In seeking to realize these aims and objectives the Association of Muslim Lawyers not only facilitates contact between Muslim lawyers and with Muslims, but also works with many other organisations and institutions, including for example, the Union of Muslim Organisations, the Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Lawyers (Europe), the Minority Lawyers Conference, the Commission for Racial Equality, City Hall, the Home Office, the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
One of the main issues about which AML has been advising and lobbying for several years is the lack of protection afforded to Muslims under English domestic law. Until the 3rd December 2003, anyone in the UK was free to subject a Muslim to abuse and discriminatory treatment simply because he or she is a Muslim with impunity. The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 are now in force and afford some protection from religious discrimination in the work place. This development in the law has been due more to the implementation of the Employment Directive adopted under Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty in November 2000 than as a result of AML’s efforts!
In all other spheres of life, including the provision of services, education and housing, religious discrimination is still not illegal. Representatives of the AML made detailed submissions to the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences (whose report was published on the10th June 2003) who declined to make any recommendation that Muslims should be protected by law from incitement to religious hatred or by an updated law of blasphemy which would apply just as much to Muslims as to Christians.
Some bodies, such as for example the Commission for Racial Equality and the Bar Council, realising that there exist serious lacunae in the law, have written into their codes of practice an all encompassing anti-discrimination policy which includes the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion as well as of race, sex and disability. After several requests by AML spanning a period of several years and spurred on by the Employment Directive, the Law Society has reviewed and extended its anti-discrimination rule to include discrimination on the grounds of religion.
By virtue of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998, the government is under a duty, by passing secondary legislation, to secure the basic rights of freedom of religion, freedom to practice one’s religion and freedom to educate one’s children in accordance with one’s religion. Until recently, all political parties were united in attempting to pretend that religious discrimination is synonymous with racial discrimination, even though this is clearly not true – but now that the Muslim block vote can affect the outcome of both local and national elections, their leaders are beginning to adopt a more pragmatic approach and it is hoped that they may take the duty required by the Convention more seriously in the future.
The AML (UK) is also in contact with Muslim Lawyers (Europe) and the Pro-Hijab Campaign regarding the illegal infringement of Muslims’ rights in Europe by state governments – including France , Germany and Belgium – whose hijab bans are in blatant contravention of European Muslims’ Article 9 and Article 14 European Convention Human Rights.
A more long term aspect of this initiative to have Muslims’ rights legally recognised in practice as well as in theory has been the proposal that Muslim personal law should be recognised by English domestic law, so that Muslim marriages and divorces are recognised as legally valid – and the estates of Muslims who die without leaving a Will are automatically distributed in accordance with the Shari‘a , not the laws of intestacy. This means that the decisions of properly constituted Shari ‘a courts will have to be recognised by the English civil courts as being legally binding and enforceable.
In the meantime AML has been active in encouraging Muslims to make Islamic Wills which are valid as regards the technical requirements of English law and which stipulate that their wealth is to be divided in accordance with the Shari‘a after they have died. As part of this initiative AML has also been involved in training lawyers who wish to provide an Islamic Wills service.
The disturbing development of individual, group and state terrorism in recent years has resulted in a significant erosion in civil liberties and an abandonment of due process worldwide, even by those governments who claim to be the guardians of civilisation and the rule of law. It is becoming more common for people to be arrested on mere suspicion and detained indefinitely without charge or trial or even access to a lawyer, even in the United Kingdom and especially in the alleged ‘land of the free’, America. Clearly organisations such as Liberty and Amnesty International are better equipped and have more resources at their disposal to monitor and publicise the worst abuses in the hope that those responsible will not be allowed to get away with murder. However AML has also formed its own Working Party on Human Rights and Civil Liberties whose members are doing what they can to help those who are oppressed by arbitrary and unjust laws using legitimate means.
In conclusion, AML provides services across the board, not just to ethnic minorities. Some of its members and beneficiaries, for example, belong to a religious minority within a racial majority, that is to say, they are Anglo-Saxon Muslims! Our members and beneficiaries are predominantly Muslims, but also include non-Muslims, and we have members and beneficiaries from virtually all ethnic groups, however large or small. We are primarily involved in all issues relating to the basic duties and rights of British Muslims - and accordingly our objectives are social, educational and charitable as well as political, with the overriding imperative that human beings should be treated with due respect and justice, whatever their racial background and, even more importantly, whatever their religious beliefs.
In formulating appropriate policies it is important to distinguish between tolerant integration and forced assimilation. Much can be learned, for example, from the history of Spain . At one point in time Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities lived side by side for centuries in relative harmony, each community self-governing in respect of its personal law and settlement of internal disputes – because the law of the land recognised diversity. At another point, thousands of people were slaughtered and thousands more forced to flee for their lives – because the law of the land required blind conformity.
In our current multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-religious society, it is important that the lessons of history can be applied wisely by allowing people to be different, within reason. As far as religious groups are concerned, this can best be achieved by not only granting them equal rights under the law, but also ensuring that these rights are secured by the law, so that they can be exercised under the law with the full protection of the law.