Sharia Wills – What I don’t know

I am intrigued by the recent debating around sharia wills and The Law Society’s first issuing guidance to solicitors early in 2014 and then removing its practice note from its website in November 2014.

Seemingly among the loudest of critics of the guidance were Muslims or people with Muslim backgrounds. They appear to have been applauded by a wide range of groups.

Sara Khan (@sarakhaninspire) and We Will Inspire posted this:

Southall Black Sisters posted:

Both bodies have been cited by many tweeters. Many firms have posted news of the removal of the practice note from The Law Society website. Why?

Why has there been so much jubilation? Why have the news media trumpeted the news?

For that matter why did everyone talk about “creeping sharia” when The Law Society published the practice note in the first instance? Why did Government, through Chris Grayling, jump up and down?

I am not a Muslim. I have read little of the Qur’an yet my little knowledge of Islam and Islamic values teaches me that in the strictest interpretation of sharia codes women are legal equals to men. They may be perceived to have different roles but they are legal equals. So where do we get the idea that women are suppressed and downtrodden according to sharia law?

Women may be treated badly in some cultures or societies that embrace Islam but where in sharia law is the justification for ill-treatment?

Coming back to sharia wills, when The Law Society first issued its guidance nothing changed in the secular law of England and Wales (or within the UK as a whole). Nothing changed. In secular law a man need not treat his wife equally in his will. He can leave her out altogether. In secular law if a man is married to a women who had a child out of wedlock he is not required to bequeath anything to that child. In secular law if a man “disowns” a sibling because he has in some way dishonoured the family, perhaps he has become a jihadi extremist, he is not obliged to leave him anything in his will.

In the media debate on sharia wills – that’s the debate that informs and educates secular UK – there is an error of omission. OK, it was an oversight. However, the media are always right and ignorance is not a legal defence. I wouldn’t have known from my reading of this story in any of the tabloid “gospels ” that sharia actually leaves women with a good financial settlement.

In Islam a woman’s financial assets are hers and hers alone. In respect of succession there are no sharia financial obligations to her children. Sharia finance obligations remain with the menfolk. Thus when a father bequests to his sons they at some point in the fiuture will have obligations to their children.

Illegitimate children are the sharia responsibility of their natural fathers. Our secular expectations are similar. Our society expects fathers to take financial responsibility for children left with estranged partners.

Other issues with sharia succession rules may be less easy to fathom but clearly the succession rules are based on reason which is not alien to the secular world.

I am not a legal expert but I know enough to know what I don’t know. That means I know when I need to start asking questions. Sadly our secular prophets appear not to possess that knowledge. What’s worse when challenged, these prophets tend to respond with hostility.

I can see the problem. People who are possibly suspicious of Islam may genuinely be unware of what underpins Islamic codes. It is quite clear in this sharia wills debate that many Muslims are themselves not best informed and consequently struggle to debate meaningfully.

There is a paradox in this debate. Religions exist because in the very distant past good practice was taught and passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth. There was no writing and possibly few ways to pass on understanding. In any event only a few people could read so they were dependent on what was said to them. Practices were learnt by rote and followed as a matter of habit. Much the same is true today.

If I had to level one complaint at The Law Society it may be that it tried to provide too much information without explaining the sharia context for the information it was providing.

Lastly the irony lost on feminist movements who believe that they have won a moral victory is that nothing changed when the practice note was first published by The Law Society and significantly nothing changed with it’s subsequent withdrawal. Seemingly people were in the dark when they first complained to The Law Society and nothing has changed. The same people are still in the dark.

Of course I may have this all wrong.


Temperance Hotels now forgotten

Seemingly not many papers have covered the change of ownership of the Bermondsey Square Hotel in Southwark. The Daily Mail did so and its doing so was picked up by Sky News where it was discussed on at 2330hrs on 14th November.

There is now doubt that what bothered Sky News was the new “Muslim” ownership. Throw the word “sharia” into the conversation and negative stereotyping is assured.

The original article appears here:

Actually the story behind the report is of interest for a number of reasons, none of which was seemingly picked up well – focus was on the word “sharia” in the headline.

Firstly, I do not recall that the UK’s temperance hotels ever received this sort of attention. Yes, some Christians, possibly Methodists, ran alcohol free hotels at least into the nineteen seventies. Methodists were strong on temperance. Even today alcohol is forbidden at social events run in Methodist properties. The now closed village shop behind my house has an alcohol licence in its latter years but was forbidden for a long time because it was a former Wesleyan Chapel and the property deeds included a restraint.

The new village community shop is accommodated in what was the vestry of the current Methodist Church – no alcohol licence allowed.

Lest we forget temperance or abstinence are/were Christian values as well as Islamic. As Britain is a “Christian country” – as we are reminded not infrequently – the requirement for at least moderate alcohol consumption is not necessarily an alien concept. Why all the fuss now that the Bermondsey Square Hotel has gone alcohol free?

Well Sky News struggled with the idea. One of the hotel’s dishes was beer-battered fish. Sky was concerned that “fish and chips” would no longer be available. Excuse me but beer is not an essential component of batter – yet it bothered Sky News.

A more critical issue that could have been given the greater attention was that the switch to sharia compliant cuisine happened very quickly. The website’s menus had not been replaced at the time that the Daily Mail published its report. It would seem that people are arriving expecting one experience but getting another. It is reported that waiting staff were required to explain the change. That presumably has trading standards’ implications. Surely the new owners should have given notice of their intent to rebrand.

Lastly as this appears to have happened quickly I’d like to know if the hotel’s kitchens and food stores were deep cleaned to ensure removal of all or most traces of pig meat. If they did not do so then arguably their kitchens cannot be sharia compliant for Muslim customers and that is surely another trading standards issue.

The Bermondsey is a five star hotel with a fine reputation for it’s dining experience.The Daily Mail points out

  • Bar and grill at hotel previously run by Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace.
  • Previously voted the UK’s trendiest place to stay and where Gordon Ramsay once filmed a show

Going alcohol free alone must have the potential to make a huge difference for the hotel for a clientele used to imbibing with their food. Indeed there is an association between fine dining and alcohol as possibly implied in this Tweet:

  • BBC Radio 4 Sunday Nov 2
  • Is it possible to combine religious dietary laws with fine dining? #halal
Quite clearly The BBC will have know that good quality meat complying with halal and kosher dietary codes is doable and the question arising is can you do it without alcohol? If it’s not possible to have fine dining without alcohol it would appear that the Bermondsey Square Hotel must rebrand accordingly. And that poses another question; Was this fully thought through by the new owners at the time of purchase?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the hotel’s new owners and the manner with which the impact of the changes have been reported, there is an undercurrent. The Brits it seems like their alcohol. The country now has a substantial nighttime economy and its consequences puts pressure on the NHS, especially at weekends.

There was a time when Methodism was a strong Christian force in parts of Britain. Methodism is or used to be associated with temperance. If a new explicitly Christian voice resurrected the concept of moderation, if not abstinance, what questions would UK media informed by “Christian values” ask?

Government to introduce “stun” v “non-stun” labelling? Will it work?

Neil Parish and the APPG on Beef and Lamb debated so-called religious slaughter on Nov 4th 2014 in Westminster Hall. I attended. The debate has been widely reported.

The government is sympathetic to the cause of introducing labelling to indicate whether meat has been derived stunned animals or not. Using the expressions or words “stun” and “unstunned” surely masks a religious undertone.

Today most halal certified meat is derived from animals that have been stunned. The restaurant chains such as Subway, Nandos and Pizza Express buy halal meat but all atest to its being derived from stunned animals. Public bodies serving halal will be buying meat from stunned animals. I guess economics drive this. Non-stun slaughter does not scale up easily so the cost of its production must be significant. It’s a specialist market.

Whenever the media get their teeth into this subject they invariably play down the fact that most halal meat comes from stunned animals. The admission, if made, is almost added as an after thought towards the end of reports. Messages that the media want to convey are contained in the headline and the first two or three paragraphs of reports. That the media mostly have poor empathy with Islam generally but halal meat explicity is patently clear.

The Christian Church does not help. The Christian Church in the UK is not a single entity and even the Church of England describes itself as a “broad church”. Several community leaders working under the CofE banner have explicitly anti-Muslim beliefs. To some Allah is not their God but a Satanic imposter

MPs may believe that by using the wording “stun” and “non-stun” they are taking religion out of the argument. They must know however that the non-stun meat market is a niche one. Very few non-Muslims are likely to come across meat from non-stun sources without looking for it. Many or most, however, have been conditioned to believe that all halal meat is derived from unstunned meat and that animals are mistreated during slaughter. It follows that unless the media in particular are reigned in they will still have a down on halal meat.

So the big question is: “Will legislation to requiring meat from unstunned animals to be labelled accordingly be an improvement?”

My own view is that it will not. It is clear that the MPs promoting this concept have a fixed view. The Muslim practice of dhabiha must be painful (the science does not support the argument) and that stunning is vastly superior. One dismissed the serious welfare issue of mis-stunning or stun failure as a minor issue because animals are re-stunned quickly enough for them not to experience significant discomfort. Really?

The introduction of “stun” v “non-stun” labelling will be a distraction. It will allow policy makers not to confront their religious taboos and discuss the merits of dhabiha and the real possibility that it really is a humane procedure.

Open letter to Neil Parish MP – c/o APGAW

Dear Mr Parish
This letter will seriously inform your considering non-stun slaughter. It does defend the practice but with qualifications. On the contrary because of the need for cheap meat and the need for large scale industrial slaughterhouses process stun slaughter is probably essential.
You will see that I do not invoke God in my comments. I have no religious prejudices one way or the other. My references to religion may be as you have never seen or heard before.
I am writing as a well informed individual with and agricultural and life science background who is able to apply a well established grasp of physiology to the general debate on “religious” slaughter and to the forthcoming event in Westminster Hall on November 4th. I shall make an early start to reach London in time to attend this debate.
I presume that your letter of 23rd September stating that you read my email “with interest” was a standard letter sent to all who contacted the All Party Parliamentary Group(s) where welfare at slaughter is being discussed. That’s fine. I doubt that I contributed anything different from that submitted by others with a good grasp of physiology and NO religious baggage.
I am struggling with the report that you have published and that forms the basis of next week’s debate. The front page reads: “All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb Meat Slaughtered in Accordance with Religious Rites”. The title and the use of capital letters in your letter’s reference to “Religious Rites” and “Freedom of Religious Expression” confirms that yours concern about non-stun is a religious/political concern rather than a welfare one. That why I am struggling with your approach.
I am struggling because after extensive reading I have yet to ascertain if any slaughter of meat for sale in this country is actually slaughtered in anything than can remotely be considered to be a religious ceremony. You draw attention to shechita and dhabiha, the Jewish and Muslim words for non-stun slaughter but there is nothing ritualistic about these procedure other than a strict observance of the procedure. As you must have realised in your deliberations, the principles that underpin shechita and dhabiha are the very same principles that inform good Secular practice.
A key principle of producing meat to eat is that we should not take from unhealthy or diseased animals or any animals whose manner of death is unknown. Not even farmers eat their casualties.- sensible really and nothing remotely theological. In the hot climates of the Middle East in particular there is a need to be extra sure that meat is fresh. This points to a need for animals to be killed shortly before their intended consumption and because meat could not be kept easily I guess we are talking about the use of small(ish) animals – namely lambs, goats and calves that are not needed for breeding or milk production (rather than large beef cattle bred specifically for eating).
From our knowledge of life in Biblical times it should be obvious that then there was a good sense of what made for good and bad hygiene. Get is wrong and the problem of dealing with gastro-intestinal disease in arid environs where water was scarce would have been significant. Societies or communities developed unwritten rules and procedures for good practice. Initially these would have been passed on through the oral tradition by the equivalent of rabbis or teachers. These were eventually written down and codified probably around the start of the Common Era. Inevitably different communities developed their own variations of a common expectation and religions were born.
There is no doubt that leaders with a sense of spirituality had a well developed sense of the “sanctity of life”. From this, and certainly with the discovery of bronze, artisans worked out how to kill in order to cause the minumum of stress that would in turn ensure good quality meat. I guess they had a concept of a “Creator” so when they killed to eat they would offered a prayer effectively thanking their Creator for his bounty and seeking forgiveness for taking a precious life.
Significantly our ancestors achieved this without science as we undertand it today. They had no concept of germs but they know that bad hygiene practices had bad outcomes. The need for strict cleanliness is the origin of the Islamic practice of ablutions before prayer.
Turning to modern science there is adequate data to show that when an animal suffers a rapid and catastrophic loss of blood pressure consciousness is lost very quickly. I see Dr S D Rosen has explained this in great depth at different times. This must be so and the body’s phsysiology is designed to minimise pain in certain situations.
Although “fight and flight” mechansisms not a perfect analogy their physiology is easy to understand. To “fight” or “flee” animals need to release energy from stores and divert blood flow to the big muscles. Normally the brain accounts for much blood flow but fighting and fleeing are essentially reflex actions that do not need the full computing power of the brain so the brain partially shuts down. The skin also shuts down. For sure, the brain does not want to be telling the rest of the body that it’s in pain. The brain won’t want to stop fighting once it has started, nor to give up flight just because it hurts.
In man when fear or fright (emotional shock) provokes the physiological changes that normally facilitate fight and flight there are occasions when this change is badly controlled resulting in fainting or a near faint. In the latter man will feel lightheaded. Man must offer these experiences to this debate and they must be received.
When man has a cardiac arrest blood flow to the brain is catastrophically interrupted. Unconsciousness is quick. If resuscitation is quickly applied survival is possible and some people report near death experiences. A recent proactive study of NDEs is significant in that no one appears to have reported anyhthing other than a “pleasant” or “mystical” experience. There are no reports of the pain that would surely be experienced during chest compression and electrical defibrillation.
I write at length because, try as i might, I find it difficult to find the actual confirmation that animals killed by shechita or dhabiha in the proper environment will experience the sensation of pain. I have no doubt pain receptors will be activated but where is the evidence of enduring pain? Our understanding of physiology simply does not support the argument that animals killed by shechita or dhabiha must die in agony. The evidence just isn’t there.
Significantly you have decided to restrict your our deliberations to the actual time of kill. You have curiously excluded pre-slaugther welfare. Here there is plenty of evidence to show that animals that are stressed by virtue of poor welfare are prone to failed stunning – simply because it’s not easy to apply electrodes, or other devices, to the optimum site for effective stunning. Equally in the wrong and a stressed environment it is not easy to apply shechita or dhabiha perfectly. In huge industrial secular slaughterhouses I guess there is a risk that the risk of operator fatigue is a potential issue. It is difficult to see how in large halal slaughterhouses non-stun slaughter could be accepted for the same fatigue concerns. The risk of inefficient cutting would be untenable. All the videos of shechita that I have seen suggest a very low throughput procedure that does not scale up.
In conclusion I can not see any alternative to slaughter with stunning in any high throughput industrial slaughter facility where fast line speeds are required to keep costs down. Equally I am sure that good non-stun slaughter practice scales up easily. But to be pushing for a ban on non-stun slaughter is not right.
Yours faithfully
Bruce Brown