Leiden Law Blog

What happens at Sharia councils? Part Three: The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal

What happens at Sharia councils? Part Three: The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal

As a PhD Candidate researching Sharia councils in the United Kingdom, I was in the fortunate position to gain access to several of these institutions, which are normally barred to the public. It was a great experience and I am thankful to my hosts for having me as a visitor.

In part one of my blog series on Sharia councils, I highlighted my visit to the most fundamentalist Sharia council; the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton, London. In part two of this blog series I focused on the Sharia council hosted by the Birmingham Central Mosque, which is known for its liberal approach. In this third blog I write about the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, which is located in Nuneaton, a small town near Birmingham, and which is a part of a spiritual community, called Hijaz.

The Hijaz Community

Surrounded by trees, I walked for minutes along a path leading to the spiritual centre. A young bearded man was fixing holes in the pavement. When I arrived on the premises, I noticed the large mausoleum for Allama Muhammad Abdul Wahab Siddiqi ( 1942-1994), a spiritual guide - who, as I later read on the website, “[a]t the tender of age of 3 […] had mastered to recitation [sic] of the Holy Qur'an […]”. Before coming to Europe, he enjoyed a successful life in Pakistan, studying various subjects and succeeding in business. The Hijaz website tells us that “it is also a matter of great inspiration that the Shaykh was not only a Murshid (spiritual guide), and an Alim (scholar), but also a journalist, an author, an academic, a lecturer and a political scientist as well as a keen sportsman.”

He also visited the Netherlands, as “[t]he Shaykh worked relentlessly to defend the true understanding of classical Islam […] His dialogue and presentation was so immensely packed with substance that the opponent could rarely produce a comeback during debate. In 1989 the Shaykh gave a challenge for an open public debate with the leaders of the Qadiani movement in Holland. However the leaders of the Qadiani movement refused to engage in debate with the Shaykh knowing his abilities in theological debate, articulate manners and vast knowledge.”

I had an appointment with his son, spiritual leader Shaykh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi (picture), the principal and founding trustee of the Hijaz community: “Hijaz serves as a centre of intellectual and spiritual activity that is developing strategies and programmes to revive the faith and practice of the Muslim community and to spread the Prophetic way of life to the wider society.” The Arbitration Tribunal is part of this global movement, of which around sixty members live permanently on the sixty-two acre terrain.

I was welcomed warmly by a young woman, who – to my great surprise – pronounced my Dutch name perfectly. It soon became clear that as a result of the Shaykh’s visits, many of the residents come from The Hague, where these Dutch Muslims found themselves drawn to the inspirational teachings of Shaykh Siddiqi. They speak very highly of their leader, who receives a high degree of respect from his followers.

Barrister and Islamic scholar Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi has an impressive office. It is filled with book cases, beautiful carpets, comfy sofa’s and the biggest flat screen monitor I have ever seen. He is on the phone passing through a name for a newborn in South Africa.

When he hangs up, he explains the arbitration model to me. The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal functions in a fundamentally different way to other Sharia councils in the sense that they do Islamic divorces as well, but their ‘core business’ is arbitrating commercial disputes under the Arbitration Act 1996. Two private parties sign a binding agreement prior to the hearing and the tribunal consists of a minimum of two arbitrators – a UK qualified solicitor or barrister, and an Islamic scholar. This way, the outcome is in line with both “the Laws of England and Wales and the recognized Schools of Islamic Sacred Law” (art. 8 (2) of the Procedure Rules of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal), and leads to a contractually binding arbitration award.

In my quest on learning the relationship between Sharia councils and state laws, I ask him if a secular judge ever reviewed such an award, which I am told has not been the case. I ask him about the somewhat confusing final article of their procedural rules, article 23: “No appeal shall be made against any decisions of the Tribunal. This rule shall not prevent any party applying for Judicial Review with permission of the High Court.” Siddiqi tells me there haven’t been appeals as his clients are “satisfied customers who consider it a serious matter”.

Later, Chief Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal tells me on the phone that the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal is known to deter parties from seeking appeal, even though individuals do have an inalienable right to challenge the award in court, which is codified in article 58 of the Arbitration Act.

Yet, when correctly regulated by the Arbitration Act, the Crown Chief Prosecutor sees no problem in the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal using alternative dispute resolution regarding local property disputes, especially when parties are equally matched.

Afzal spoke to the Tribunal a few years ago on their approach regarding women seeking religious divorces. He suspected that the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal discouraged abused women from seeking help, which means they are perpetuating serious harm: “if a woman wants a divorce, they will say you will disgrace your family”. Earlier, Siddiqi had told me that “marriage is a commitment, you can’t sleep around like cats and dogs, you have to have reasons to finish the contract”.

The Shaykh seems confident in his arbitration model. He tells me other Muslims will not be able to copy his method, but that they are free to do so. Meanwhile, he is branching out to other cities. He informs me that soon, Dutch Muslims will not have to travel all the way to the United Kingdom, as the Nurul Islam Mosque in The Hague will have its own Muslim Arbitration Tribunal.

After kindly been served lunch, the young Dutch woman who had welcomed me walked me out and we chatted a bit. I told her what a great job I saw the young man doing on fixing the pathway, making it an even more beautiful and serene place. She tells me that the work is necessary, as members of the new right-wing extremist movement, the English Defence League, keep blasting holes on their pathway, making sure the people of the Hijaz community don’t feel welcome. It is a striking fact which confronts us with the reality of the tensions that exist in a multicultural society.

Part Four: The legal status and future of Sharia councils

4 Comments

Mohammad Abbasi
Posted on September 21, 2016 at 14:28 by Mohammad Abbasi

Please brother, be careful before accusing others of zina. Even if you don’t agree with the actvities of the so called Hijaz community, accusing their leaders of zina is going too far. False accusation or character assassination of Muslim women is a grievous sin before Allah. Beside, there is nothing bad in arbitrating between two warring couples and save their marriage from collapsing. If the imams do it for other reasons other than making peace among families, leave them to Allah to judge. Nobody is clean. May Allah guide us aright and unite the Muslim community.

Truth!
Posted on February 19, 2016 at 21:50 by Truth!

Clearly from the tone of the previous comments there is some form of personal attachment to ‘Shaykh Siddiqi’. Putting the character assassination, via internet of course, aside, I am not sure how such comments are relevant to the article.

Enough of the childishness.

Moving on.

The article was an interesting insight into the useful tool of Arbitration in today’s ever fast paced society.

Interesting remarks from Nazir Afzal. It would be good to see evidence from from Afzal.

a.soekhai
Posted on January 17, 2015 at 07:38 by a.soekhai

Yes its true they are covering the truth, and then say i love allaah and his Prophet. liars and cheaters and now they trying to break the suriname muslim community in the netherland.but they will not succeed. Wake up muslims save your wife and daughters against this criminals. Thank you brohter Abbassi.

Mohammad Abbasi
Posted on November 4, 2014 at 15:09 by Mohammad Abbasi

Dear sirs

HIJAZ COMMUNITY - HUB OF CHEATERS

The Siddiqis of Hijaz are known in the community to be womanisers, opportunistic and manipulators. The Barrister himself is a multiple divorcee and his children study in secular schools while he invites other children to stay and be ruined in Hijaz. He has defrauded many women by conning them for personal and commercial gains as well as sleeping with them at various locations. His brother Qamar Siddiqi who they never mention is a convict rapist.

Please do not promote the “good work” without proper investigation into the affairs as it unknowingly can mislead innocent victims to be their prey!

They undoubtedly will burn in the hell fire for the crimes they managed to hide from the very community which supported them and their father. Alas the corrupt religious leaders are liars and cheaters who bring shame to True Islam.

If you want to know the truth. Speak to Faiz’s ex-in-laws in Birmingham.

British Muslim Association

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