Iranian Feminist Tribune:
This is a declaration of support and solidarity with the Canadian women activists who object to the formation of Shari’a courts in Canada. As an open letter, we alert the Canadian authorities of the grave implications of such a move for Muslim women’s human rights in Canada and beyond, whether they live in a Muslim-majority country or are minorities in non-Muslim countries.
We the signatories of this letter, recognize the challenge that a society of diverse cultures poses for the Canadian government forcing it to come up with new and inclusive solutions. We do recognize the government of Ontario’s inclination to decrease the time, cost and burden of the civil courts which has led them to consider establishing Shari’a courts to hear cases regarding the marital, familial and financial disputes of Muslim families.
However, based on our experience living in Iran and under Shari’a courts since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we as Iranian women, testify that the establishment of such courts will make Muslim families even more patriarchal and keep women under the control of their husbands. Given that none of the established schools of Islamic jurisprudence – not even the most liberal of interpretations of the Sharia – recognizes the equality of husband and wife, the Shari’a courts will inevitably fail to provide fairly for women. In addition, these courts will also make it impossible for the Canadian government and society to safeguard the equality of all its citizens, including equality based on gender: values which are fundamental to Canadian laws and world vision.
We based on our experience warn you and the Canadian nation that women’s rights are trampled by oppressive mechanisms that are built into the Shari’a courts. Therefore, despite the claims and promises that these courts will appear only in the shape of an experiment, open to anyone’s scrutiny and/or academic interest, establishing Shari’a courts even in only a single province is costly for women and children and has long-lasting consequences, not only for those who attend these courts but for the Muslim community as whole and, by extension, the wider Canadian society. If these courts are allowed to function, it is not possible for the Canadian government to observe its obligations to abide by the human rights and fundamental freedoms as articulated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Child. In short, the transferring of familial and marital disputes to the Shari’a courts will have long-term consequences far beyond the immediate circumstances of the complainants.
We believe that the government of Ontario must replace the concept of Shari’a courts with strategies, mechanisms and policies which will facilitate the transition of Canadian society from balancing multiple cultural standards into a society that is seeking cultural consciousness without the creation of legal divisions. The establishment of separate legal channels is analogous to tribal custom where through use of Islam women have been trasformed into subjects bound to their husbands. (For examples of this gender-based subjugation, it will suffice that you examine the experiences of women in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan under the Taliban, and the demands of political parties like Jaamat-i-Islam in all Muslim societies.)
We are certain that by investing more time and effort into legal, social and economic research, Canada can find a more permanent and more effective solutions for the costly problems of overburdened courts. The Canadian government can find solutions that are stripped of unjust discrimination; solutions which end the perpetuation of cultural stereotypes. From disputes arising from cultural rights, the Canadian government should find solutions which give priority to women’s human rights; solutions which will not result in the further exploitation of Muslim women around the world, in both the private and public arena; and finally solutions which will not further complicate Muslim women’s experiences as immigrants.
Women’s Cultural Center
Hastia Andish Society
Society of Kurdish women in Defense of Human Rights
Hamava Women’s Group
Women’s Islamic Institution
Feminist Nucleus of the College of Social Sciences
Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani
Tal’at Taqi Niya