In January last year, the US-backed Iraqi Governing Council incurred the wrath of Iraqi women by ordering that Islamic law, or sharia, replace the civil code that had governed family and divorce law since the 1950s. Women from Iraq's different religious sects denounced the decision in street protests and conferences that eventually led to sharia being listed as just one of several sources of legislation in Iraq's temporary constitution.
It is that image of Iraqi women braving the streets of occupied Baghdad to protest sharia that makes it impossible to understand what former Ontario Attorney General Marion Boyd was thinking when she recommended Jan. 17 that the province allow sharia tribunals to settle family disputes for Muslims. Her report examining the issue was commissioned by current Attorney General Michael Bryant, as Ontario considers whether to let Islamic law be used in private arbitration of civil and family-law disputes when all parties agree to it.
As a Muslim woman who is familiar with the many ways sharia is abused and used against women in my own country, Egypt, and in several other Muslim countries I have reported from, I urge Mr. Bryant and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to reject Ms. Boyd's recommendations.
Many Canadian Muslims agree. The Canadian Council for Muslim Women has called Boyd's recommendations naive. A coordinator of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada has warned that these tribunals will compel women to stay in abusive relationships. Tarek Fatah, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, denounced the former attorney general's report as "multiculturalism run amok."
Boyd's recommendations seem to be aimed at compensating Muslims for the ugly Islamophobia that has surfaced in North America in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But women must not pay the price for liberal guilt.
According to most interpretations of sharia, women are not treated equally to men. For example, a woman inherits half of what a male relative does. Even more problematic, there is no consensus on sharia, which is derived from the Koran and the life and sayings of the prophet Muhammad.
So whose interpretation of sharia would Ontario Muslims follow? And who would have the authority to decide?