German court passed verdict based on Shariah law

Woman denied divorce according to German rules due to having married in an Islamic country

In various places in Europe, courts have started to hand down decisions based on Sharia law. Recently, a German court decided that a woman who had entered into an Islamic marriage was not to be granted a German divorce, but had to accept Sharia rules.

Critics say that the court decision implies a dangerous intrusion of Islamic law into the German judicial system. And all due to political correctness.

The latest case concerned a 23-year-old Iranian woman who in 2009 married a countryman in Iran. The couple later emigrated to Germany and settled in Essen. They had a daughter together, but separated in 2011. When the woman applied for divorce, it was granted by the lower court, but the dissatisfied spouse appealed the verdict.

The high court in Hamm also granted the woman a divorce, but not according to German law, rather according to Sharia. As the couple had married under Sharia, those rules were to be followed even though they are now living in Germany. The court noted that the woman was entitled to talaq, an Islamic way to obtain divorce by saying three times: I divorce you. The court also observed that the husband had broken the Islamic marriage by not providing for his wife for six months.

The court decision has reignited an old discussion about what role Islam is to play in German jurisprudence. Supporters say that the verdict follows a law stipulating that generally, rules of marriage are to follow the laws of the land where the marriage was entered into. But critics maintain that it is not the responsibility of German courts to enforce the strange provisions of Sharia law.

In a similar case in April 2013, the high court in Hamm decided that an Iranian man had to pay his wife the equivalent of 800 gold coins in connection with a divorce. Despite the spouses current status as German citizens, the court ruled according to Sharia.

But Sharia law is not merely used in divorce cases. In February 2011, the German labor court decided that a Muslim employee in a food store had a legal right to refuse handling alcoholic drinks for religious reasons. The Turkish man had been employed at the shop in Kiel since 1994. The problem arose only in 2003, when the man was relocated to the beverage department and refused to refill shelves with liquor bottles. The man referred to Islams prohibition against alcoholic beverages. After a relocation to the dairy department, where the man also did not fit in, he was eventually fired in 2008.

The court came to the conclusion that the food store had made a mistake by dismissing the man rather than offering him a position that did not collide with his religious conviction. The lawyers for the store pointed out that Sharia merely bans the consumption of alcohol, not handling the bottles themselves, but that made no impression on the court. The verdict states that the man had become increasingly religious, and that having direct or indirect contact with alcohol was offensive to him.

In another case, a judge at a family court refused to grant a woman of Moroccan origin divorce from a husband who had abused and threatened her. The judge was of the opinion that a woman marrying a Muslim man should be aware of what she was getting into. In his verdict, he quoted Sura 4:34 from the Koran, which grants the man the right to beat a disobedient woman and makes clear that the man stands above the wife.

There are many more examples, including a verdict stating that the two wives of a man were to share his widows pension, despite polygamy being outlawed in Germany.

Ever more legal experts are now warning that a parallel legal system is in the process of being established in Germany. In an interview with the newspaper Die Welt, Mathias Rohe, an expert on Sharia law at the university of Erlangen, warns that Sharia is a very complex system of Islamic religious laws and norms. We need to be careful that we do not establish parallel [legal] structures.

According to legal expert and investigative journalist Joachim Wagner, Sharia law is much more prevalent in Germany than people generally understand, and he believes that this parallel legal system is undermining the German judiciary. He also points out that Muslims themselves are working on establishing a shadow system of justice by means of the many Sharia courts that now exist in all major German cities.

Wagner believes that Islamic jurists frequently try to handle criminal cases in their own courts without any interference from German prosecutors or lawyers. Settlements mediated by Muslims frequently mean that perpetrators escape long prison sentences, while their victims are awarded compensation in accordance with Sharia regulations. If cases end up in German court anyway, victims are pressured to make sure that their testimony does not lead to convictions.

In an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel, Wagner describes the Islamic legal system in Germany as very alien, and at first sight, entirely incomprehensible to a German lawyer. It follows its own rules. The Islamic arbitrators are not particularly interested in evidence when issuing a verdict, and in contrast to the German penal code, the question of who is guilty is not of particular importance.

When Der Spiegel asked Wagner what would be wrong with two parties seeking to solve a dispute directly, he responded: The problem is that the arbitrators are pushing out our legal system, particularly in criminal cases. In this way, they are undermining the state monopoly on violence. Islamic conflict resolution is frequently obtained through violence and threats. In most cases, this is about the most powerful family imposing their will.

According to Wagner, political correctness lies behind the increasing application of Sharia in Germany. In an interview to Deutsche Welle, he said: I have investigated 16 criminal cases with Muslims involved. In almost 90 percent of the cases involving Muslim arbitrators, the perpetrator was acquitted by German courts. Or the prosecutor withdrew the charges due to lack of evidence. These are scary numbers which give a bad reputation to our courts.