In the UK, local Sharia councils have been operating for many years, but in 2007 the Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (MAT) were established. Recognized by the UK's justice ministry and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Sharia councils were officially allowed to judge in civil - not criminal - cases, based on the British Arbitration Act of 1996. They judge cases relating to economy, divorce, domestic violence, inheritance and forced marriage - with the framework of British law.
"It's probable that this will exist in Norway. It wouldn't surprise me if it already exists. Imams counsel Muslims today, and it's natural that they use Sharia because it's the legal tradition they're accustomed to," says director Tor Langbach of the Courts Administration.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
In the spring he visited the Muslim Arbitration Tribunals in London. There more and more Muslims solve conflicts using Islamic law instead of going to British courts. The headquarters are in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford and Nuneaton. MAT say they're working on setting up a new branch in Scotland. Currently they have not received inquiries from Norway, but were visited by Muslims from both Belgium and the Netherlands.
On their website, MAT assures that they offer 'a real and true opportunity to settle disputes in accordance with Islamic Sacred Law with the knowledge that the outcome as determined by MAT will be binding and enforceable'. This requires that both parties want it.
The critics fear parallel legal systems. They think that women are at risk of being pressured by their family or others in their community to solve conflicts via the Sharia council instead of British law, because women end up more badly than men in Islamic legislation. Women, for example, inherit half of what men do. Divorce isn't as easy for women to obtain.
Norwegian imams use also much of their time giving counsel, says Senaid Kobilica, head of the Islamic Council of Norway (IRN), and chief imam of the Bosnian community. The imams that Aftenposten spoke to can see Sharia councils like those in the UK - within the framework of Norwegian law.
Ten years ago Islam expert Kari Vogt wrote in the book "Islam in Norwegian" (Islam på norsk) that the question isn't whether Islamic law is applied, but how, by whom and in which cases. According to Vogt, the IRN took the initiative to set up Sharia councils in Norway, but the time wasn't ripe.
Senaid Kobilica says that the IRN didn't consider the matter in principle nor taken a position on an eventual mandate or guidelines for such a body. He stresses that it would eventuality have to harmonize with Norwegian law.
He thinks that the British system is in reality not different than the counseling and mediation bodies which can also function as arbitration bodies if both parties want it to.
Kobilica says that such mediation bodies could systemize and ensure the quality of the work which is already being done by the mosques.
The Moroccan Faith-Society and the World Islamic Mission (WIM) say that Sharia councils per the British models are the way to go, but they stress that Norwegian law must have the last word. The imam in Minhaj-Ul-Quran, Sadagat Ali, can also see Sharia councils. Imam Najeeb Naz of WIM points out that Sharia enjoins Muslims to respect the laws of the country in which they live.
"For me as a Muslim in Norway, it's Norwegian law which applies, but we should take Sharia into account," says Jamal Moussaoui, head of the Moroccan Faith-Society.
Norwegian judges and courts also increasingly note that Sharia is an important part of the life of Muslims. PhD student Katja Jansen Fredriksen of Bergen reviewed cases which went through the Norwegian legal system.
"Sharia is resorted to in Norwegian law today too. In Norwegian court decisions, especially in family cases, I see that Muslims argue in the same way in Norwegian courts as they would in Sharia courts in Muslim countries."
For example, the judge, in order to invalidate a forced marriage, has to know if the marriage was entered into legally in the country where the marriage ceremony was performed. Fredriksen wanted to create a guide to Sharia for Norwegian judges.
Source: Aftenposten (Norwegian)