Shari’a councils in England – a response from ‘critical multiculturalism’

I was invited to contribute to the CIMEL group’s two-day workshop on ‘Theorising the reconciliation between the State and the Shari’a in a Western context, with special reference to the UK’ (20-21 May 2014, London). This turned out to be one of the best academic forums I’ve ever attended, where, for once, there really was a lively, well-informed, respectful debate among the 30 or 40 participants. In the debate, Muslim women, both academics and lawyers, supported by lots of men, criticised the patriarchal attitudes apparent among some Muslims and in some shari’a councils. But everyone seemed to think that British law could accommodate the work of the shari’a councils.

Many of the lawyers assembled for the workshop were impressively sociological, so my input wasn’t as far from the mark as I’d expected it to be. I’m uploading the full paper that I wrote for the event. I read only part of section (3). I’ve re-written parts of the paper to take account of some of the fascinating contributions I listened to both before and after my talk.

The paper sets out my view that only if critical multiculturalist discourse was widely adopted – promoting the negotiation of diversity, rather than its uncritical celebration – would we be able to get the policy and legislative changes needed to secure the role shari’a councils in the UK. In doing so, it argues for a shift in anti-racist discourse to take account of the rise of UKIP.  The paper is available here: Shai’a and critical multiculturalism MF 21 May 2104

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