[Riad Saloojee is executive director of CAIR-CAN, the Canadian Council on
The debate on an Islamic arbitration initiative has reached fever pitch.
The spectre that is haunting some in Canada is the desire of many Canadian
Muslims to use Islamic law to resolve personal and family disputes.
Part of the concern is natural, given the undeniable and inequitable
application of sharia in many countries. Part of the problem, as well,
concerns a general ignorance of Islamic law — its history, principles and
nuances — that permits intellectual chauvinism to pass for fair comment.
In a Herald commentary Wednesday, it was claimed that Islam does not
recognize gender equality. The writer argued, in part, that in Islam one
man is equal to two women in witnessing, a son inherits twice as much as a
daughter does, and that the concept of alimony is largely missing in Islam.
The writer missed much in his largely personal take on Islamic law.
Numerous Qur’anic verses speak to the equality of women as witnesses with
the exception (to be lifted under different conditions, say numerous
scholars) for women who, at that time, were witness to commercial
transactions without the requisite knowledge. Men inherit more because they
are responsible under Islamic law for the financial support, maintenance
and care of their families. And explicit Qur’anic verses and principles
attest to spousal support for women.
Sharia is not, as some think, immutable. The spirit of Islamic law — its
universals such as justice, equity and mercy — is unchangeable.
Given current faith-based arbitration initiatives by the Jewish and
Christian communities, why would the Muslim community not be allowed to do
In Muslim communities, the line between mediation and arbitration is
porous. The reality on the ground is that many Canadian Muslims resolve
their disputes by referring them to local community leaders.
Opponents of Islamic-based arbitration, far from protecting vulnerable
parties, are ensuring that such ongoing processes are not standardized,
scrutinized and do not operate openly and with accountability..