I have always considered sharia law more an insult than a threat, but the Law Society may change my mind.
The Society has just issued a ‘practice note’ to solicitors endorsing sharia-compliant wills. These would formally recognise, and perhaps encourage, discrimination against women, illegitimate and adopted children and non-Muslim family members, including spouses.
It is true that no member of a free society can be told who should inherit their estate; many a deceased spinster has left her fortune to a cat’s home or a sewing group. But should the Law Society be lending its authority and prestige to a custom which both in principle and in its effects the majority find repellent?
The practice note states: “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. Similarly, a divorced spouse is no longer a sharia heir, as the entitlement depends on a valid Muslim marriage existing at the date of death.” This smacks of discrimination, underscored by the medieval bigotry that sharia law represents.
Now, it is the right of Muslim citizens to observe whatever doctrines their faith imposes, and observe them they undoubtedly will. What is at issue is not that right but whether an esteemed institution of the legal profession should be aiding and abetting those doctrines with guidelines that may well lead to formal recognition.
Sharia law is a very large wedge with a very sharp end. Influential bodies of Islam in
The Law Society’s brief is not in itself a dangerous act, but it does tend to be subversive – a dangerous precedent that gives credibility to the very acts of discrimination that its own charter warns must be observed as a matter of general law. Solicitors are required to advise clients, within the bounds of freedom of choice, against such arbitrary acts of discrimination, if only because they lay themselves open to charges of bad advice in the event of lawsuits under equality legislation.
Legitimising inheritance law according to sharia rules will almost certainly lead to extensions into the realms of family law. And from there, who knows where?
No other religion pursues with such vigour the promotion of such self-serving observances, although some might well be encouraged to if sharia law becomes, as its proponents insist, and in many other matters both legal and political a ‘special case’ for exemption from accepted norms.
The Law Society, as a secular body, would no doubt be the first to admit that it is far from qualified to delve into matters of theology when they clash with accepted practices. Why, then, is it apparently making an exception for Islam?
The answer, I fear, is demographics. Muslims now constitute ten per cent of the population, and the figure is rising fast. As cynics will point out, such growth may well produce a great many instructions for Law Society members.
I could not possibly comment.