As a divorce decree from the Family Court lacks any Islamic currency, it can mean that in the eyes of her community, her husband and herself, she is not really divorced. In the absence of an established Sharia court, tribunal or body, Muslim women have to find a Muslim person or organisation with Islamic credentials to hear her case and make a determination. For empowered Muslim women who want to escape from an unhappy marriage, this will not be an obstacle, but it is a problem for those who lack the contacts, knowledge and confidence to proceed.

It also can make women vulnerable to spousal, religious and community pressures to resolve the marital dispute in accordance with what is presented as the right version of Islamic law. Sharia recognizes the basic inequality between master and women slave, between free women and slave women, between Believers and non-Believers, as well as their unequal rights. Sharia authorized the institution of slavery, using the words abd (slave) and the phrase ma malakat aymanukum (“that which your right hand owns”) to refer to women slaves, seized as captives of war. Under Islamic law, Muslim men could have sexual relations with female captives and slaves. Slave women under sharia did not have a right to own property or to move freely.

Sharia, in Islam’s history, provided a religious foundation for enslaving non-Muslim women (and men), but allowed for the manumission of slaves. However, manumission required that the non-Muslim slave first convert to Islam. A slave woman who bore a child to her Muslim master (umm al-walad) could not be sold, becoming legally free upon her master’s death, and the child was considered free and a legitimate heir of the father. H. Patrick Glenn states that Sharia is structured around the concept of mutual obligations of a collective, and it considers individual human rights as potentially disruptive and unnecessary to its revealed code of mutual obligations. In giving priority to this religious collective rather than individual liberty, the Islamic law justifies the formal inequality of individuals (women, non-Islamic people).

Bassam Tibi states that Sharia framework and human rights are incompatible. Abdel al-Hakeem Carney, in contrast, states that Sharia is misunderstood from a failure to distinguish Sharia from siyasah (politics). Governments of several predominantly Muslim countries have criticized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) for its perceived failure to take into account the cultural and religious context of non-Western countries. Iran declared in the UN assembly that UDHR was “a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition”, which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing the Islamic law.

Islamic scholars and Islamist political parties consider ‘universal human rights’ arguments as imposition of a non-Muslim culture on Muslim people, a disrespect of customary cultural practices and of Islam. In 1990, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a group representing all Muslim-majority nations, met in Cairo to respond to the UDHR, then adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. Sharia also plays a role beyond religious rituals and personal ethics in some countries with Muslim minorities. For example, in Israel Sharia-based family laws are administered for the Muslim population by the Ministry of Justice through the Sharia Courts. In India, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act provides for the use of Islamic law for Muslims in several areas, mainly related to family law.

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