The Law Society, an organization representing British lawyers, has issued guidance allowing its members to write “Sharia compliant” wills that could potentially discriminate against women and non-Muslims, the British newspaper the Telegraph is reporting.
According to the paper, which characterized the guidelines as “ground-breaking,” the wills written by non-Muslim lawyers and designed to be recognized in British courts, could “deny women an equal share of inheritances and exclude unbelievers altogether.” As well, the legal documents could “prevent children born out of wedlock – and even those who have been adopted – from being counted as legitimate heirs” in keeping with Sharia law.
It further reported that anyone married in a church or in a civil ceremony – rather than a Muslim wedding - could be excluded from inheritance.
“The guidance goes on to suggest that Sharia principles could potentially overrule British practices in some disputes, giving examples of areas that would need to be tested in English courts,” the Telegraph wrote, adding that at present Islamic law is not formally included in British law.
There are currently unofficial Sharia courts in Britain’s Muslim communities that help Muslim families with issues relating to commercial contracts, domestic violence, and inheritance disputes.
The Telegraph wrote that “the new Law Society guidance represents the first time that an official legal body has recognized the legitimacy of some Sharia principles.”
The document laying out the guidance explains how lawyers handling Sharia wills could have to take into account men with multiple wives.
“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class,” the guidance says as quoted in the Telegraph. “Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognized.”
Member of the House of Lords Caroline Cox, who has campaigned against gender discrimination, called the development “deeply disturbing.”
“This violates everything that we stand for,” she told the Telegraph. “It would make the Suffragettes turn in their graves.”
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck told the British paper that the new guidance would promote “good practice” in allowing Islamic principles to be incorporated into the British legal system.
In October, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the U.K. was going to issue bonds compliant with Sharia law, the first non-Muslim country to do so in an effort to position the European country as a hub for Islamic finance.
He also announced plans for a new “Islamic Market Index” on the London Stock Exchange during a talk at the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) meeting in London last fall.
Read the full report on the Sharia-compliant wills in the Telegraph here.