Mali, including nine children of two fathers and three wives. As the city’s deadliest fire in nearly 20 years, the tragedy attracted enormous attention, with the mayor and many dignitaries attending the funeral and consoling the two men, Mamadou Soumare and Moussa Magassa. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner volunteered to pay for the funerals. No one said a word about the polygamy. An Associated Press report refers casually to this fact:
The woman who leaped out the window, Assia Magassa – Moussa’s 23-year-old second wife – was at Lincoln Medical Center on Saturday with broken legs. … According to Mali’s Muslim traditions, a man may have more than one wife.
Polygamy in America, outlawed in every state but rarely prosecuted, has long been associated with Mormon splinter groups out West, not immigrants in New York. But a fatal fire in a row house in the Bronx on March 7 revealed its presence here, in a world very different from the suburban Utah setting of “Big Love,” the HBO series about polygamists next door.
The city’s mourning for the dead a woman and nine children in two families from Mali has been followed by a hushed double take at the domestic arrangements described by relatives: Moussa Magassa, the Mali-born American citizen who owned the house and was the father of five children who perished, had two wives in the home, on different floors. Both survived.
No one knows how prevalent polygamy is in New York. Those who practice it have cause to keep it secret: under immigration law, polygamy is grounds for exclusion from the United States. Under state law, bigamy can be punished by up to four years in prison. No agency is known to collect data on polygamous unions, which typically take shape over time and under the radar, often with religious ceremonies overseas and a visitor’s visa for the wife, arranged by other relatives. Some men have one wife in the United States and others abroad.
But the Magassas clearly are not an isolated case. Immigration to New York and other American cities has soared from places where polygamy is lawful and widespread, especially from West African countries like Mali, where demographic surveys show that 43 percent of women are in polygamous marriages.
And the picture that emerges from dozens of interviews with African immigrants, officials and scholars of polygamy is of a clandestine practice that probably involves thousands of New Yorkers. …
Don’t-ask-don’t-know policies prevail in many agencies that deal with immigrant families in New York, perhaps because there is no framework for addressing polygamy in a city that prides itself on tolerance of religious, cultural and sexual differences and on support for human rights and equality.
… stories of polygamy, New York style, are typically shared by women only in whispered conversations in laundries and at hair-braiding salons. With no legal immigration status and no right to asylum from polygamy, many are afraid to expose their husbands to arrest or deportation, which could dishonor and impoverish their families here and in Africa.
In sum, this report suggests, polygamy is in New York by the thousands, it causes much suffering, but no one has the will to take it on. Mar. 7, 2008 update: In a one-year update on the surviving family members, the New York Times again blithely accepts polygamy, reporting that Moussa Magassa, 46, the father of five children who died in the fire, said in an interview that “his family has grown since the fire: Two wives recently gave birth, one to twins.” The reporter, Timothy Williams, notes delicately only that Magassa “is from Mali, where polygamy is legal and widespread.” The New York Post causally provides the eye-popping information (in the caption to a picture) that Magassa has taken a third wife: “Moussa Magassa now has nine children with his wives, Aisse, Manthia and Niekale.”
Comment: I wonder if Magassa trekked back to Mali to marry Niekale or whether he “married” her in the United States. If the latter, he is as liable to charges of polygamy as any Mormon fundamentalist, but something tells me, much less likely to have the law after him.
Taxpayer subsidies for UK harems: According to a sensationalist story by Nigel Nelson in The People, “Have a Harem: Geta Handout,” it’s not just Inland Revenue but other government agencies that recognize polygamous marriages. He finds that the British taxpayer spends £5m a year on polygamous immigrants who bring harems into the country for such benefits as jobseekers’ allowances, housing benefits, and council tax relief. Their children can claim child benefits and family tax credits. For example, as Nelson colorfully puts it, “The exhausted husband also gets a Jobseeker’s Allowance of £90.10 a week for himself and his first wife. Extra wives get £32.65 each.” The Welfare Minister, Philip Hunt, is quoted acknowledging that “British law recognises those marriages. Income-related benefits can be paid for more than one wife.” (November 12, 2006) May 28, 2007 update: The Times (London) follows up with more information: The Department for Work and Pensions estimates there are “fewer than 1,000 valid polygamous marriages in the UK, few of whom are claiming a state benefit.” Here’s how it works:
Britain does recognise polygamous marriages that have taken place in countries where the custom is legal, such as Pakistan, Nigeria and India. The Home Office said that multiple wives in polygamous marriages may be allowed into the country as students or tourists. Officials are advised to let extra wives into Britain even if they suspect that a husband is trying to cheat the system by getting bogus divorces. “Entry clearance may not be withheld from a second wife where the husband has divorced his previous wife and the divorce is thought to be one of convenience,” an immigration rulebook advises. “This is so, even if the husband is still living with the previous wife and to issue the entry clearance would lead to the formation of a polygamous household.” …
A husband may claim housing benefit for each wife even if she is abroad, for up to 52 weeks, as long as the absence is temporary and for pressing reasons. In a draft Commons reply released under the Freedom of Information Act, officials explained another way in which the system made it easy to receive handouts. “A polygamous marriage is the only circumstance in which an adult dependency increase is payable in income-related benefits,” it stated. “In any other circumstances an adult ‘dependent’ would have to make a separate claim.”
To calculate the amount of income support that is payable to an extra wife, officials subtract the rate paid to an individual from that paid to a couple. This produces the amount that a cohabiting spouse is deemed to need in social security benefits. If a man lives with two valid wives, his household is paid the rate for a couple, plus an amount for the extra spouse, the documents show.
Where a man and a woman are married under a law which permits polygamy, and either of them has an additional spouse, the Tax Credits (Polygamous Marriages) Regulations 2003 allow them to claim tax credits as a polygamous unit. It is only those in legal polygamous unions who are covered by these regulations and there is no provision for those in less formal arrangements to claim as a polygamous unit.
Azouz Begag, French minister for promoting the equalty of opportunity.
(December 2, 2005)
Accepting polygamy in France: Azouz Begag, French minister for promoting the equalty of opportunity (yes, such a position exists) laconically addressed the issue of polygamy by saying that the country “could find a way to live with it.” (September 9, 2005)
Polygamous UK wives inherit tax-free from husbands: Nicholas Hellen, “Muslim second wives may get a tax break” provides rich details, which I feel compelled to quote at length so as not to lose their texture:
The Inland Revenue is considering recognising polygamy for some religious groups for tax purposes. Officials have agreed to examine “family friendly” representations from Muslims who take up to four wives under sharia, the laws derived from the Koran. Existing rules allow only one wife for inheritance tax purposes. The Revenue has been asked to relax this so that a husband’s estate can be divided tax-free between several wives.
The move is bound to create controversy if it leads to a change in the rules. It is seen as a breakthrough by Muslim leaders who have been campaigning to incorporate sharia into British domestic law. Ahmad Thomson, of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, said: “Wives and immediate children should be exempt from inheritance tax. If the government is family friendly they should change a tax which is unfairly hitting minority religious values.”
Any concession by the Revenue could open a wider debate about the legality of plural marriages. At present a person married to more than one people can be charged with bigamy. Muslim marriages to second, third and fourth wives are not valid in civil law, with the women effectively regarded as mistresses with no legal or tax rights.
However, some official bodies have already pointed out that tax laws are unfavourable to religious groups that recognise more than one spouse. The National Audit Office (NAO) recently concluded that the tax system inadvertently penalised devout Muslims. An NAO inquiry into inheritance laws found that devout Muslims were not able to take full advantage of British tax law, which allows spouses to inherit an entire estate from their husband or wife tax free. …
Sadiq Khan, a leading Muslim politician, said: “I am pleased to see the Inland Revenue applying common sense to the application of Islamic law on uncontroversial matters such as inheritance. There are some other uncontroversial areas of Islam law which could easily be applied to the legal system we have in the UK.” …
Gordon Brown, the chancellor, has already made one significant concession to adapt to the dictates of sharia. In the 2003 Finance Act he spared Muslims from paying stamp duty twice on their properties when they took out “Islamic mortgages” that complied with the sharia ban on paying interest. The Islamic mortgages involve the lender buying the house — ownership is transferred to the purchaser only at the end of the repayment period.
Will Muslim populations in the West succeed in ending the tradition of one law for all, replacing it with the concept of “legal pluralism”? Here and there, official and unofficially, Islamic law, the Shari’a, is making advances. In Italy, for example, hudud punishments have included the cutting of limbs by vigilantes acting on behalf of unofficial qadis. Polygamous marriages are making headway in many countries.Muslim-only enclaves, no-go zones, and Shari’a jurisdiction (see below) are all appearing; they could eventually lead to Muslim autonomous zones, with profound implications for European life and culture.
Survey research has found considerable interest among British Muslims to the Shari’a into Britain. Here are the results of four different surveys in the period 2004-07:
Back Shari’a courts to settle civil cases among Muslims, so long as penalties do not break the law: 61 percent.
Support there being areas of Britain which are pre-dominantly Muslim and in which Shari’a Law is introduced: 40 percent.
Prefer to live under Shari’a law: 30 percent.
“If I could choose, I would prefer to live in Britain under Shari’a law rather than British law”: 28 percent.
This is one of the most profound issues to face Western societies, for applying Shari’a is the ultimate Islamist goal and the surest way to transform the West into Dar al-Islam. I will address the topic here on an occasional basis, in reverse chronological order.
The first American Shar’i court? An “Islamic Tribunal” has opened its doors in Dallas, Texas, with four “judges”: Imam Yusuf Z. Kavakci, Imam Moujahed Bakhach, Imam Zia ul Haque Sheikh, and Dr. Taher El-badawi. Its homepage states:
Similar religious tribunals have existed for decades in the American Jewish and American Christian faith communities to resolve disputes, most especially within families. These religious tribunals are optional arbitration vehicles that only conduct their work when requested to do so by both parties involved in a dispute, do not attempt to impose any belief system upon any individual and work in compliance with State of Texas and US law under the United States Constitution.
The homepage of the Dallas Islamic Tribune’s website.
(March 5, 2015)
Shari’a Police in German town: Soeren Kern reviews the emergence of a Salafi pseudo-police force in Wuppertal, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, the state with the largest Muslim population in Germany, and how the authorities are talking tough but not doing anything. (September 8, 2014)
Attempt to cut off a hand in Philadelphia: Merv Mitchell, 37, said to be the amir of Masjid Ar-Razaqq Ul-Karim, a mosque in west Philadelphia, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, and related offenses for assaulting a mosque member. The Philadelphia Inquirer tells the story:
Merv Mitchell (aka Mabul Shoatz), accused of vigilante Islamic justice.
The attack happened after a prayer service Monday morning[, July 14]. Mitchell, also known as Mabul Shoatz, accused the 46-year-old mosque member of [stealing money from prayer jars]. The accused immediately denied it, but to no avail. Mitchell and the mosque’s imam carried the accused down a flight of stairs to the backyard of the mosque, a converted house, where Mitchell also lives, [Lt. John] Walker said.They put the victim’s wrist on a log, and Mitchell “swung at his wrist, cut through his skin, and cut his tendons, but didn’t make it all the way” because the blade was dull, Walker said. The victim was treated at Mercy Philadelphia Hospital and will require reconstructive surgery. … Police found the machete during the search. Walker said police would obtain an arrest warrant for the imam, a 35-year-old man whose name was not released.
Comment: The city of burqa robberies now can boast a do-it-yourself example of huddud justice. In other words, why even bother with a Shar’i court when you can carry out vigilante Islamic justice? (July 19, 2014)
British wills: The Law Society, a British organization that represents itself as “here to help, protect and promote solicitors across England and Wales,” issued instructions today on “Sharia succession rules,” in other words, how to write a Shar’i compliant will. It contains such charming passages as this:
Certain principles of Sharia are different to English succession laws. For example, it is not possible to inherit under Sharia rules via a deceased relative. No distinction is made between children of different marriages, but illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs. The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class. Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised.
(March 13, 2014)
Mar. 23, 2014 update: The Law Society’s document has provoked considerable controversy, reports the Independent:
Islamic law is to be effectively enshrined in the British legal system for the first time under guidelines for solicitors on drawing up “Sharia compliant” wills. … Nicholas Fluck, president of The Law Society told the newspaper that the document, which would be recognised by Britain’s courts, would promote “good practice” in applying Islamic principles in the British legal system.
But some lawyers have described the recommendations as “astonishing” and campaigners have warned that the move marks a step towards a “parallel legal system” for Britain’s Muslim communities. Baroness Cox, a cross-bench peer leading a Parliamentary campaign to protect women from discrimination authorised on the basis of religion, including from unofficial Sharia courts in Britain, told the Sunday Telegraph it was a “deeply disturbing” development. …
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, told the Sunday Telegraph: “This guidance marks a further stage in the British legal establishment’s undermining of democratically determined human rights-compliant law in favour of religious law from another era and another culture. British equality law is more comprehensive in scope and remedies than any elsewhere in the world. Instead of protecting it, The Law Society seems determined to sacrifice the progress made in the last 500 years.”
Nov. 24, 2014 update: The Law Society has reversed itself and withdrawn the guidelines for “Sharia compliant” wills in response to complaints that doing so encourages discrimination against women and non-Muslims. Andrew Caplen, the society’s president apologized: “Our practice note was intended to support members to better serve their clients as far as is allowed by the law of England and Wales. We reviewed the note in the light of criticism. We have withdrawn the note and we are sorry.”
Nation of Islam wants own courts: Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam demanded in the course of his keynote speech at the Saviours’ Day convention that African-Americans should have their own court system, implying it would be an Islamic system. “Our people can’t take much more. We have to have our own courts. You failed us.” He advised looking for guidance to the Koran and Bible to set up the new courts.
Louis Farrakhan at the Nation of Islam’s annual gathering.
(February 24, 2014)
The misogyny of British Shar’i courts exposed: Soeren Kern provides a useful summary of a BBC documentary, “Secrets of Britain’s Sharia Courts,” filmed clandestinely at several of the UK’s 85 Shar’i courts, exposing the discrimination against women at these informal courts. Shown on BBC Panorama on April 8,
The undercover investigation proves what has long been suspected: namely, that Sharia courts, which operate in mosques and houses across Britain, routinely issue rulings on domestic and marital issues according to Islamic Sharia law that are at odds with British law. Although Sharia rulings are not legally binding, those subject to the rulings often feel obliged to obey them as a matter of religious belief, or because of pressure from family and community members to do so. The documentary contends that the Sharia courts … are putting women at risk of violence from abusive husbands by pressuring them to stay in abusive marriages.
Kern then provides outrageous examples of decisions taken by the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton and the Sharia Council of Dewsbury.
He also notes that Baroness Cox presented the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill in October 2012 in the House of Lords that would (1) limit the activities of Shar’i courts, (2) require them to uphold laws concerning women’s rights and (3) make it a criminal offense (punishable by five years in prison) falsely to claim or imply that Shar’i courts have legal standing. (April 23, 2013)
Overview of Shar’i courts in Germany: Maximilian Popp writes for Der Spiegel about the dispensation of Islamic justice in Germany, starting with an important anecdote:
The men ambushed Fuat S. on the street, then locked him in a basement and tortured him. Fuat was later admitted to the hospital in Berlin’s Neukölln district with gaping wounds, contusions and broken bones. Police took his statement concerning the attack the same night. Fuat S., a gambler and a recipient of “Hartz IV”—Germany’s social welfare benefits for the long-term unemployed—gave a detailed statement. He’d conned an acquaintance, Mustafa O., out of €150,000 ($217,000) and the man was taking his revenge, Fuat said, together with his three brothers. They hit his hands, arms and knees with a hammer and threatened to shoot him.
The public prosecutor’s office in Berlin initiated proceedings against Mustafa O., a Palestinian man who had come to their attention repeatedly for violent acts. Police had investigated him in a number of cases, and now prosecutors saw an opportunity to convict a dangerous repeat offender. But when the case began, Fuat S., the principle witness, unexpectedly withdrew his testimony. It was not Mustafa who had tortured him, he said, but an Albanian man he didn’t know. Mustafa, he said, wasn’t even in the basement at the time. This was clearly a lie, as police analysis of telephone data showed, but the judge was forced to acquit the defendant due to lack of evidence.
The decision, in fact, was reached by a different judge. According to police, the victim’s and the perpetrator’s families had met at a restaurant in the presence of an Islamic “justice of the peace,” an arbitrator who mediates conflicts between Muslims. The two families had reached a compromise: Fuat would drop the charges, and in exchange be relieved of part of his debt. According to Bernhard Mix, the public prosecutor in charge of the case, Fuat’s false testimony was part of a deal between the families. “It’s difficult to establish the truth using legal means, when the perpetrator and the victim reach an agreement,” he says.
This and other information comes from a new book on the topic:
Joachim Wagner, an author and television journalist of many years, has taken a closer look at the phenomenon in his book Richter ohne Gesetz (“Judges without Laws”). Reconstructing Mustafa O.’s case, he reaches the conclusion that “the Islamic parallel justice system is becoming a threat to the constitutional legal system.”
Wagner stresses the informality of the system:
These justices of the peace don’t wear robes. Their courtrooms are mosques or teahouses. They draw their authority not from the law, but from their standing within the community. Most of them are senior members of their families, or imams, and some even fly in from Turkey or Lebanon to resolve disputes. Muslims seek them out when families argue, when daughters take up with nonbelievers or when clans clash. They often trust these arbitrators more than they trust the state.
State staff worry about the implications:
The late juvenile court judge Kirsten Heisig drew attention to this problem a year ago: “The law is slipping out of our hands. It’s moving to the streets, or into a parallel system where an imam or another representative of the Koran determines what must be done.”
In Wagner’s book, judges and prosecutors tell of threats toward public officials and systematic interference with witnesses. “We know we’re being given a performance, but the courts are powerless,” says Stephan Kuperion, a juvenile court judge in Berlin. Federal public prosecutor Jörn Hauschild warns, “It would be a terrible development if serious criminal offences in these circles could no longer be resolved. The legal system would be reduced to collecting victims.”
We learn about one of these arbiters:
Hassan Allouche sits behind the wheel of his station wagon, steering the vehicle through Berlin’s rush hour traffic with one hand, talking on his cell phone. Two Arabs have called on him for help in a rent dispute. He lights a cigarette and says, “People are afraid of the authorities. They trust me.” Allouche came to Germany from Lebanon 37 years ago. He acts as a religious arbitrator, just as his great-grandfather did before him. People greet him on the streets of Berlin, shaking his hand or bowing. “He’s kept us from a great deal of harm,” one Turkish businessman says.
Allouche’s brother was shot while trying to resolve a conflict, and since then he always wears a bulletproof vest when doing his work. He says he mediates 200 cases a year, often offers his own services and doesn’t ask any payment, although he accepts gifts. “I do this for Germany and for Allah,” he says.
operate in a gray area between conflict resolution and obstruction of justice. Allouche, for example, claims to work closely with authorities, but investigators suspect him of preventing witnesses from giving statements to the police. So far they’ve never been able to prove an obstruction of justice.
Although “Investigators do cooperate with Islamic arbitrators in a few exceptional cases,” the problem remains:
If these arbitrators would limit themselves to containing conflicts, there would be no reason to object, says legal and Islamic studies expert Mathias Rohe in the Bavarian city of Erlangen. German law, after all, allows for arbitration. What Rohe finds unacceptable is the exertion of influence over criminal proceedings. “Criminal prosecution is a privilege of the state,” he says.
Looking ahead, the problem is likely to continue:
Legal steps alone can’t prevent a parallel Islamic justice system, not with so many immigrants from Muslim countries who insist on following values retained for centuries—such as the primacy of men and the unconditional struggle for one’s own honor and that of the family. One problem is that they pass on these clichés to their children, so even third-generation members of immigrant families mistrust the German legal system.
“We need to promote our constitutional legal state starting in school,” says Rohe, the Islamic studies expert. If German integration were in better shape, he believes, Islamic arbitrators would have been out of work long ago.
The council meets once a month at the Birmingham Central Mosque. Many of the cases relate to divorce and involve the husbands and wives entering the room separately to make their appeals. …
While a husband is not required to go through official channels to gain a divorce – being able to achieve this merely by uttering the word “talaq” – Islamic law requires that the wife must persuade the judges to grant her a dissolution. …
While these courts may be the cornerstone of many of Britain’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, there are growing concerns that they are creating a parallel legal system – and one that is developing completely unchecked.
He then reports on efforts at push back:
In an attempt to counter the proliferation of these courts, a Bill has been tabled in the House of Lords by Baroness Cox calling for Sharia courts to be outlawed where they conflict with the British legal system. … “My Bill seeks to stop parallel legal, or quasi-legal, systems taking root in our nation,” she says. “There is widespread concern that some tribunals applying Sharia are going well beyond their legal remit, and some rulings are being misrepresented as having the force of UK law. Cases of criminal law and family law are matters reserved for the English courts alone. I hope the Bill gets through, as I believe it is vital for securing the rights of women in this country. … Muslim women who have a poor grasp of English or are unaware of their legal rights are likely to believe whatever their Sharia court tells them.” …
“Sharia courts are utterly opposed to equal rights and they discriminate against women,” says Jim Fitzpatrick, the Labour MP for Poplar and Canning Town, an area with a population now dominated by Bangladeshi Muslims. Fitzpatrick recently chaired a debate in the House of Commons on Sharia. “I’m concerned that they are creating a cultural stranglehold over their communities and leading to the Islamification of our society,” he says.
Court advocates have great ambitions:
campaigners hope to see all Sharia courts outlawed from this country. Although the courts currently have no jurisdiction in Britain, the Islamic Sharia Council makes clear that its ultimate goal is to have their laws recognised. It says on its website: “Though the Council is not yet legally recognised by the authorities in the UK, the fact that it is already established, and is gradually gaining ground among the Muslim community… are all preparatory steps towards the final goal of gaining the confidence of the host community in the soundness of the Islamic legal system.”
Certain decisions made under Sharia are already enforceable in British courts through the 1996 Arbitration Act, which allows any form of agreement as long as both parties concur on the terms at the outset. This legal standing does not apply to the informal Sharia councils – but does apply to the Muslim arbitration tribunals that rule on commercial and civil disputes, a fact that is raising fears that they could begin to supplant the British court system. Set up in 2007 by Sheikh Faiz Siddiqi, a qualified commercial barrister, there are now seven Muslim arbitration tribunals across the country.
They have, surprisingly, found a non-Muslim clientele:
They are becoming popular with non-Muslims, too – who, Siddiqi claims, have made up around 15 per cent of their cases so far this year, compared to five per cent in 2009. “People see that they’re efficient, cheap and informal and we get to a decision in a much more stress-free manner.” In 2009, a non-Muslim took his Muslim business partner to a tribunal, arguing that they had an oral agreement over the profits in their car company. He was awarded £48,000 after the tribunal ruled that the Muslim partner had acted in a way that suggested a deal had been struck.
Earlier this year, another non-Muslim also found success by taking a dispute to the tribunal. He had been thrown out of his flat by his Muslim landlord after being accused of breaching the terms of his lease. The tribunal ruled that he had been treated unfairly and should be allowed to return to his property.
Sheikh Siddiqi says non-Muslims are using the tribunal system because they appreciate the weight that rulings under Sharia law carry in the Islamic world. “People are finding that the negative images evoked in the past about Sharia law being draconian are not accurate,” he says. “Instead they’re seeing that our tribunals are a cheaper and quicker method of resolving disagreement, and they’re coming away with rulings that are fair.”
(August 11, 2011)
Plea in Australia: Somali Community of Victoria president Abdurahman Osman is calling for Shar’i courts on the model of Koori courts as an alternative for Aboriginal offenders. (December 2, 2011)
Inquiry into British Shar’i law courts closed down: Score one for the Islamists in the United Kingdom. Steve Doughty and Neil Sears write in the Daily Mail that the Ministry of Justice closed down a probe into the shadowy courts when those courts refused to cooperate, leading to exectations that their influence will continue to grow.
The failure of the Government’s investigation was disclosed to MPs by Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly. He told Tory backbencher Kris Hopkins that before last year’s general election his department acted to “commission an exploratory study of Sharia councils in England with respect to family law.” Mr Djanogly said: “This identified a number of challenges to undertaking robust research in this area. The study was therefore limited and adds little to the evidence base. The findings cannot be regarded as a representative assessment of the operation of Sharia councils. Following expert peer review of the draft report, the Ministry of Justice decided not to publish the findings.”
A further statement to the Mail made it clear the “challenges” researchers experienced boiled down to the Sharia courts failing to co-operate. The Ministry of Justice said: “The report was essentially an exploratory study which identified a number of challenges to undertaking more robust research. The challenges to undertaking more robust research were that the councils are generally run on a volunteer basis, were short staffed and very busy, so there were practical difficulties in speaking with respondents. There was also reluctance to discuss the private work of the councils and respondents were wary of the stereotypical ways in which their organisations were represented in the media.”
(July 29, 2011)
Shari’a in a district of London: An anonymous “Daily Mail Reporter” offers examples of “Talibanesque thugs” (the term is Ghaffar Hussain’s of the Quilliam Foundation) enforcing Islamic law in Tower Hamlets:
“Stickers have been plastered on public walls stating: ‘Gay free zone. Verily Allah is severe in punishment’.”
“Posters for H&M which feature women in bikinis and a racy poster for a Bollywood film have been defaced.”
“An Asian woman who works in a pharmacy in east London was told to dress more modestly and wear a veil or the shop would be boycotted. When she went to the media to talk about the abuse she suffered, a man later entered the pharmacy and told her: ‘If you keep doing these things, we are going to kill you’. The 31-year-old, who is not a practising Muslim, said she has since been told to take holiday by the pharmacy owners and now fears she may lose her job. She said: ‘Why should I wear a hijab or burqa? I haven’t done anything wrong’.”
“Before Christmas posters appeared in the borough claiming the religious festival was ‘evil’. The campaign’s organiser was 27-year-old Abu Rumaysah, who once called for sharia law in Britain at a press conference held by hate preacher leader Anjem Choudary, the leader of banned militant group Islam4UK. Mr Rumaysah said: ‘Christmas is a lie and as Muslims it is our duty to attack it. But our main attack is on the fruits of Christmas, things like alcohol abuse and promiscuity that increase during Christmas and all the other evils these lead to such as abortion, domestic violence and crime. We hope that out campaign will make people realise that Islam is the only way to avoid this and convert’.”
(April 18, 2011)
Melbourne law firm adds adviser on Shari’a: Logie-Smith Lanyon, self described as a “mid-sized full service commercial law firm” has hired Mohamadu Nawas, a member of the Australian National Council of Imams as a consultant on Islamic law. According to an article by Barney Zwartz in the Age, Nawas “will work particularly on commercial contracts and disputes between Muslims, plus separation agreements, divorces, wills and pre-nuptial agreements.” It will not involve criminal law. He insists his advice will be fully compatible with Australian law. “In other countries, sharia courts deal with these issues, but here we don’t have this, so we are trying to promote sharia-compliance in advance.” Nawas studied Islamic law in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. (May 10, 2010)
Louisiana says no to Shari’a: Without much notice, the Louisiana legislature took a landmark step vis-à-vis Shari’a. Rep. Ernest Wooton, a Republican, introduced legislation that, according to James Gill of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “provides that no foreign law shall be applied here if it violates a right guaranteed by the American Constitution. … The Louisiana Supreme Court has so far insisted that cases in America are settled according to American law, but the committee figured it was wise to commit future jurists to that sound principle. At least the bill does no harm.” (April 28, 2010)
Anjem Choudary claims to have officiated at more than 1,800 off-the-books marriages.
Choudary officiated at 1,800 secret Shar’i weddings: Anjem Choudary claims to have married more than 1,800 couples in Britain in less than a decade, Abdul Taher of theSunday Mail reveals. Choudary, 42 and self-styled judge of the UK Sharia Court, instructs them not to register their weddings, insisting that registering marriages would recognize British law and so is forbidden in Islam: “once you’ve gone down that road of registering the marriage … you are automatically really saying, ‘Look, we are accepting the system that goes with it’.” (January 9, 2010)
Friday afternoon Imam Abdirazak Sugulle Mohamed sighs in the rear room of the Helsinki Islamic Center. There are so many things to take care of. Sugulle tends the largest Muslim society in Finland. It includes nearly 1,600 members, most of whom are Somalis. …
Helsinki Islamic Center manages a permanent arbitration panel, which includes Sugulle, a second imam and three other older community members, with a good knowledge of Islam. If necessary, they are asking for advice on religious issues familiar abroad. Mediation usually works like this: Either party to the conflict contacts the mosque, and he’s invited to tell his own side of the story. Then the other party is invited to speak. When both have been consulted, they are called, together with the front panel, if necessary, many times.”Sometimes mediation can take weeks, months.”
Sugulle estimates that the mediators will meet an average of two times per week. In addition, issues are settled by the telephone. The don’t get paid.”This is done because of Allah, is part of the religious obligations.” The panel mostly arbitrates between spouses. … Sometimes the issues is relating to parent and child or between the financial conflicts.”Who has the right to receive what, or who should pay for something.”
Certain persons mediate in the community, but the plan is for a permanent four-person panel.Acting as an arbitrator, Mahammed Hussein, describes the process thus: “We report on what the Koran and the prophet will say what is right and what wrong, what is forbidden and what is ok. People know that if you do evil, it becomes a ruling of the Court.” … Mediators settle mostly cases in which Finnish law does not take a position.
(August 3, 2009)
A special UK police force for Muslims? Today Shar’i courts, tomorrow a separate police force. According to London’s Daily Express, Muslim victims may be able to request their cases investigated by police from their own religion, particularly in cases of “honor killings,” forced marriages, and other culturally sensitive matters.
In fact, in London, Sikh victims already have the right to ask for a Sikh officer to be involved in an investigation. As Palbinder Singh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Sikh Association, explains: “I don’t believe a white officer is ever going to be fully conversant with a Sikh.” Chief Superintendant Joanna Young of the Metropolitan Police Criminal Justice Policy Unit, hopes this pattern will expand. Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Peter Smyth hopes not: “We’re stretched thin enough already. Are Sikh officers going to have their rotas changed so there’s always one on duty? It’s political correctness gone mad. We talking about the creation of a separate force within a force.” (July 23, 2009)
Non-Muslims use Shar’i courts: According to the UK’s Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, 5 per cent of its cases, and at least 20 cases so far in 2009 involve non-Muslims who turn to Shar’i courts due to their less cumbersome and more informal ways. To which, Denis MacEoin remarked that this claim “raises all sorts of questions.” Comment: And I say that I do not believe this statistic until it’s been proven. (July 21, 2009)
85 Shar’i courts in the United Kingdom: According to a study released today, Sharia Law or “One Law For All”? by my colleague Denis MacEoin, with foreword by Neil Addison and published by Civitas, Britain hosts at least 85 Shar’i courts, most of them operating out of mosques. That makes 17 times more than the 5 such courts previously known of. (June 29 2009)
Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, UK: The Sunday Mercury‘s Jeannette Oldham reports that scholars and lawyers at Hijaz College Islamic University in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, near Birmingham, have set up what it terms “the UK’s first official sharia law court.” Called the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, it has already applied the Shari’a, reports Oldham, “to decide the outcome of more than 100 civil disputes between Muslims across the UK since it opened its doors” in December 2007, meaning an annual rate of about 150 cases. Some particulars:
Cases already heard in Nuneaton include an inheritance dispute between three sisters and their two brothers, a divorce and a neighbour dispute. In the inheritance case the men were given double their sisters’ inheritance. The divorce hearing ruled that a Somalian woman should be granted an Islamic khula (annulment) despite her husband’s strong objections. And in the neighbourhood dispute the tribunal ruled that the losing party – a group of young Muslim graduates – should teach the winning party, who had young children. … The court also has the power to order parties taking part to pay compensation to the winning party. The most it has handed out in a single case is £500,000, and the least £50. No criminal matters can be considered by sharia arbitrators and no corporal punishment can be imposed.
What makes the MAT different from unofficial sharia courts which exist all over the United Kingdom? That it has binding legal status: “Its proceedings,” explains the Sunday Mercury, “are operating in tandem with the British legal system, and decisions challenged by the losing party will be upheld by a county court bailiff or high court sheriff.” While the tribunal cannot force itself on anyone, once the parties agree to give it jurisdiction, English law binds them to abide by the court’s decision. Divorce cases are the only exception to this rule, for the MAT may grant a Muslim woman an annulment regardless of a husband’s wishes – so she can marry again. (September 7, 2008))
Sep. 14, 2008 update: Abul Taher of The Sunday Times (London) adds some additional information about the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal:
It is not a single court but a network of five Shar’i courts headquartered in Nuneaton with branches in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester. Two more courts in Glasgow and Edinburgh are on the way.
They are classified as arbitration tribunals under a clause of the Arbitration Act 1996.
The courts began doing business in August 2007.
Working with the police, the tribunals have settled six cases of domestic violence between married couples.
They expect to deal with “smaller” criminal cases. .
“There are concerns that women who agree to go to tribunal courts are getting worse deals because Islamic law favours men. [The initiator of these courts, Faiz-ul-Aqtab] Siddiqi said that in a recent inheritance dispute handled by the court in Nuneaton, the estate of a Midlands man was divided between three daughters and two sons. The judges on the panel gave the sons twice as much as the daughters, in accordance with sharia. Had the family gone to a normal British court, the daughters would have got equal amounts. In the six cases of domestic violence, Siddiqi said the judges ordered the husbands to take anger management classes and mentoring from community elders. There was no further punishment. In each case, the women subsequently withdrew the complaints they had lodged with the police and the police stopped their investigations.”
Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, responded to this news with a statement: “If it is true that these tribunals are passing binding decisions in the areas of family and criminal law, I would like to know which courts are enforcing them because I would consider such action unlawful. British law is absolute and must remain so.”
Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, endorsed the move: “The MCB supports these tribunals. If the Jewish courts are allowed to flourish, so must the sharia ones.”
The UK’s Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips.
Muslim leader calls for application of Shari’a in UK: Sarfraz Sarwar, 60, leader of the Basildon Islamic Centre, in Laindon, before it was burnt down in 2006, wants Shari’a, including public floggings in town centers, to be introduced in Britain. “If anybody is caught with a knife then give them ten lashes in the town centre. Sharia law is not controversial. It’s a deterrent. Muslim countries don’t have half the problems we have because Sharia law is there.” (July 7, 2008)
UK’s most senior judge endorses Shari’a: Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips, speaking at an East London mosque yesterday blessed Shari’a law for use among Muslims. Islamic legal principles, he said, could help deal with family issues and to regulate finance. (July 4, 2008)
For British Muslims, many of whom have one foot in Piccadilly Circus and the other in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Somalia, the British legal system is available, as it is to all. But it is singularly impotent when it comes to civil issues such as marriage, divorce and other disputes whose dispensation in heaven is often perceived as more crucial than any ruling that might be handed down by an English judge in a horsehair wig. … Sharia is quietly being applied every day in Britain, via Sharia councils that dispense Islamic civil justice in more than half a dozen mosques across the country.
The councils do not involve themselves in criminal law or any aspects of civil law in which they would be in direct conflict with British civil codes. The vast majority of their cases cover marriage and divorce. By consent of all parties, they may also arbitrate issues of property, child custody, housing and employment disputes, though their rulings are not binding unless submitted to the civilian courts.
According to Mohammed Siddique, described as a paralegal who advises the Sharia council in Dewsbury, in northern England, on the technicalities of British law, all is well: “It is known that English judges are willing to accept agreements like this that are reached in Sharia courts, as long as it has been put into proper form. It saves time and hassle for the court, and it shows that both parties are willing to compromise and reach some sort of agreement.” Indeed, Murphy continues, “Government officials have raised no objections to the councils, which first emerged in 1982 in Birmingham, because they operate in cooperation with British civil law, and British courts still issue all necessary legal decrees.”
Better yet, explains Suhaib Hasan, a judge on a North London Sharia council, the Sharia courts offer divorces that are cheaper and quicker than those available in the British courts. Further, courts like the one in Dewsbury offer services in Arabic, Gujarati, Urdu, and English. (June 20, 2008)
The Sharee Council of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire: Paul Jeeves provides detailed information on one particular Shar’i court at “Now Muslims Get Their Own Laws in Britain,” in the Daily Express today. Dewsbury’s Sharee Council, he writes,
operates as a Muslim judiciary making decisions by which attendees must abide. … Non-Muslims are excluded from the secretive court which is registered as a charity to receive British tax benefits. Although the court has no official legal standing, scales of justice adorn a sign outside a former pub building which has been converted by the Islamic Institute of Great Britain. … The Madrasa – which is a former pub situated less than a mile from the one-time home of London bombing mastermind Khan – sits as a court every other weekend and hears up to 10 cases a day.
Four Muslim scholars, who have spent their life studying and preaching the Koran, sit in judgment on an array of cases alongside a Muslim solicitor whose role is to advise on the implications of their rulings in British law. The operation is headed by prominent scholar Sheikh Yaqub Munshi. Accounts for the Dewsbury court’s parent company the Islamic Research Institute of Great Britain, show that it was registered in Dewsbury as a charity in 1996 with the ethos of promoting the advancement of Islamic religion and education in the United Kingdom. Charitable status allows the organisation to claim tax relief and apply for government grants and trustee funding. Between April 1999 and April 2004 its gross annual turnover rocketed from £2,500 to above £177,000. At the end of the last financial year it recorded total funds of £255,000 but it is not known if or how it charges for use of the service.
At the moment, the leaders insist they only deal with civil matters such as Muslim divorces, wedding dowries and asset sharing. But the secretive Muslim-only nature of the dealings will provoke fears that radical Sharia law could be allowed to spread across the Muslim population. The source said: “These courts take the law into their own hands and dish out punishment for bad behaviour. “I have not heard of physical punishments being used but those in the wrong are often ordered to pay compensation. Many who have no respect for British law are the most stringent observers of Sharia law.”
Sheikh Yaqub admitted that introducing Sharia law into the UK has been his goal since moving to Britain from Pakistan in the 1960s. But he insisted its main aim is to help repressed women who are trapped in bad or violent marriages and who dare not use British law. He said: “Ever since I arrived here in the 1960s there has been a case of women being forced to get married, others forced to get married, but unhappy afterwards. Until now there was no organisation which could Islamically solve their problems.” … After the Sharia court has ruled in judgment, solicitors process matters officially through UK courts on their clients’ behalf.
German judge cites Koran: The husband beat his wife and even threatened to murder her. But because both are Muslims, Christa Datz-Winter, a German divorce court judge referred to the passage in the Koran that permits a husband to beat his wife.”The exercise of the right to castigate does not fulfill the hardship criteria as defined by Paragraph 1565 [of German federal law],” the judge wrote; “to castigate” here is a euphemism for to beat. (March 21, 2007)
Yale Law School dean okays Shari’a: Harold Hongjiu Koh suggested in a speech that the Shari’a, among other foreign laws, could in certain circumstances be applied in the United States. A listener in the audience at the Yale Club of Greenwich summarized his remarks this way: “In your discussion of “global law” I recall at least one favorable reference to “Sharia”, among other foreign laws that could, in an appropriate instance (according to you) govern a controversy in a federal or state court in the US.” (March 21, 2007)
German scholar agreeable to Shari’a: Tehran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency quotes Matthias Rohe, an expert on Islamic law as well as a judge at the court of appeals in Nuremberg, Germany, saying that parts of the Shari’a are quite applicable in Europe, for example those concerning prayer, fasting, and the building of mosques. He also gave the example of the mahr (brideprice) marriage law which would be acceptable under German family law. Muslims already live under Shari’a personal law, he noted, in two places in Europe – Bulgaria and the Greek province of Thrace.
We would accept that in other countries there are other set of rules which to some extent would contradict our ideas and our rules. … But to a certain extent we are ready to accept these kind of differences and would apply the norms. When people cross the border, when they come to us we wouldn’t destroy their family structures even if we wouldn’t agree to this model because people are already relying on it.
(February 25, 2007)
Shar’i courts booming in the UK: Agence France-Presse reports that Muslims in increasing numbers are turning to about a dozen Islamic courts in the UK, mostly to resolve family disputes. The largest of them, the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton, east London which, since its creation in 1982 has handled 7,000 divorce cases. As one of its founders, Mufti Barkatullah, explains, “We act as a religious court, which means deciding about their dispute and giving them written determination, based on Sharia, Islamic principles and jurisprudence.” What is the relationship between this and the British laws? Barkatullah replies: “People who live in the United Kingdom undertake and abide by the law of the land, but they regard those laws as administrative law, not a divine law. The matters of marriage and divorce don’t fall into the state domain. It is a religious matter.” Even if a couple has registered a civil marriage or divorce, “their perception is that their religious duties and their religious relationships are not finalized.”
Barkatullah suggests that the future belongs to his court, rather than the country’s official system. “If the government doesn’t take the political way, then the consumer will have the choice. If more and more people come to us rather than to a British court, we’ll know their choice. That’s what is happening.” (February 17, 2008) Feb. 24, 2008 update: The Independent reports that the Leyton court has never heard a criminal case, plus that it has Charity Commission status.
Helping a wife divorce in Canada: Here’s another argument in favor of adopting Islamic law, this one concerning a Lebanese family from Canada, as presented by Dene Moore of The Canadian Press, with names withheld. A Muslim man, 31, pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault to avoid attempted murder charges. He stabbed his wife in the face and their infant daughter in the stomach in their Montreal apartment in February 2006. The Crown wants his refusal to grant his wife a Shari’a divorce to be considered an aggravating factor, this as a way to pressure him to divorce her. He testified that he will not divorce her in Canada: “The issue of the divorce will be decided over there,” he told the judge, meaning Lebanon.
So, if only there were Shari’a in Canada, things would be fine.
That, say advocates, is the problem with the refusal to recognize Shariah law in the Canadian judicial system. Observant Muslim women, especially those who emigrated from Islamic countries, feel they have nowhere to turn, said Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association. “Many, many times we see this,” Siddiqui said. … The woman earlier told the court she would like to return to her family in Lebanon but without the religious divorce and worries she could be forced to return to her husband or face charges of abducting her own daughter. “They had a religious marriage in Lebanon and if she returns she could have problems,” Crown lawyer Sophie Lavergne told the judge.
(January 25, 2007)
Parallel Somali law courts in the UK: The BBC Radio 4 program “Law in Action” has raised the issue with the account of Aydarus Yusuf, 29, a Somali-born youth worker resident in the UK for 15 years. He says he is bound more by Somali law than its British counterpart. “Us Somalis, wherever we are in the world, we have our own law. It’s not sharia, it’s not religious — it’s just a cultural thing.” To help others of Somali origin retain this sensibility, he helps convene a gar, or unofficial Somali “court,” in Woolwich, south-east London. Unlike its Jewish equivalent, the Beth Din, which deals only with civil matters, this court also deals with criminal ones.
For example, it considered the case of several young men arrested on suspicion of stabbing a fellow Somali teenager. The victim’s family said the issue would be settled out of court, so the police released the suspects on bail. “When the suspects were released on bail by the police, we got the witnesses and families together for a hearing,” says Aydarus. At the hearing, the elders ordered the assailants to compensate their victim. “All their uncles and their fathers were there. The accused men admitted their guilt and apologised. Their fathers and uncles agreed compensation.” Scotland Yard admitted to ignorance about this case. A spokesman noted the police commonly do not proceed with assault cases when a victim decides not to press charges. In other cases, such as rape or murder, the victim’s wishes count for less.
English law, it bears noting, permits resolution of disputes not based on English law, so long as both parties agree to the process and the decision is reasonable. At that point, it is enforceable by English law.
Some academics welcome “legal pluralism.” Prakash Shah, of London’s Queen Mary University, argues that “Tribunals like the Somali court could be more effective than the formal legal system in maintaining social harmony.” In contrast, former judge Gerald Butler QC insists that “What they mustn’t do – and this must never happen – is to stray into the field of criminal matters. That simply would never be acceptable.” Islamic scholars also offer an alternate approach: adapting secular courts to apply Shari’a in such areas as family law and inheritance. Mohammed Shahid Raza notes the precedent: “When Britain was ruling India, there was a separate legal code for Muslims, organised and regulated by British experts of law.”
Faizul Aqtab Siddiqi, a barrister and principal of Hijaz College Islamic University, predicts that there will be a formal network of Muslim courts within the decade. Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, writes in Islam in Britain: The British Muslim Community in February 2005 that there already exists an “alternative parallel unofficial legal system” operating in the Muslim community, on a voluntary basis. Indeed, Shari’a courts operate in most larger cities.
Comment: The potential for splitting the UK judiciary into ethnic enclaves brings to mind the Mixed Courts of Egypt that existed from 1876 to 1949, with its fourteen capitulary powers all represented on the bench. (November 29, 2006)
Feb. 9, 2008 update: A Daily Mail article by Fiona Barton and Alex McBride, “A brutal beating and justice meted out in a humble back street cafe: How sharia law already operates in Britain,” quotes Aydraus Hassan, 30, a member of the Isaaq, one of Somalia’s four “noble” clans, a resident of Woolwich, and a youth worker in the Somali community, on the gar system; he seems to be the same person as Aydarus Yusuf quoted above.
When you have two kids fighting over stuff, they sometimes stab each other up or shoot. If that happens, the Somali community knows who it was straight away. The elders in the accused’s family would call the victim’s family and ask for a meeting. It is happening in Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Manchester, all over the country. It is very rare for families to call the police because they can come to an agreement within the community.
In addition, the Daily Mail found that parallel courts are also dispensing their own form of law in Dewsbury, Birmingham, and other towns where Britain’s 43,000 Somali population and other Muslims live. The gar is typically convened in the early evening:
In the 10th century, we used to do this under a tree. But now we go to the victim’s home or occasionally a restaurant for a meeting. It is a mark of respect that we go to them. The elders – the father and uncles and cousins of both victim and accused – discuss what happened. There are no arguments. The victim’s family always accepts an apology from the family of the accused. Then, if there is any compensation to pay to the victim’s family, they collect the money and pass it on. The money is paid by all the members of the accused’s family – everyone pays a small amount so the father doesn’t end up paying it all.
Aydraus argues that the system works well, even though, no matter how terrible the crime, cases always end with an apology and financial compensation for the victim. Those found guilty neither do not go to prison, nor is their crime registered. A violent criminal is free to potentially to engage in more violence. Aydraus insists that repeat offences do not occur: “If you do it again, you are banished. You cease to exist in the eyes of the community and you would bring shame on your family and the community.” The gars offer, he says, a “civilised form of justice. … It is not that we are against the law in this country, we are trying to save time and money for the country. This is how we have dealt with crime since the 10th century. This is something we can sort out for ourselves.”
But, as the Daily Mail reporters note, the system
is far from civilised where women are concerned. They are excluded from hearing cases, and sexual crimes against them are rarely heard because if a daughter is raped, it is often considered best for the family to keep quiet about it. Under sharia law, a raped woman brings “aayib” [‘ayb], or shame, to the family because losing virginity out of wedlock (under whatever circumstances) is one of the gravest sins in Islam. The Department for Constitutional Affairs is so concerned about evidence of sharia courts and their denigration of women in this country that it has put out a statement: “It is essential that the criminal justice system gives a voice to and supports the victims of crimes such as rape, harassment and intimidation.”
Dutch electorate may vote in Shari’a: Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner says the Shari’a could be introduced in the Netherlands, if voted in democratically. “For me it is clear: if two-thirds of the Dutch population should want to introduce the Sharia tomorrow, then the possibility should exist. It would be a disgrace to say: ‘That is not allowed!’.” (September 13, 2006)
In a 1997 Middle East Quarterly article titled “Prince Charles of Arabia,” Ronni L. Gordon and David M. Stillman looked at evidence that Britain’s crown prince might be a secret convert to Islam. They shifted through his public statements (defending Islamic law, praising the status of Muslim women, seeing in Islam a solution for Britain’s ailments) and actions (setting up a panel of twelve “wise men” to advise him on Islamic religion and culture), then concluded that, “should Charles persist in his admiration of Islam and defamation of his own culture,” his accession to the throne will indeed usher in a “different kind of monarchy.”
Prince Charles, a would-be Muslim?
Charles continues this pattern of admiration and defamation, keeping alive the question of his stealth conversion to Islam. This weblog entry continues to document the topic, starting with a report, “Charles Breaks Fast with the Faithful in Muscat,” in the Dubai-based Gulf News, on some of Charles’ activities during his current five-day visit to Oman::
He toured the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque for almost two hours and “took keen interest in studying various sections at the mosque, including the main prayer hall.” As his spokesman put it, “The Prince was particularly keen to come to the mosque today to see the fantastic building and remarkable architecture which Prince was fascinated with. The Prince has a great love for Islamic architecture and I can’t think of finer example than this mosque.”
He “spent a considerable time at an exhibition of Islamic calligraphy and held meetings with Sheikha Aisha Al Siaby, Head of Public Authority for Craft Industries and Taha Al Kisri, the Head of Omani Society for Fine Arts to discuss various aspects of Islamic art.”
He “broke fast with a large congregation of people from different nationalities as he sat with folded legs on the floor in the open. He ate date and drank juice at the call of Iftar.”
Charles with worry beads, Camilla with shawl.
None of this, of course, is evidence that the Heir to the British Throne has changed religions, but his actions most certainly would be consistent with such a move, and especially the implication that he had kept the Ramadan fast. (November 9, 2003)
June 21, 2004 update: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei will award Prince Charles a $50,000 prize chosen by an international jury set up by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies for his contribution to understanding Islam in the West during a London ceremony on June 24. He is the first non-Muslim to receive the prize established in 1992. Other winners have included Youssef Al-Qaradawi, Abdul Fattah Abu Ghudda, and Adnan Mohd Zarzar.
Dec. 18, 2004 update: Prince Charles put himself in the middle of an Islamic theological issue that again could suggest his conversion to Islam – for if that is not the case, then on what basis does he opine on the Islamic law requiring that apostates from Islam be executed? Jonathan Petre of London’s Daily Telegraphreports on a private summit of Christian and Muslim leaders at Clarence House on this topic sponsored earlier in December by the prince. Apparently, however, he did not get the results he hoped for, with one Christian participant indicating that Charles was “very, very unhappy” about its outcome. That may have been because the Muslims at the meeting resented his public involvement in this topic.
July 14, 2005 update: And what does the good prince have to say about the murder by Islamists of 55 in London a week ago? He put fingers to keyboard and produced “True Muslims Must Root Out The Extremists” for the Mirror:
some deeply evil influence has been brought to bear on these impressionable young minds. … Some may think this cause is Islam. It is anything but. It is a perversion of traditional Islam. As I understand it, Islam preaches humanity, tolerance and a sense of community. … these acts have nothing to do with any true faith. … it is vital that everyone resists the temptation to condemn the Muslim community for the actions of such a tiny and evil minority. If we succumb to that temptation, the bombers will have achieved their aim. Likewise, in my view, it is the duty of every true Muslim to condemn these atrocities and root out those among them who preach and practise such hatred and bitterness.
Aug. 2, 2005 update: At the funeral of King Fahd in Riyadh, the Associated Press reports, “Non-Muslims were not allowed at the ceremonies.” So far as I can tell, Charles did not attend the ceremonies. (There surely would have been a press uproar if he had.) We can conclude that whatever his inner faith, he is not presenting himself as a Muslim in public. In brief, he is not a Muslim at this time.
Sep. 4, 2005 update: Prince Charles revealed in a letter leaked to the Daily Telegraph that he had strained relations with George Carey, then archbishop of Canterbury, over his attitude toward Islam. Particularly contentious was his expressed intent, on becoming king and supreme governor of the Church of England, to ditch the centuries’ old defender of the faith title and replace it with defender of faith and defender of the Divine. The letter reveals the archbishop’s reaction.
I wish you’d been there for the archbishop! Didn’t really appreciate what I was getting at by talking about “the Divine” and felt that I had said far more about Islam than I did about Christianity – and was therefore worried about my development as a Christian.
According to royal aides, Charles did not much respect Lord Carey’s views and the feelings were reciprocated.
will try to persuade George W Bush and Americans of the merits of Islam this week because he thinks the United States has been too intolerant of the religion since September 11. The Prince, who leaves on Tuesday for an eight-day tour of the US, has voiced private concerns over America’s “confrontational” approach to Muslim countries and its failure to appreciate Islam’s strengths.
Apparently, he “wants Americans – including Mr Bush – to share his fondness for Islam.”
Nov. 2, 2005 update: That Daily Telegraph article cited in the previous update made the rounds, perhaps even to the White House. In any case, George W. Bush had a little zinger ready for the good prince in his welcome for him and Camilla at the state dinner:
In the first part of the 20th century, our nations stood together to ensure that fascism did not prevail in Europe. In the second half of the 20th century, we worked tirelessly to defeat the totalitarian ideology of communism. And today we’re fighting side by side against an ideology of hatred and intolerance to ensure that the 21st century will be one of liberty and hope.
Charles did not reply to this comment, limiting his response to projects for the underprivileged and fond memories of Winston Churchill.
“The prince comes calling” (drawing by Roman Gann, National Review, Nov. 21, 2005).
Nov. 3, 2005 update: Ali Sina proposes a reason for Charles’ attraction to Islam, suggesting that he may be tired of democracy: “Does he secretly envy the Islamic system of government where the rulers have absolute power and can even impose morality on their subjects?”
Nov. 5, 2005 update: Sharp-tongued Julie Burchill asks in “What’s not to like about Islam if you’re the Prince of Wales,”
I wonder why Prince Charles seeks to big up powerful, theocratic Islam — which already controls so much land and wealth and yet will kill and kill to gain more — and not vulnerable, pluralistic Israel? Why doesn’t he invest as much energy in defence of the persecuted and murdered Christians who suffer for their beliefs under Islamic regimes?
She then answers her own questions, much as Ali Sina does:
Well, I think I know why; because cleaving to Islam is the one way that men who wish to appear liberal and enlightened can promote reactionary ideas. Monarch-worshipping, woman-oppressing, non-democratic — what’s there not for Charles to like!
Nov. 13, 2005 update: Charles’ efforts to promote Islam does his mother no good in Al-Qaeda’s eyes. In a just-reviewed videotape, the organization’s number two, Ayman al- Zawahiri, calls Queen Elizabeth II “one of the severest enemies of Islam” and blames her for what he calls Britain’s “crusader laws.” In addition, he criticizes British Muslims who “work for the pleasure of Elizabeth, the head of the Church of England” and ridicules them for saying (his words, not theirs): “We are British citizens, subject to Britain’s crusader laws, and we are proud of our submission . . . to Elizabeth, head of the Church of England.”
Jan. 19, 2006 update: As patron of the Festival of Muslim Cultures, which its website describes as a national celebration of “the rich cultural and artistic expressions of the Muslim peoples,” Charles will be visiting Sheffield soon. He will tour an exhibition there, “Palace and Mosque: Islamic Treasures of the Middle East,” that launches the festival. The prince is said to be keen to see the exhibition. He will also meet school and community groups and watch a performance by a group of Muslim women and girls.
Jan. 26, 2006 update: The Prince of Wales expressed his pleasure today at the progress in the UK of Shar’i banking products at a conference in London to mark the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Development Bank: “I am certain that with the support of the Islamic Development Bank my charities will be able to increase their efforts to address the challenges we face in Britain’s cities and help those younger British Muslims who feel they have little or no stake in society to play a fuller part in the country’s affairs by promoting community and entrepreneurial development.”
Mar. 21, 2006 update: Charles weighed in on the Muhammad cartoon controversy, telling an audience of more than 800 Islamic scholars at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University in what the Times (London) called a “serious, impassioned 30-minute speech” that “The recent ghastly strife and anger over the Danish cartoons shows the danger that comes of our failure to listen and to respect what is precious and sacred to others. In my view, the true mark of a civilised society is the respect it pays to minorities and to strangers.”
Mar. 25, 2006 update: As the first Westerner ever to address the Al Imam Mohammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Charles (as was the case in December 2004 – see the update above) chose to give Muslims some advice about modernizing their religion. Note the “we” in the following quote: “I think we need to recover the depth, the subtlety, the generosity of imagination, the respect for wisdom that so marked Islam in its great ages.” He also said Jews and Christians should learn from Islamic teachings:
What is so distinctive of the great ages of faith surely was that they understood, as well as sacred texts … the meaning of God’s word for all time and its meaning for this time. … it was Islam’s greatness to understand this in its full depth and challenge. This is what you … can give not only to Islam but by example to all the other children of Abraham.
Prince Charles meets the children at Yusuf Islam’s Islamia Primary School, London.
Speaking of Islamic education, here is a remedial news item: back in March 2000, Prince Charles visited the Islamia Primary School in North-West London. This, Britain’s first state-funded Muslim school, was founded and is headed by Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens), an Islamist who threatened Salman Rushdie’s life during the Satanic Verses controversy and has since been banned from entering the United States. The Prince told the children: “You are ambassadors for a sometimes much misunderstood faith. I believe that Islam has much to teach increasingly secular societies like ours in Britain.”
Oct. 31, 2006 update: There’s been a strong reaction to a Kuwait News Agency report that “Prince Charles Tuesday said that the world problems could be resolve by following Islamic teachings, as Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood.” But a look at the speech in question, to the Fatima Jinnah Women University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, finds no such statement. All Charles did was to quote the Koran in a favorable way in the context of a new-agey-style discussion of the Planet Earth:
This planet’s survival will depend on you understanding that you can achieve unity through diversity; that you can in fact build on living, timeless traditions that are a part of your unique culture and still be “modern”. It will also depend on you realizing that the planetary crisis we face is so profound in its rapidly developing consequences that we simply cannot afford to go on squabbling amongst ourselves while we destroy the world around us at a truly terrifying rate. As it says in the Qu’ran – “Only they pay attention who have hearts; only they believe (or see signs) who have hearts.” Have you seen the signs? Will you trust in what your hearts are telling you?
Nov. 6, 2006 update: Umree Khan reports in the Guardian, “Why Muslims love the royals,” on the Muslim response to Charles and his family:
In the wake of Prince Charles’s visit to Pakistan, now is an apt time to reflect on the strange hold that royals, and he in particular, have over Muslims.
It may sound paradoxical, but it’s not surprising that when Labour ministers queue up to tell modest women to take their veils off, there is a special affection for a prince whose public utterances on the subject have been marked by a sort of bumbling Islamophilia.
Charles and Camilla’s visit to Pakistan was a really important trip for my mum. She is obsessed with the royal family. Lots of mums are but, really, you have no idea how big the royals are with Bangladeshi women. My friend Koruna will tell me, “You think your mum is obsessed, but I bet she doesn’t have a showcase filled with royal-family china like my aunts.” Of course she does – we had entire commemorative sets of Diana and Charles plates, eggcups, the works, in our living room. “Yeah,” Koruna replies, “but a whole showcase in a mud-shack village in Bangladesh?”
Thousands of households in the subcontinent give pride of place to royal kitsch, and that is as much the case in the volatile Islamic states of Pakistan and Bangladesh as it is in India. A survey of my Asian mates confirms this grim predicament – the royal cult, and in particular the icon that is Diana, is being propped up by Muslim women all over the world.
Kenny Gamble, Bennett and Vivian Levin, and Prince Charles chat about urban renewal.
May 13, 2007 update: The American Trains Magazine carries an article in today’s issue, “Truly special guests ride the rails,” about Charles and Camilla training from Philadelphia to New York City on the special cars belonging to Bennett Levin. On board, the article informs us, “Charles hosted a roundtable discussion with six Philadelphia experts on the subject of urban renewal.” And who should one of those “experts” be but the notorious Kenny Gamble (aka Luqman Abdul-Haqq), seen prominently talking to the prince?
May 26, 2007 update: The BBC has announced a forthcoming world premier performance. Sir John Tavener’s major new work, The Beautiful Names will be introduced on June 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Westminster Cathedral. The BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bĕlohlávek will join forces with the BBC Symphony Chorus and Westminster Cathedral Choir.
The Beautiful Names sets the 99 names for Allah as culled from the Qu’ran, sung in Arabic. “Inspiration for the piece came to me as a vision,” says Tavener, “and the music just came to me immediately I saw the Arabic word.” He has worked closely with the Arabist Michael Macdonald to ensure correct pronunciation and stress – “the sound actually does help create the music.” The 70-minute work is divided into eleven groups of nine “tonal zones” and the start of each new section is prefaced by a magisterial calling out of Allah. Making his strongest reference yet to Islam, Tavener also calls upon Sufism, Hinduism and Buddhism in his choice of structure, instrumentation and tonality.
Program notes by Tavener spell this vision out in greater detail. Tickets are on sale for £24, £20, £16, £12, £8. Oh, and the work was commissioned by HRH The Prince Of Wales.”
July 11, 2007 update: From a speech at the opening of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture‘s “Spirit & Life” Exhibition at the Ismaili Centre in London:
So much attention is paid to the outward differences between Faiths. Almost reflexively, this becomes translated into seemingly impenetrable divisions between people; people who – if they did but know it – are in fact linked by much and separated by rather little. How refreshing it is, then, to be reminded by this marvellous exhibition of the spirituality from which our Faiths draw their real strength, and of the heritage and traditions which we share.
The prince and Camilla watch the Whirling Dervishes.
Writing from Konya, Turkey, about Prince Charles’ visit there to the shrine of Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi during the 800th year of Rumi’s birth, Hamilton mentions as an aside that “The Prince disclosed yesterday that he had paid a private visit in 1992 to the shrine.”
After watching ten whirling dervishes perform at a cultural center, Charles stated in a speech: “Whatever it is, it seems to me that Western life has become deconstructed and partial.” The East, on the other hand, he went on, had given us “parables of the soul.” He also cited the Koran and Hadith.
Dec. 16, 2007 update: Princess Diana was also close to conversion to Islam. Of course, there was Dodi Fayad, about whom great debate exists. But before him, she was involved for two years with Dr. Hasnat Khan, in what appears to have been a more substantial and serious relationship. Here is how Ronni L. Gordon and David M. Stillman characterized it in 1997 in “ce Charles of Arabia“:
It bears noting that Charles is not the royal family’s only link to the Muslim world, for Princess Diana, Charles’s ex-wife, has often been linked to Hasnat Khan, a London-based cardiac surgeon. Just as Charles donned a Muslim prayer shawl, Di wore a traditional shalwar kameez during her visit to Khan’s family in Pakistan. London’s Sunday Mirror reports that Khan’s family has approved a possible marriage of the divorced 35-year-old princess and their son, then quoted the princess (via a “friend”) to the effect that she hoped Khan would father a half-sister to her two sons, princes William and Harry. While Diana’s divorce from the heir to the British throne removes her personally from the royal family, her sons could be the first heirs to the British throne with a Muslim stepfather.
More details have just emerged about her possible conversion to Islam, via an interview with Khan’s father, Abdul Rasheed Khan. Some excerpts from an article in the Sunday Telegraph by Massoud Ansari and Andrew Alderson:
Dr Hasnat Khan, a Muslim, ended his relationship with the Princess only months before her death after concluding that a marriage between them would be doomed to failure. Dr Khan told his family: “If I married her, our marriage would not last for more than a year. We are culturally so different from each other. She is from Venus and I am from Mars. If it ever happened, it would be like a marriage from two different planets.” … Mr Khan said his son had explained to him that Diana was “independent” and “outgoing”. But, added to their different faiths, it meant that his son – despite considering asking her to marry him – could not envisage their relationship lasting.
The inquest into the Princess’s death heard evidence last week from one of her closest friends, Rosa Monckton, that Diana had no plans to marry her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, who died with her in a Paris car crash 10 years ago, and that she was still infatuated with Dr Khan. Ms Monckton said the Princess had been “deeply upset and hurt” when Dr Khan broke off their relationship in the summer of 1997. “She was very much in love with him. She hoped that they would be able to have a future together. She wanted to marry him,” she told the hearing. … It is understood that at one point the Princess was willing to convert to Islam in order to marry him but abandoned the idea when he took the decision that their relationship could not work in the long term.
According to Monckton, she and Diana
held long discussions about the Princess’s love life during a holiday they shared in the Greek Islands two weeks before Diana died. The Princess spent far more time talking about Hasnat Khan than she did about Dodi, the inquest heard. Ms Monckton said: “It was clear to me she was really missing Hasnat and I think Dodi was a distraction from the hurt she felt from the break-up.”
Comment: It seems that William and Harry were quite close to becoming “the first heirs to the British throne with a Muslim stepfather.”
Jan. 14, 2008 update: Lots of news from the inquest into Princess Diana’s death where Paul Burrell, Diana’s butler, is in the witness box.
First, Diana’s mother, Frances Shand Kydd, had harsh words for her daughter’s relationships with Muslim men, and Diana in turn intended to break with her over this, a British court was informed. Burrell reported on a conversation between the two six months before Diana’s death. Kydd “called the Princess a whore. She said she was messing around with effing Muslim men and she was disgraceful and she said other nasty things.” Diana responded by vowing never to speak to her mother again.
Second, Burrell told about Diana’s plans to marry Hasnat Khan.
Mr Burrell said he was asked to look into arranging a private marriage between Diana and Mr Khan and went as far as consulting a Catholic priest about the possibility He had also begun preparing rooms at Diana’s Kensington Palace home for Mr Khan. The couple split up a few weeks before her relationship with Dodi Fayed began. But Mr Burrell told the inquest he believed Diana still “held a candle” for Mr Khan and her new relationship was a way of making him jealous.
In contrast, he did not have “the impression that Dodi Fayed was ‘the one’ in her life although he described the relationship as an ‘exciting time’ for Diana.”
Mar. 4, 2008 update: Hasnat Khan has spoken up and, as paraphrased by the Daily Telegraph, indicated that he was introduced Diana’s two sons, Princes William and Harry. Khan said that if he and Diana “had married he would not have expected her to have converted to Islam. His only concern would have been which religion to bring up any children they had.”
Prince Charles was guest of honour at a celebration of Sufi Muslim culture at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground where he was entertained by whirlers in traditional dress. Greeted by artists, religious leaders and musicians, he made his way into a hushed hall at the stadium where he enjoyed a musical recitation of the Holy Quran accompanied by a whirling dervishes dressed in traditional costumes.
Not all of the audience at the Sheldonian Theatre was riveted by Prince Charles’ speech on environmentalism.
Mar. 16, 2010 update: On a visit to Poland, Charles took the highly ususual step to visit the small wooden Tatar mosque in Kruszyniany, chatting to the imam there, and sampling some traditional Tatar foods, including pirogue pierekaczewnik.
Prince Charles talking with the imam at the Tatar mosque in Kruszyniany, Poland.
June 10, 2010 update: Charles says the West must learn environmental policies from Islam. In an hour-long speech on “Islam and the Environment” at Oxford University’s Sheldonian Theatre on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, reports Rebecca English of the Daily Mail, “the heir to the throne argued that man’s destruction of the world was contrary to the scriptures of all religions – but particularly those of Islam.” He “spoke in depth about his own study of the Koran which, he said, tells its followers that there is ‘no separation between man and nature’ and says we must always live within our environment’s limits.” He also said:
The inconvenient truth is that we share this planet with the rest of creation for a very good reason – and that is, we cannot exist on our own without the intricately balanced web of life around us. Islam has always taught this and to ignore that lesson is to default on our contract with creation.
Mar. 14, 2013 update: Prince Charles has been taking Arabic lessons, he acknowledged on a trip to Qatar. The Daily Telegraph (London) tells the story:
The Prince was in Doha attending the launch of the Qatar-UK Alumni Network, for Qataris who have attended British universities, when he told a group of guests: “You all speak such good English.”
Dr Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, chairman of the association and Qatar’s energy minister, asked the Prince if he spoke any Arabic, and the Prince said: “I tried to learn it once but I gave up. It goes in one ear and out the other.” Dr Al-Sada told him: “It’s never too late to learn.”
Later, one of the Prince’s aides confirmed that he has been having lessons in Arabic recently, adding: “He is enormously interested in the region.” The Prince speaks good French, some German, and has also had lessons in Welsh.
The newspaper story, by Gordon Rayner, adds a touch of local color: “All of the women at the reception were dressed head to toe in black, wearing a traditional shaila on their head and an abayya covering their body. … All of the men in the room wore a traditional white thobe from neck to foot, with a ghitra on their head secured by a band called an igul.”
Prince Charles meets with Qataris who attended British universities.
Comments: (1) Curious that the prince would travel the whole way to Qatar for something as minuscule as the launch of the Qatar-UK Alumni Network; that he did would seem to confirm either Qatar’s prowess in Great Britain or Charles’ affection for the Middle East, or both. (2) To see the connection between learning Arabic and conversion to Islam, see my lengthy blog at “The Arabist and Islamist Baggage of Arabic Language Instruction.”
Aug. 20, 2013 update: Off on a little tangent: Ezra Levant notes that Justin Trudeau, the new head of Canada’s Liberal party, attended the Surrey Jamia Masjid in British Columbia during the evening prayer wearing an Arab jalabiya and while there took part in the prayer service, complete with the shahada, the Islamic profession of faith. Meanwhile, his wife Sophie “recently posed for a picture with Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, in honour of Mother’s Day. And in that photo, they were both wearing the Muslim hijab hair-covering. Why would you do that on Mother’s Day – a secular holiday with no Muslim or ethnic characteristic to it at all? Why add in the Sharia element?” Oh, and his senior policy adviser happens to be Omar Alghabra, an Islamist well known to readers of this blog.
Levant writes that despite these theatrics, he does not think Trudeau is a Muslim.
Dec. 18, 2013 update: In a surprise reversal, Prince Charles yesterday focused on the tribulations of Middle Eastern Christians at Islamist hands while visiting the British branches of the Egyptian and Syriac churches.
We cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately attacked by fundamentalist Islamist militants. For 20 years, I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding. The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where the bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so. This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution, including to Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time. Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ.
Comment: Has something happened to open Charles’ eyes to the dangers of Islamism? If so, this could be an important portent for Great Britain.
Feb. 18, 2014 update: Charles is again dressing up as a Muslim, this time to take part in a “sword dance” in Saudi Arabia.
Prince Charles taking part in an “arda” dance in Riyadh.
May 1, 2014 update: A new retelling of the Rushdie affair quotes Martin Amis on the 1989 reaction of Prince Charles to the Khomeini edict against Rushdie:
I had an argument with Prince Charles at a small dinner party. He said—very typically, it seems to me—”I’m sorry, but if someone insults someone else’s deepest convictions, well then,” blah blah blah … And I said that a novel doesn’t set out to insult anyone. “It sets out to give pleasure to its readers,” I told him. “A novel is an essentially playful undertaking, and this is an exceedingly playful novel.” “The Prince took it on board, but I’d suppose the next night at a different party he would have said the same thing.
Nov. 5, 2014 update: Prince Charles recorded a video message calling on Muslim leaders not to remain silent about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
It is an indescribable tragedy that Christianity is now under such threat in the Middle East – an area where Christians have lived for 2,000 years, and across which Islam spread in 700 AD, with people of different faiths living together peaceably for centuries. It seems to me that our future as a free society – both here in Britain and throughout the world – depends on recognising the crucial role played by people of faith. And, of course, religious faith is all the more convincing to those outside the faith when it is expressed with humility and compassion, giving space to others, whatever their beliefs. … First and foremost, rather than remaining silent, faith leaders have, it seems to me, a responsibility to ensure that people within their own tradition respect people from other faith traditions.
The report, from Sky News, goes on:
Charles said he did not want to be seen as Defender of the Faith, the title held by each monarch since Henry VIII, but as Defender of Faith in general. But he maintained that this conviction was rooted in his own Christian faith. “My own Christian faith has enabled me to speak to, and to listen to, people from other traditions, including Islam.”
Comments: (1) To my knowledge, in the 17 years I have been following the topic of Charles and Islam, he has never made such a statement in which he forthrightly mentions his Christian faith as he does here. (2) Charles’ willingness to speak out on this topic is a possibly significant signal of a change in mood toward Muslims and Islam in the United Kingdom.
Feb. 7, 2015 update: A new, more robust Prince Charles? In an interview on BBC Radio 2’s The Sunday Hour, he made a number of comments very much at odds with the statements and actions logged in the Middle East Quarterly and here over the past two decades:
“There is a real worry that there could come a time when there are no Christians left in the Middle East because the numbers have gone so dramatically down. … Christians have been in the Middle East for 2,000 years, before Islam came in the 8th century.” [Should be 7th. DP]
“The radicalisation of people in Britain is a great worry, and the extent to which this is happening is alarming, particularly in a country like ours where we hold values dear. You would think the people who have come here, or are born here, and go to school here, would abide by those values and outlooks. … how you prevent radicalisation in the first place is the great challenge. You cannot just sweep it under the carpet. But the most important thing is to remind people of the distortions that are made of great religions, and the original ideas of the founders of these religions. Often you find their message is so distorted by their putative followers. That’s the tragedy and, of course, traditional Islam does not permit this sort of thing.”
“When I called myself Defender of Faith all those years ago I was trying to describe the inclusion of other people’s faiths and their freedom to worship in this country. At the same time as being Defender of the Faith, you can also be protector of other faiths. From that point of view, it was very interesting that 20 years or more after I mentioned this frequently misinterpreted phrase, the Queen, in her address to faith leaders around the time of the Jubilee, said that as far as the role of the Church of England was concerned, it is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions but to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country. She was conveying what I was trying to say.”
Also, as reported by the Mail on Sunday, Charles “is to tell new Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud to his face that he should stop the 1,000 lashes handed down as punishment to Saudi blogger Raif Badawi for comments which the regime claimed were critical of Islam.”
Comment: Standing up for Middle East Christians, decrying Islamism, and keeping the traditional monarchical title: does this shift reflect just the thinking of one idiosyncratic prince or does it indicate something larger is going on in the country?
Dec. 22, 2016 update: The old Prince Charles is back, with a vengeance, delivering a public address on religion that contained this unforgettably “Chrislamic” Yuletide statement:
Normally at Christmas, we think of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I wonder, though, if this year we might … also remember that when the Prophet Mohammed migrated from Mecca to Medina he did so because he too was seeking the freedom for himself and his followers to worship.
Mar. 31, 2017 update: The historian Sally Bedell Smith documents in a new book, Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life that in 2001, four weeks after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and two weeks before the start of the month of Ramadan, Charles called on the American ambassador in London, William Farish, to appeal to President George W. Bush to halt the fighting to “honor” Ramadan.
Farish replied, “Sir, are you really serious?” To which Charles replied, “Yes I am.” Farish noted that it would be difficult to halt a military invasion already underway, to which the prince protested: “But Americans can do anything!” This appeal, it bears noting, was not coordinated with or even known by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Donald Trump issued an executive order on Jan. 27 establishing radically new procedures to deal with foreigners who apply to enter the United States. Building on his earlier notion of “extreme vetting,” the order explains that
to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Donald Trump signing an executive order at the Pentagon on Jan. 27, 2017.
This passage raises several questions of translating extreme vetting in practice: How does one distinguish foreigners who “do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles” from those who do? How do government officials figure out “those who would place violent ideologies over American law”? More specifically, given that the new procedures almost exclusively concern the fear of allowing more Islamists into the country, how does one identify them?I shall argue these are doable tasks and the executive order provides the basis to achieve them. At the same time, they are expensive and time-consuming, demanding great skill. Keeping out Islamists can be done, but not easily.
By Islamists (as opposed to moderate Muslims), I mean those approximately 10-15 percent of Muslims who seek to apply Islamic law (the Shari’a) in its entirety. They want to implement a medieval code that calls (among much else) for restricting women, subjugating non-Muslims, violent jihad, and establishing a caliphate to rule the world.
For many non-Muslims, the rise of Islamism over the past forty years has made Islam synonymous with extremism, turmoil, aggression, and violence. But Islamists, not all Muslims, are the problem; they, not all Muslims, must urgently be excluded from the United States and other Western countries. Not just that, but anti-Islamist Muslims are the key to ending the Islamist surge, as they alone can offer a humane and modern alternative to Islamist obscurantism.
Identifying Islamists is no easy matter, however, as no simple litmus test exists. Clothing can be misleading, as some women wearinghijabs are anti-Islamists, while practicing Muslims can be Zionists; nor does one’s occupation indicate much, as some high-tech engineers are violent Islamists. Likewise, beards, teetotalism, five-times-a-day prayers, and polygyny do not tell about a Muslim’s political outlook. To make matters more confusing, Islamists often dissimulate and pretend to be moderates, while some believers change their views over time.
Finally, shades of gray further confuse the issue. As noted by Robert Satloff of The Washington Institute, a 2007 book from the Gallup press, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, based on a poll of over 50,000 Muslims in 10 countries, found that 7 percent of Muslims deem the 9/11 attacks “completely justified,” 13.5 percent consider the attacks completely or “largely justified,” and 36.6 percent consider the attacks completely, largely, or “somewhat justified.” Which of these groups does one define as Islamist and which not?
Faced with these intellectual challenges, American bureaucrats are unsurprisingly incompetent, as I demonstrate in a long blog titled “The U.S. Government’s Poor Record on Islamists.” Islamists have fooled the White House, the departments of Defense, Justice, State, and Treasury, the Congress, many law enforcement agencies and a plethora of municipalities. A few examples:
The Pentagon in 2001 invited Anwar al-Awlaki, the American Islamist it later executed with a drone-launched missile, to lunch.
In 2001, the Pentagon invited Anwar al-Awlaki to lunch. In 2011 it killed him by a drone strike.
In 2002, FBI spokesman Bill Carter described the American Muslim Council (AMC) as “the most mainstream Muslim group in the United States” – just two years before the bureau arrested the AMC’s founder and head, Abdurahman Alamoudi, on terrorism-related charges. Alamoudi has now served about half his 23-year prison sentence.
George W. Bush appointed stealth Islamist Khaled Abou El Fadl in 2003 to, of all things, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Fake-moderates have fooled even me, despite all the attention I devote to this topic. In 2000, I praised a book by Tariq Ramadan; four years later, I argued for his exclusion from the United States. In 2003, I condemned a Republican operative named Kamal Nawash; two years later, I endorsed him. Did they evolve or did my understanding of them change? More than a decade later, I am still unsure.
Uniform Screening Standards
Returning to immigration, this state of confusion points to the need for learning much more about would-be visitors and immigrants. Fortunately, Trump’s executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” signed on Jan. 27, 2017, requires just this. It calls for “Uniform Screening Standards” with the goal of preventing individuals from entering the United States “on a fraudulent basis with the intent to cause harm, or who are at risk of causing harm subsequent to their admission.” The order requires that the uniform screening standard and procedure include such elements as (bolding is mine):
A database of identity documents proffered by applicants to ensure that duplicate documents are not used by multiple applicants;
Amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent;
A mechanism to ensure that the applicant is who the applicant claims to be;
A process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest; and
A mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.
Elements 1, 3, 5, and 6 permit and demand the procedure outlined in the following analysis. It contains two main components, in-depth research and intensive interviews.
When a person applies for a security clearance, the background checks should involve finding out about his family, friends, associations, employment, memberships, and activities. Agents must probe these for questionable statements, relationships, and actions, as well as anomalies and gaps. When they find something dubious, they must look further into it, always with an eye for trouble. Is access to government secrets more important than access to the country? The immigration process should start with an inquiry into the prospective immigrant and, just as with security clearances, the border services should look for problems.
Most everyone with strong views at some point vents them on social media.
Also, as with security clearance, this process should have a political dimension: Does the person in question have an outlook consistent with that of the Constitution? Not long ago, only public figures such as intellectuals, activists, and religious figures put their views on the record; but now, thanks to the Internet and its open invitation to everyone to comment in writing or on video in a permanent, public manner, and especially to social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), most everyone with strong views at some point vents them. Such data provides valuably unfiltered views on many critical topics, such as Islam, non-Muslims, women, and violence as a tactic. (Exploiting this resource may seem self-evident but U.S. immigration authorities do not do so, thereby imposing a self-restraint roughly equivalent to the Belgian police choosing not to conduct raids between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.)In the case of virulent, overt, outspoken jihadis, this research usually suffices to provide evidence to exclude them. Even some non-violent Islamists proudly announce their immoderation. But many Islamists adopt a milder and subtler tone, their goal being to appear moderate so they can enter the country and then impose Shari’a through lawful means. As suggested by some of the examples above, such as Abou El Fadl or CAIR, research often proves inadequate in these instances because cautious Islamists hide their goals and glibly dissimulate. Which brings us to entrance interviews.
Perhaps Inspector Jacques Clouseau really worked for the Belgian police.
Assuming that lawful Islamists routinely hide their true views, an interview is needed before letting them enter the country. Of course, it is voluntary, for no one is forced to apply for immigration, but it also must be very thorough. It should be:
Recorded: With the explicit permission of the person being questioned (“You understand and accept that this interview is being recorded, right?”), the exchange should be visibly videotaped so the proceedings are unambiguously on the record. This makes available the interviewee’s words, tone, speech patterns, facial expressions, and body language for further study. Form as well as substance matters: does the interviewee smile, fidget, blink, make eye contact, repeat, sweat, tremble, tire, need frequent toilet breaks, or otherwise express himself in non-verbal ways?
Polygraph: Even if a lie detector machine does not, in fact, provide useful information, attaching the interviewee to it might induce greater truth-telling.
Under oath: Knowing that falsehoods will be punished, possibly with jail time, is a strong inducement to come clean.
Public: If the candidate knows that his answers to abstract questions (as opposed to personal ones about his life) will be made public, this reduces the chances of deception. For example, asked about belief for the full application of Islamic laws, an Islamist will be less likely to answer falsely in the negative if he knows that his reply will be available for others to watch.
Multiple: No single question can evince a reply that establishes an Islamist disposition; effective interviewing requires a battery of queries on many topics, from homosexuality to the caliphate. The answers need to be assessed in their totality.
Specific: Vague inquiries along the lines of “Is Islam a religion of peace?”, “Do you condemn terrorism?” “How do you respond to the murder of innocents,” depend too much on one’s definition of words such as peace, terrorism, and innocents to help determine a person’s outlook, and so should be avoided. Instead, questions must be focused and exact: “May Muslims convert out of Islam, whether to join another faith or to become atheists?” “Does a Muslim have the right to renounce Islam?”
Variety in phrasing: For the questions to ferret out the truth means looking for divergence and inconsistency by asking the same question with different words and variant emphases. A sampling: “May a woman show her face in public?” “What punishment do you favor for females who reveal their faces to men not related to them by family?” “Is it the responsibility of the male guardian to make sure his women-folk do not leave the house with faces uncovered?” “Should the government insist on women covering their faces?” “Is society better ordered when women cover their faces?” Any one of the questions can be asked in different ways and expanded with follows-up about the respondent’s line of reasoning or depth of feeling.
Repeated: Questions should be asked again and again over a period of weeks, months, and even longer. This is crucial: lies being much more difficult to remember than truths, the chances of a respondent changing his answers increases with both the volume of questions asked and the time lapse between questionings. Once inconsistencies occur, the questioner can zero in and explore their nature, extent, and import.
Guidelines in place, what specific questions might extract useful information?
The following questions, offered as suggestions to build on, are those of this author but also derive from a number of analysts devoting years of thinking to the topic. Naser Khader, the-then Danish parliamentarian of Syrian Muslim origins, offered an early set of questions in 2002. A year later, this author published a list covering seven subject areas. Others followed, including the liberal Egyptian Muslim Tarek Heggy, the liberal American Muslims Tashbih Sayyed and Zuhdi Jasser, the ex-Muslim who goes by “Sam Solomon,” a RAND Corporation group, and the analyst Robert Spencer. Of special interest are the queries posed by the German state of Baden-Württemberg dated September 2005 because it is an official document (intended for citizenship, not immigration, but with similar purposes).
Zuhdi Jasser (L) with the author as teammates at a 2012 Intelligence Squared debate in New York City.
1. May Muslims reinterpret the Koran in light of changes in modern times?
2. May Muslims convert out of Islam, either to join another faith or to be without religion?
3. May banks charge reasonable interest (say 3 percent over inflation) on money?
4. Is taqiya (dissimulation in the name of Islam) legitimate?
5. May Muslims pick and choose which Islamic regulations to abide by (e.g., drink alcohol but avoid pork)?
6. Is takfir (declaring a Muslim to be an infidel) acceptable?
7. [Asked of Sunnis only:] Are Sufis, Ibadis, and Shi’ites Muslims?
8. Are Muslims who disagree with your practice of Islam infidels (kuffar)?
The state and Islam:
9. What do you think of disestablishing religion, that is, separating mosque and state?
10. When Islamic customs conflict with secular laws (e.g., covering the face for female drivers’ license pictures), which gets priority?
11. Should the state compel prayer?
12. Should the state ban food consumption during Ramadan and penalize transgressors?
13. Should the state punish Muslims who eat pork, drink alcohol, and gamble?
14. Should the state punish adultery?
15. How about homosexuality?
16. Do you favor a mutawwa’ (religious police) as exist in Saudi Arabia?
17. Should the state enforce the criminal punishments of the Shari’a?
18. Should the state be lenient when someone is killed for the sake of family honor?
19. Should governments forbid Muslims from leaving Islam?
Marriage and divorce:
20. Does a husband have the right to hit his wife if she is disobedient?
21. Is a good idea for men to shut their wives and daughters at home?
22. Do parents have the right to determine whom their children marry?
23. How would you react if a daughter married a non-Muslim man?
24. Is polygyny acceptable?
25. Should a husband have to get a first wife’s approval to marry a second wife? A third? A fourth?
26. Should a wife have equal rights with her husband to initiate a divorce?
27. In the case of divorce, does a wife have rights to child custody?
28. Should Muslim women have equal rights with men (for example, in inheritance shares or court testimony)?
29. Does a woman have the right to dress as she pleases, including showing her hair, arms and legs, so long as her genitalia and breasts are covered?
30. May Muslim women come and go or travel as they please?
31. Do Muslim women have a right to work outside the home or must the wali approve of this??
32. May Muslim women marry non-Muslim men?
33. Should males and females be separated in schools, at work, and socially?
34. Should certain professions be reserved for men or women only? If so, which ones?
35. Do you accept women occupying high governmental offices?
36. In an emergency, would you let yourself be treated by or operated on by a doctor of the opposite gender?
37. Does a husband have the right to force his wife to have sex?
38. Is female circumcision part of the Islamic religion?
39. Is stoning a justified punishment for adultery?
40. Do members of a family have the right to kill a woman if they believe she has dishonored them?
41. How would you respond to a child of yours who declares him- or herself a homosexual?
42. Should your child learn the history of non-Muslims?
43. Should students be taught that Shari’a is a personal code or that governmental law must be based on it?
44. May your daughter take part in the sports activities, especially swimming lessons, offered by her school?
45. Would you permit your child to take part in school trips, including overnight ones?
46. What would you do if a daughter insisted on going to university?
Criticism of Muslims:
47. Did Islam spread only through peaceful means?
48. Do you accept the legitimacy of scholarly inquiry into the origins of Islam, even if it casts doubt on the received history?
49. Do you accept that Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 attacks?
50. Is the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh Islamic in nature?
Denying the Islamic nature of ISIS reveals much about a Muslim.
51. Do you accept enhanced security measures to fight Islamism, even if this might mean extra scrutiny of yourself (for example, at airline security)?
52. When institutions credibly accused of funding jihad are shut down, is this a symptom of anti-Muslim bias?
53. Should Muslims living in the West cooperate with law enforcement?
54. Should they join the military?
55. Is the “war on terror” a war on Islam?
Non-Muslims (in general):
56. Do all humans, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious beliefs, deserve equal rights?
57. Should non-Muslims enjoy completely equal civil rights with Muslims?
58. Do you accept the validity of other monotheistic religions?
59. Of polytheistic religions (such as Hinduism)?
Praying at the Hindu Temple in Dubai, founded 1958.
60. Are Muslims superior to non-Muslims?
61. Should non-Muslims be subject to Islamic law?
62. Do Muslims have anything to learn from non-Muslims?
63. Can non-Muslims go to paradise?
64. Do you welcome non-Muslims to your house and go to their residences?
Non-Muslims (in Dar al-Islam):
65. May Muslims compel “Peoples of the Book” (i.e., Jews and Christians) to pay extra taxes?
66. May other monotheists build and operate institutions of their faith in Muslim-majority countries?
67. How about polytheists?
68. Should the Saudi government maintain the historic ban on non-Muslims in Mecca and Medina?
69. Should it allow churches to be built for Christian expatriates?
70. Should it stop requiring that all its subjects be Muslim?
Non-Muslims (in Dar al-Harb):
71. Should Muslims fight Jews and Christians until these “feel themselves subdued” (Koran 9:29).
72. Is the enslavement of non-Muslims acceptable?
73. Is it acceptable to arrest individuals who curse the prophet of Islam or burn the Koran?
74. If the state does not act against such deeds, may individual Muslims act?
75. Can one live a fully Muslim life in a country with a mostly non-Muslim government?
76. Should a Muslim accept a legitimate majority non-Muslim government and its laws or work to make Islam supreme?
77. Can a majority non-Muslim government unreservedly win your allegiance?
78. Should Muslims who burn churches or vandalize synagogues be punished?
79. Do you support jihad to spread Islam?
80. Do you endorse corporal punishments (mutilation, dismemberment, crucifixion) of criminals?
81. Is beheading an acceptable form of punishment?
82. Is jihad, meaning warfare to expand Muslim rule, acceptable in today’s world?
83. What does it mean when Muslims yell “Allahu Akbar” as they attack?
84. Do you condemn violent organizations such as Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Shabaab, and the Taliban?
85. Are non-Islamic institutions immoral and decadent or can they be moral and virtuous?
86. Do you agree with studies that show non-Muslim countries such as New Zealand to be better living up to the ideals of Islam than Muslim-majority countries?
87. Is Western-style freedom an accomplishment or a form of moral corruption? Why?
88. Do you accept that Western countries are majority-Christian or do you seek to transform them into majority-Muslim countries?
89. Do you accept living in Western countries that are secular or do you seek to have Islamic law rule them?
90. What do you think of Shari’a-police patrolling Muslim-majority neighborhoods in Western countries to enforce Islamic morals?
91. Would you like to see the U.S. Constitution (or its equivalents in other countries) replaced by the Koran?
92. In an immigration interview like this, if deceiving the questioner helps Islam, would lying be justified?
93. Why should I trust that you have answered these questions truthfully?
Observations about the Interviews
Beyond helping to decide whom to allow into the country, these questions can also help in other contexts as well, for example in police interrogations or interviews for sensitive employment positions. (The list of Islamists who have penetrated Western security services is a long and painful one.)
Note the absence of questions about highly charged current issues. That is because Islamist views overlap with non-Islamist outlooks; plenty of non-Islamists agree with Islamists on these topics. Although Leil Leibowitz in contrast sees Israel as “moderate Islam’s real litmus test,” Islamists are hardly the only ones who demand Israel’s elimination and accept Hamas and Hezbollah as legitimate political actors – or believe the Bush administration carried out the 9/11 attacks or hate the United States. Why introduce these ambiguous issues when so many Islam-specific questions (e.g., “Is the enslavement of non-Muslim acceptable?”) have the virtue of far greater clarity?
You don’t have to be an Islamist to be anti-Zionist.
The interviewing protocol outlined above is extensive, asking many specific questions over a substantial period using different formulations, probing for truth and inconsistencies. It is not quick, easy, or cheap, but requires case officers knowledgeable about the persons being interviewed, the societies they come from, and the Islamic religion; they are somewhat like a police questioner who knows both the accused person and the crime. This is not a casual process. There are no shortcuts.
This procedure raises two criticisms: it is less reliable than Trump’s no-Muslim policy and it is too burdensome for governments to undertake. Both are readily disposed of.
Less reliable: The no-Muslim policy sounds simple to implement but figuring out who is Muslim is a problem in itself (are Ahmadis Muslims?). Further, with such a policy in place, what will stop Muslims from pretending to renounce their religion or to convert to another religion, notably Christianity? These actions would require the same in-depth research and intensive interviews as described above. If anything, because a convert can hide behind his ignorance of his alleged new religion, distinguishing a real convert to Christianity from a fake one is even more difficult than differentiating an Islamist from a moderate Muslim.
Too burdensome: True, the procedure is expensive, slow, and requires skilled practitioners. But this also has the benefit of slowing a process that many, myself included, consider out of control, with too many immigrants entering the country too quickly. Immigrants numbered 5 percent of the population in 1965, 14 percent in 2015, and are projected to make up 18 percent in 2065. This is far too large a number to assimilate into the values of the United States, especially when so many come from outside the West; the above mechanism offers a way to slow it down.
As for those who argue that this sort of inquiry and screening for visa purposes is unlawful; prior legislation for naturalization, for example, required that an applicant be “attached to the principles of the Constitution” and it was repeatedly found to be legal.
Finally, today’s moderate Muslim could become tomorrow’s raging Islamist; or his infant daughter might two decades later become a jihadi. While any immigrant can turn hostile, such changes happen far more often among born Muslims. There is no way to guarantee this from happening but extensive research and interrogations reduce the odds.
Truly to protect the country from Islamists requires a major commitment of talent, resources, and time. But, properly handled, these questions offer a mechanism to separate enemy from friend among Muslims. They also have the benefit of slowing down immigration. Even before Trump became president, if one is to believe CAIR, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) asked questions along the lines of those advocated here (What do you think of the USA? What are your views about jihad? See the appendix for a full listing). With Trump’s endorsement, let us hope this effective “no-Islamists” policy is on its way to becoming systematic.
On January 18, 2017, just hours before Donald Trump became president of the United States, the Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed ten complaints with the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) for questioning Muslim citizens about their religious and political views. Among the questions allegedly asked were:
1. Are you a devout Muslim?
2. Are you Sunni or Shia?
3. What school of thought do you follow?
4. Which Muslim scholars do you follow?
5. What current Muslim scholars do you listen to?
6. Do you pray five times a day?
7. Why do you have a prayer mat in your luggage?
8. Why do you have a Qur’an in your luggage?
9. Have you visited Saudi Arabia?
10. Will you every visit Saudi or Israel?
11. What do you know about the Tableeghi-Jamat?
12. What do you think of the USA?
13. What are your views about Jihad?
14. What mosque do you attend?
15. Do any individuals in your mosque have any extreme/radical views?
16. Does your Imam express extremist views?
17. What are the views of other imams or other community members that give the Friday sermon at your mosque?
18. Do they have extremist views?
19. Have you ever delivered the Friday Prayer? What did you discuss with your community?
20. What are your views regarding [various terrorist organizations]?
21. What social media accounts do you use?
22. What is your Facebook account username?
23. What is your Twitter account username?
24. What is your Instagram account username?
25. What are the names and telephone numbers of parents, relatives, friends?
CAIR also claims a Canadian Muslim was asked by CBP the following questions and then denied entry:
1. Are you Sunni or Shia?
2. Do you think we should allow someone like you to enter our country?
3. How often do you pray?
4. Why did you shave your beard?
5. Which school of thought do you follow?
6. What do you think of America’s foreign policy towards the Muslim world?
7. What do you think of killing non-Muslims?
8. What do you think of [various terrorist groups]?
Finally, CAIR indicates that those questioned “were held between 2 to 8 hours by CBP.”
Jan. 31, 2017 updates: (1) CAIR’s Florida Chapter is advising U.S. citizens who are Muslims not to answer additional questions at inspection points because the Trump administration continues to “disproportionately target American Muslim citizens.” NBC News reports:
CAIR-FL says all American citizens of the Muslim faith make up 50 to 75 percent of those selected for secondary inspection when traveling – despite being just one percent of the population. The organization encourages members to comply and be truthful with officials and give basic information when asked.
(2) An employee of the U.S. Department of Defense working in a Muslim-majority countries writes me concerning the appendix that the department “worldwide uses many of the questions cited above for vetting local hires” and adds: “I personally believe this is an important tool in screening the bad guys out of US facilities overseas.”
(3) One reader commented in response to the costliness of the procedure outlined above that financial burden can be shifted to applicants wishing to enter the United States.
(4) Another reader pointed out the benefit of requiring the Pledge Allegiance to the United States and all is stands for, including assimilation, no ties to other nations, their forms of government, or their leaders.
(5) The U.S. immigration questionnaire, USCIS Form N-400, already includes a number of intrusive and political questions.
Feb. 10, 2017 update: Yassine Aber, a 19-year-old kinesiology student at the University of Sherbrooke, recounts his failed attempt yesterday to enter the United States at the land border at Derby Line, Vermont. He was questioned for five hours and his smartphone was searched; on it, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection found a photo on Facebook in which he was tagged along with Samir Halilovic, who is believed to have gone in 2014 to Syria for jihad.
Yassine Aber passing the baton.
Aber told CBC News that he didn’t know Halilovic well, but the two had friends in common and attended the same mosque. He said the group photo was taken at a wedding four years ago.
Aber was travelling to the U.S. to attend a track meet in Boston with other members of the university’s track-and-field team. Aber, who was born in Canada to parents originally from Morocco, was travelling on a valid Canadian passport.
The 19-year-old was travelling in a vehicle with five other athletes and their coach. The others were made to wait five hours while he was questioned by border guards.
“They made me fill in papers and made me talk about myself, where I’m from, where I was born,” Aber told CBC News. He said he was also asked about his parents and their origins, and what countries he has recently visited. Aber said he was then made to hand over his phone and its password. He was also fingerprinted.
When the border agents returned, Aber said they took him in for another round of questions, which were more pointed about his Muslim faith, the mosque he attended, and people he knew there. “They asked me, ‘Do you go to the mosque?’ I said, ‘Yes, sometimes.’ They said, ‘How often? Which mosque do you go to?’ They asked me about specific people,” he told CBC News.
In a subsequent interview late Friday afternoon, Aber revealed that one of the people he was asked about was Halilovic. Ultimately, Aber was told he wasn’t allowed to enter the U.S., but his teammates and coach were permitted entry. …
Aber said he was refused on the pretext that he didn’t have the right travel documents. “I received an official paper saying I didn’t have papers, a passport or an immigration visa that was valid.” But he said he was travelling on a Canadian passport that expires in 2026.
He requested more information, he said, but was not given any. “I was told it’s a privilege for people from other countries to come to the United States and that privilege can be taken away at any time.”
Comment: Good to see that U.S. border agents are vetting for Islamists. But this last-minute border interrogation can hardly substitute for the process I recommend above. It’s vetting but not extreme vetting.
Feb. 24, 2017 update: Muhammad Ali Jr., 44, son of the boxer Muhammad Ali, reports having been detained for hours by immigration officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on return from speaking at a Black History Month event in Montego Bay, Jamaica. He was pulled aside while going through customs because of his Arabic-sounding names, says family friend and lawyer Chris Mancini. Quoting the Louisville Courier-Journal:
Mancini said officials held and questioned Ali Jr. for nearly two hours, repeatedly asking him, “Where did you get your name from?” and “Are you Muslim?” When Ali Jr. responded that yes, he is a Muslim, the officers kept questioning him about his religion and where he was born. Ali Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1972 and holds a U.S. passport.
Mar. 2, 2017 update: Ahmad Amiri dislikes these questions, as he explains in “Why Is the West Afraid of Muslims” (ماذا يخيف الغربَ من المسلم؟) in the Emirates newspaper Ittihad.
According to a flattering profile about her, Linda Sarsour of Brooklyn has “got her hands in everything” as director of the Arab American Association of New York, the Coordinator of Community Initiatives for the YWCA Brooklyn, a member of the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays, a Palestine activist, and an “activist for women and immigrants.” On March 10, she was even honored as one of “Brooklyn’s Extraordinary Women” by the borough’s district attorney.