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Parties to civil disputes in the U.K. are able to resolve them privately in whatever way and using whichever principles they choose, subject to overriding principles of UK law. It is not lawful to agree to perform an illegal act in settlement of a dispute. The parties need to be willing to adopt whatever form of ADR and it is important to note that any discrimination is unlawful. If a party feels forced to follow a certain form of ADR they can usually resort to the Courts as a final destination to determine the dispute, applying English law.

In 2008 the Government sanctioned five Shariah courts to operate in this country, ruling on a range of civil matters including financial disputes and divorce. The rulings of these courts are now enforceable in the English Legal System. British Courts can now enforce Sharia judgements.

It is reported that 40% of British Muslims back Shariah for financial disputes
More than 40 per cent of British Muslims support the introduction of Sharia for the resolution of financial disputes, one of the biggest surveys ever of Islamic views in the UK has revealed.

Backing for Islamic law in specific civil areas was strongest among older British Muslims, according to a poll of 3,000 people conducted by ICM on behalf of the think tank Policy Exchange.

The researchers found that the vast majority of Muslims considered themselves to be strongly attached to Britain. Only 1 per cent of those surveyed said that they favoured the creation of fully separate Islamic areas. Some 43 per cent said that they supported the introduction of Sharia in relation to the resolution of financial and some civil disputes, while 22 per cent opposed that proposition. Another 35 per cent had no view.

The researchers said that “it should be stressed” that the wording of the question regarding Sharia was “significant”. Respondents were asked about Shariah “in the broadest sense – and in that context, perhaps the most significant thing is that a majority of Muslims did not express a view in support and only 16 per cent strongly supported its introduction”.

There has been a great deal of controversy devoted to the idea of Shariah law as practiced in the UK.  The President of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, has stated that such punishments as stoning, flogging, and amputation of hands will be deemed absolutely unacceptable. Clearly, shariah law cannot override UK criminal or human rights law.

However, Shariah law should have a place in terms of alternative dispute resolution, and in many ways already does. In the UK it mostly deals with family affairs and there is also a growing need for it in terms of Shariah finance.

What is Shariah law?  It is the system of laws within Islam. There are three Basic Sources for Shariah Law. One major source is the Islamic holy text – The Koran, the other is the Sunnah – which is the custom and practice of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. The other source, known as Fatwas, are the rulings of various Islamic scholars on certain matters. It is different from the common law of England and Wales in many ways. First and foremost Shariah deals with all aspects of a Muslim’s life, and not necessarily just in terms of relations between private parties or between a private party and the state. In other words it deals with both matters that are both private and public in nature.

Within the Sunni Branch of Islam there are four schools of thought which are known as “madhab”. The Sunni branch of Islam schools of thought are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii, and Hanbali. Shiite Islam – found mainly in Iran – has its own school of thought called the Jafari Madh’hab. Many Shariah practitioners spend decades studying Shariah law and usually within the respective Madhabs.

How is Shariah Law actually practised?

It can deal with many aspects of a Muslim’s daily life. The whole objective of Shariah is to promote social welfare. These aspects of daily life that promote social welfare are separated into two categories which are necessities and needs and comforts.

Many of the topics covered by Shariah law involve situations in the daily life of Muslims that can seem very ordinary and commonplace to the outside observer. However, Muslims simply wish to ensure that their actions comply with Islamic law and rites.

What are types of Shariah Law Rulings?

Islamic Shariah law has a very ancient tradition and is complicated in many respects and involving various schools of thought. However the basic essence of Shariah can be placed in five easily definable categories.

Firstly there are obligatory actions; these must be carried out with good intentions in order to attain a reward from God. Then there are recommended actions and these are actions that should be carried out. Thirdly, there are disliked actions which are simply not considered good or proper in the eyes of God. Fourthly there are forbidden actions which are not allowed whatsoever. Lastly, there are permitted actions which are neither advocated nor prohibited but can be performed (basically mundane actions as described above).

How is shariah law used in the U.K.?

There are two main UK organisations that deal with matters related to family Shariah law. The first one is the Islamic Shariah Council that deals mostly with marriage related problems. There is also the Shariah Council UK which also deals with matters related to marriage and divorce as well as providing services such as mediation, judicial consideration and conciliation. The justification for the use of Shariah law within family matters comes from S. 4 of the Arbitration Act 1996. Accordingly, S. 4(2) allows “the parties to make their own arrangements by agreement but provide rules which apply in the absence of such agreement.” In S. 4 (3) it is stated that it does not matter if the law applicable to the agreement created by the parties is the Law of England and Wales (also Northern Ireland) or isn’t. It is also stated in S. 4(5), an applicable law to which the parties have agreed upon is sufficient if it is a law other than the law of England and Wales or as the case maybe, Northern Ireland.