Institutions that solve disputes using Islamic law and facilitate Islamic divorces have been active in the UK for many years. They are often criticised for being discriminatory against women, exceeding their competences and falsely claiming jurisdiction as well as interfering with criminal cases.
This chapter focuses on the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT). The institution offers Islamic divorce and marriage dissolution, mediation in family disputes, arbitration in commercial and financial disputes and further services, e.g. relating to wills and inheritance – all in accordance with Islamic legal principles. Arbitration at MAT is legally binding and theoretically enforceable in the English courts. Emphasis is placed on the question how MAT frames its actions by terms and mechanisms of English law – especially in arbitration cases where MAT’s awards impart legal effects directly.
MAT’s practice is not only debated in the media but in fact subject-matter on the political agenda, featuring investigations and attempts to alter the relevant legislation. While some concerns that are usually raised against sharia councils and MAT are indeed legitimate, like unequal treatment of men and women in certain situations, others are predicated on biased, undifferentiated or unqualified information. This situation is not ameliorated by the fact that not even scientific researchers are provided an insight into MAT’s practice by viewing case files and observing hearings. First-hand information was used in this chapter, however, as interview time with the chairman and a member of staff was generously given.
Approaches to legal pluralism vary widely across the spectrum of different disciplines. They comprise normative and descriptive perspectives, focus both on legal pluralist realities as well as public debates, and address legal pluralism in a range of different societies with varying political, institutional and historical conditions.
Emphasising an empirical research to contemporary legal pluralist settings in Muslim contexts, the present collected volume contributes to a deepened understanding of legal pluralist issues and realities through comparative examination. This approach reveals some common features, such as the relevance of Islamic law in power struggles and in the construction of (state or national) identities, strategies of coping with coexisting sets of legal norms by the respective agents, or public debates about the risks induced by the recognition of religious institutions in migrant societies. At the same time, the studies contained in this volume reveal that legal pluralist settings often reflect very specific historical and social constellations, which demands caution towards any generalisation.
The volume is based on papers presented at a conference in Münster (Germany) in 2016 and comprises contributions by Judith Koschorke, Karen Meerschaut, Yvonne Prief, Ulrike Qubaja, Werner de Saeger, Ido Shahar, Katrin Seidel, Konstantinos Tsitselikis, Vishal Vora and Ihsan Yilmaz.