These questions were emailed to Khola Hasan from Guy Adams of the Daily Mail, asking her to elaborate on the claims made against the Islamic Sharia Council by Machteld Zee in her sensationalist book, Choosing Sharia? Multiculturalism, Islamic Fundamentalism and Sharia Councils’. She replied to all questions in full details but unfortunately her response was practically ignored. In order to achieve some balance in this discussion, we produce in full, the discussion that took place.

Questions and our responses

  1. On p113, she writes “the representatives of the Islamic Sharia Council support, promote and activate the political ideology of Islamic fundamentalism” adding that it “consists of individuals who wish to turn the United Kingdom into a Sharia state and impose Islamic law on all citizens.” To support this claim, she discusses three people linked to the Council.

Answer:Firstly, Shaukh Sayyid Mutawalli ad-Darsh, who she calls your “founder.” Is he indeed one of the Council’s founders? On p114, Zee also reports that “in an interview two years before his death, al-Darsh stated that he fully sympathised with the ideas of the international Muslim Brotherhood.” The Muslim Brotherhood is regarded by many as a terrorist organisation and has been accused of holding extremist positions. Does the Council today share its  al-Darsh’s views about The Muslim Brotherhod?

Sheikh Ad Darsh died 18 years ago. To dig up dirt on him shows the level to which Zee is prepared to fall. While I cannot comment on his statements as he is no longer here to defend himself,  please note that the Muslim Brotherhood was not considered to be a dangerous organisation 35 years ago when the ISC was founded.

  1. She describes him as supporting child marriage, citing in a footnote the following quote: “There is no minimum age. The wali, guardian, of the children, male or female, has the right to conduct a marriage arrangement on their behalf, as long as there is an interest for both parties.” What is the Council’s position on his quoted views on child marriage?

Answer:The ISC does not support his views on child marriage. The ISC encourages and supports the law of the land regarding the age of marriage. It should also be noted that the minimum age for marriage is itself disputed within Islamic classical law.

  1. Secondly, she looks at Shaykh Maulana Abu Sayeed, who she describes on p114 as the Council’s “President.” There is no Maulana Abu Sayeed listed on your annual reports as a trustee of the Council. However there is a Mohammed Abu Sayeed. Is this the same person? And if not, who is Maulana Abu Sayeed and what relationship does he have with the Council?

Answer:‘Mohammed Abu Sayeed’ and ‘Maulana Abu Sayeed’ is the same person. ‘Maulana’ is an ancient Turkish title given to signify religious authority in the Muslim community. He is currently the Chairman and is also a trustee as specified on the Charity Commission’s website.

  1. Zee quotes Abu Sayeed saying that “there is no such thing as rape in marriage, since sex is part of marriage.” These comments appear to have originally been made in an interview with a blog called The Samosa, and then widely re-reported. He added in the original interview that victims of rape within marriage should not immediately go to the police “unless we establish that is indeed what happened.” Do these comments reflect the Council’s view of rape withing marriage? And if not, why is Abu Sayeed allowed to have anything to do with the Council?

Answer: The ISC reports any domestic abuse and violence, particularly relating to rape and sexual assault. We proactively encourage all our clients to report any type of abuse and have even reported abuse to the police and relevant authorities ourselves. Indeed, we have close contact and communication with the police. We completely deny and refute the claims made by Zee in her book that the ISC supports rape or sexual abuse of any kind.

Maulana Abu Sayeed is a highly respected scholar. He was quoting the traditional Islamic discussion regarding rape within marriage. But he has also made clear that he has advised men very strongly that a sexual relationship has to be within a loving atmosphere and that violence cannot be tolerated. He has also advised men that the Prophet (peace be upon him) told men to treat their wives with love, kindness and gentleness. 

  1. On p114 and 115, Zee looks at Shaykh Suhaib Hasan, the council’s co-founder, who remains a trustee. It quotes comments he made to the Channel Four documentary “Divorce Sharia Style” in which he says that “if sharia law is implemented ([by for example stoning adulterers and cutting off the hands of a thief] then you can turn this country into a haven of peace.” Does this quote reflect the Council’s view of the potential benefits of imposing Sharia law on the UK? And if not, why does Suhaib remain a Trustee?

Answer: The ISC refutes Zee’s claims that Sheikh Suhaib Hasan supports the implementation of Sharia law in the UK. His statement was made more than ten years ago, and was in the context of an academic discussion on classical Islamic law. He categorically denies that he would promote the introduction of Sharia law in Britain. Please note that the Caliphate was the Muslim model of governance for 1300 years, and it gave us the stunning civilisations of Andalusia, the Abbasid caliphate, the Umayyad caliphate, the Mughals in India, the Fatimids in Egypt etc. These were times of utopia for Muslims; the Jews of Europe fled from Christian persecution in Europe to the Umayyad caliphate in Spain. Muslims have therefore often talked about the caliphate with nostalgia and with a wish for the good times of justice, peace and spirituality to return to Muslim countries. 

  1. Zee also quotes a Channel Four documentary called “Undercover Mosque” which filmed Suhaib Hasan preaching that “the Caliphate will have ‘political dominance’ in Britain, establishing ‘the chopping of the hands of thieves, the flogging of the adulterers and flogging of the drunkards’ and waging ‘jihad against the non-Muslims.” Again does this apparently extremist quote reflect the Council’s view? And if not, why does Suhaib remain a Trustee?

Answer: The discussion was never in the context of Europe. Further, within this discussion in “undercover Mosque”. Shaikh Hasan did not talk about the Caliphate being established in Britain. The Caliphate can only be established in a Muslim country by a legitimate Muslim government. The Jihad he referred to was against non-Muslim aggressors because any country has the right to defend itself against foreign aggression. This does not mean he supports any implementation of Khilafa in Britain. Also, it is very dangerous to quote this in the current context given that this was decades before the establishment of ISIS. Zee has deliberately quoted this knowing the current political  climate, which gives the discussion a nuance that it did not have ten years ago. 

  1. On p116, Zee references a YouTuybe video in which Suhaib Hasan “tells viewers about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a hoax document about Jewish world domination that Islamists take very seriously.” This video remains on YouTube (as per her footnotes). Are his comments on the video acceptable to the Council? And if so, doesn’t this mean you are tolerating an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist?

Answer: Sheikh Hasan has completely retracted his views on the Protocol of the Elders of Zion since he learnt that it is a hoax document. Please note that many people were taken in by this document. Sheikh Hasan does not harbour any anti-Semitic views; in fact he has a working relationship with Dayan Lichtenstien of the London Beth Din and Rabbi David Hulbert of Bet Tikvah synagogue in Redbridge. 

  1. Separately, in 2011, the Guardian quoted Hasan talking to a woman applying for a divorce, who claimed her husband has beaten her. “He hit me once,” says the woman. “Only once?” Hasan replies, “So it is not a very serious matter.” [http://www.theguardian.com/law/afua-hirsch-law-blog/2011/mar/09/sharia-courts-transparency] How does this not equate to condoning domestic violence?

Answer: Please see our complaint to Panorama regarding the claim that Sheikh Hasan condones domestic violence. The undercover reporter in question had made it very clear that she did not want a divorce, and that she did not wish to go to the police. She wanted advice regarding reconciliation.

  1. Zee then discusses Shaykh Haitham al-Haddad, who she calls “treasurer” of the Council. Haddad is listed as a trustee on your most recent report, but *not* on the Charities Commission list of current trustees. Does this mean he’s been sacked? What is his  current relationship with the Council?
  1. Zee quotes al-Haddad saying that “Muslims should prevent non-Muslims from ruling any country with a law other than the Sharia, and Muslims should rule the entire planet with Islamic law.” She quotes him saying he would like to establish an Islamic theocracy in Britain, or an “Islamic republic of Britain.” Zee also references a Youtube clip in which he describes Female Gential Mutilation as a “virtue” and an “honour,” says adultereers should be stoned to death, argues that a husband should not be disciplined for hitting his wife, and says “Islamic law has no minimum age” for marriage, and when asked if 13 or 14 is a good age to marry says: “the earlier is the better.” Do these reflect the views of the Council? Why have you allowed a man who held them to act as one of your trustees?
  1. Zee also points out that al_haddad has been quoted calling homosexuality a “crime against humanity” and saying that “Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs and the armies of the devil.” She says he “praised Osama bin Laden after his death in 2011,” and endorsed the murder of Salman Rushdie. Again, do these reported positions reflect the views of the Council? Why have you allowed a man who held them to act as one of your trustees?

Answer to Question 9, 10, 11: Haitham al-Haddad was the subject of a lengthy internal review after complaints were made about him by clients. He was dismissed on the 7th April 2015 and his views do not in any way represent the views of the ISC. 

12. On page 129, Zee quotes a passage that until recently appeared on your website explaining why two female witnesses will be accorded the same status as one man. “Man’s mind is unifocal while the women’s mind is multi focal. In other words, a man would be fully occupied with the task he is involved with; he may not be distracted by anything else while being engaged in his activity. On the other hand, a woman may be busy in kitchen work and she will be easily alert to a phone buzzer or her infant’s cry from the cradle. In a way, she is found to be more sensitive and active in her delaings. Thus, she ahs got a very praise worthy character but that is not so good for a case of testimony which requires more attention and concentration. What is wrong, then, if a second woman is needed, only to remind her if she fails to deliver her testimony completely. So it is a case of verification of the testimony, not that of degradation to the status of women at all.” Many would regard this as deeply sexist. Was this why it was removed from your website? And why was it on there in the first place?

Answer: A short article on women witnesses was written by a trainee and placed on our website. It used traditional archaic arguments that modern reform scholars do not use. When it was seen by the scholars it was immediately removed. It was a mistake and was immediately rectified. 

  1. On p132-133, Zee reports on the case of a couple seeking to establish whether the wife may inadvertently have become an adulteress by having neglected to get a religious (as well as civil) divorce from her ex-husband many years ago. He firstly appears to disregard the civil courts (“a secular judge does not do religious divorces. We have islam.” He then speculates that the couple could be required to go for a “Nikhaha Halala” un der which “the couple should separate first, by means of her current husband pronouncing the talaq. Then a qadi can pronounce a faskh: a divorce on the first marriage on grounds of him being absent. The old couple can then remarry under Sharia, but not before she has another marriage with another man with whom she will need to have sex first, divorce him, wait three menstrual periods, and then she can return to the father of her children.”  This seems a hair-raising and (some might say) revolting thing for a council to even speculate about. What’s your view of this case and the way Qadi Mahboob handled it?

Answer: Furqan Mahmood (Zee could not be bothered to get the name right) was also dismissed after an internal review more than two years ago, on 22nd August 2013. His views do not in any way represent the views of the ISC. You are welcome to ask him for his opinions, but please do not attribute them to us. Furthermore, we do not use the word ‘qadi’ to describe our scholars, as we are not a court. We use words such as scholar, Sheikh, Maulana and Ustadha. Zee has deliberately used the word qadi (judge) to give the impression that we are part of a parallel legal system. This is a lie.

  1. On page 134, Zee quotes Suhaib Hasan laughing at a woman who is the victim of domestic violence, and whose husband appears to be a bigamist, and saying “Why did you marry such a person?” This seems inappropriate, to say the least. What’s your response?

Answer: Sheikh Hasan is a compassionate man who does not laugh at the misery of people. We challenge Zee’s account that he laughed at a woman whose husband was abusive and a bigamist. She needs to prove this in a court of law.

  1. On page 134, Zee reports that Abu Sayeed has told a man who appears to have been abusive towards his wife “not to mistreat her anymore.” As a result “the marriage is saved.” She then quote shim saying “as long as marriage is sacred, reconciliation is our job.” Surely men who mistreat or abuse their wives should be kept well away from them – and even referred to the police – rather than being encouraged to reconcile with them. Does Abu Sayeed’s quoted view here reflect the Council’s?

Answer: If a woman wishes to reconcile with her husband but asks the scholar to advise her husband about treating her better, the scholar will do so. We do not issue divorces if neither party wishes it. If the husband is abusive and the woman wants him to be reprimanded, the scholar will do so.

  1. On page 136 , “Abu Sayeed tried to persuade the woman towards acceptance of the marriage in polygamous form, rather than terminating her religious marriage.” Does this reflect the Council’s policy? Are there any circumstances, whatsoever, under which you allow men to have religious marriages to more than one woman? And if so, isn’t this at odds with 21st century morality?

Answer: Polygamy is a choice that men and women make, just as adultery and one-night stands are choices that others make. We make it very clear that polygamy is illegal in Britain. But we cannot police private bedrooms. Prince Charles is reputed to have spent the night with Camilla Parker Bowles the night before his marriage to Diana. Diana spoke of the three people in her marriage. The Council does not deal with marriages but divorces, so it is not responsible for polygamous marriages that take place outside the office.

  1. On page 139, Zee writes: “all sharia councils condone violence against women. Especially the Islamic Sharia Council, which actively detracts women from seeking outside help  or police protection.” What’s your response?

Answer: We deal with hundreds of women every year. 80% of our clients are women, and 95% will get their religious divorces. Vulnerable women would not recommend us to other people were it not for the compassion that is shown to them at the office.

Zee gave the example of a woman coming to the Council for 2 years, desperate for a divorce. This is despite the fact I explained that the client in question had put her divorce on hold three times in two years as she had chosen to reconcile with her husband. She is described as crying, but Zee does not explain that she is crying because of her husband’s actions.

  1. With regard to your letter re: the Indy article, could you tell me who the three scholars “who had gone against ISC policy on custody matters and domestic violence” are? And doesn’t the fact that 3 of the 7 scholars working at Leyton were dismissed suggest that there very much was a problem there?

Answer:Haddad, Furqan and one other member of staff were dismissed. Please note that our management take our policies and procedure very seriously.

  1. Could you confirm – as per our conversation earlier – that you have filed a complaint to Zee’s university about her thesis. On what grounds? And are you seeking for her PHD to be withdrawn?

Answer: We have not yet filed a complaint about Zee’s thesis as we have been busy dealing with the barrage of calls from the media regarding the article in the Independent, as well as the furore surrounding Donald Trump.

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