Oust Shari’a with Knowledge, Not Bans
Women are treated particularly shabbily. Daughters get only half the inheritance of sons. A woman’s testimony in court is worth only half a man’s. Husbands are authorized to beat disobedient wives—although only, apparently, as a last resort, after first admonishing them and secondly sending them to bed alone.*
Some Canadian Muslims seek to put a
friendlier face on
Shari’a law. Ouahida Bendjedou, a
Well, Ms. Bendjedou, you’re certainly
entitled to your
opinion, but if I ever need to refer a female client to a
This issue exploded into public view this
past summer after
Homa Arjomand, the campaign coordinator, has demanded variously that family law be removed from the ambit of the Arbitration Act, or that the Arbitration Act itself be repealed entirely. While I am entirely sympathetic with Ms. Arjomand’s distaste for Shari’a law, I think her demands must be refused.
The broadest demand—that the Arbitration Act be repealed—is the easiest to dismiss. The Act governs commercial arbitration as well as matrimonial, and provides Ontarians with a less costly, more private, more expeditious alternative to the courts. Repealing it for the sake of protecting Muslim women would be enormous overkill.
The narrower demand—that family law be removed from the purview of the Act—is still overkill. Why should the non-Muslim majority of Ontarians be deprived of the advantages of arbitration in matrimonial cases merely because some Muslim women may choose—albeit under duress—to submit to Shari’a law?
It’s ironic, really, that those most opposed to the existence of Shari’a tribunals seem themselves to be caught up in a form of communal group-think, demanding that the rights of all be curtailed in order to protect a few.
If they really want to help Muslim women, they should focus their efforts more closely on those who need the help. Sometimes all it takes for a person to get the courage to break free of oppression is to know that it’s actually possible—that others like themselves have tried it and succeeded.
Ms. Arjomand and her supporters could
services for Muslim women. They could
introduce them to others who have broken free of the stifling tradition
unquestioning obedience. They could
provide friendship and comfort if the women were threatened with
their own family and friends. They could
refer them to lawyers to learn what their options are and what their
expectations would be under ordinary
When all is said and done, individuals do have to make a choice to think for themselves and stand up for themselves. Others can’t do it for them. It’s a bit like the ancient Chinese proverb about helping those in poverty. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Even if Ontario banned Shari’a tribunals from existence (something it couldn’t do without running afoul of anti-discrimination laws, which is undoubtedly why Ms. Arjomand has been compelled to make her unnecessarily broad demands), that still wouldn’t be enough to ensure that all Moslem women in the province would be free of duress in their matrimonial settlements. If they still feel intimidated by all those who surround them, if their own consciences still berate them due to the religious indoctrination they’ve endured since birth, they will still submit to unfavourable settlements.
They have to be shown instead that there is another way for women to think and act. They have to be given the philosophical and emotional tools that will allow them to adopt a Canadian way of life. The best thing anyone can do for them is to set an example of how to stand up to a bully without becoming one yourself.
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* verse 34 of Surah an-Nisa of the Quran