BIRMINGHAM – Britain’s first female Shari’ah court judge, Dr. Amra Bone, believes her trailblazing path shall inspire other women to follow.
“My specialisms include Qur’anic exegesis and ethics with an emphasis on Shari’ah and gender,” Bone, a graduate of Birmingham University where she also completed her MA and PhD, told Huffington Post on July 4.
The former headteacher and university chaplain sits on the panel of judges at the Sharia Council at Birmingham Central Mosque in UK – one of Europe’s biggest mosques.
Its her job to rule on Islamic divorce hearings – a role reserved for experienced elders who have spent their lives studying the Holy Qur’an.
The 45-year-old woman was invited to join the panel because of her expertise in the field of Islamic jurisprudence.
“I’ve always been involved in my local community and I and spent five years as a leader at a girls youth club, particularly working with Muslim girls. That got me started in championing women’s rights within my community and eventually lead to me being appointed Shari’ah judge 13 years ago,” Bone explained.
“As far as I know I’m still the only female Shari’ah Court judge in the UK but I’m really hopeful that will soon change,” she expressed.
“I’ve generally had a good reaction from within the wider Muslim community and I can share a lot of positive experiences with women who might want to follow my path.”
Muslim Courts in UK
Muslim Arbitration Tribunals, known as Shari’ah courts, started in UK since 1996 when the Arbitration Act allowed for different religious laws to be applied in cases such as divorce.
Based on the Holy Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah, the two main Islamic texts that deal with how Muslims should lead their lives, Shari’ah covers everything from diet and hygiene to bigger issues such as crime and relationships.
According to Huffington Post, it’s estimated that there are as many as 85 Shari’ah courts in Britain mainly issuing rulings in divorce hearings when the couple have had only an Islamic marriage, rather than a legally registered civil ceremony.
Though allowed by the Arbitration Act, the courts’ rulings aren’t recognized by the UK legal system.
But the scholars’ judgements carry the required moral and cultural weight to grant a divorce before God, according to Shari’ah law.
“I firmly believe that Shari’ah courts empower Muslim women and provide a vital service. There is no compulsion for women to use the voluntary service offered by the councils and for any financial or custody issues, her council automatically refers women to the civil courts,” Bone clarified.
“In Islam women aren’t treated as dependent, but as equal, so we treat them equally,” she concluded.
According to UK’s Home Office, 90% of the petitioners in the British Shari’ah courts are female and almost all cases involve divorce.