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British review of Sharia councils to focus on fairness to women

Investigation looking at whether some Sharia councils seek to legitimise forced marriages, issue divorces discriminatory towards women
Muslims gather for Friday prayers in Baitul Futuh Mosque in south London (AFP)

The British government on Thursday said it had begun an independent review into possible discriminatory practices against women in informal courts using Sharia law in England and Wales.

"A number of women have reportedly been victims of what appear to be discriminatory decisions taken by Sharia councils, and that is a significant concern," Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement.

"There is only one rule of law in our country, which provides rights and security for every citizen."

The use of Sharia in Britain has increased over the last few years, the BBC reported, with thousands of Muslims settling disputes before Sharia councils each year. The councils only deal with civil matters.

The government will investigate whether some Sharia councils seek to legitimise forced marriages and issue divorces that are unfair to women.

British media reported there are about 30 Sharia councils in Britain, granting Islamic divorce certificates and offering advice on other aspects of religious law.

The review is part of the government's Counter-Extremism Strategy, which was initiated last year.

The review will be chaired by Islamic studies expert Mona Siddiqui, who will lead a panel of academic and religious experts and "will help us better understand whether and the extent to which Sharia law is being misused or exploited and make recommendations to the government on how to address this," May said.

Siddiqui said: "At a time when there is so much focus on Muslims in the UK, this will be a wide-ranging, timely and thorough review as to what actually happens in Sharia councils."

The panel will begin work immediately and is expected to complete its review in 2017, the ministry said.

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