She’s a lone figure in a world dominated by men, but Britain’s first female sharia council scholar isn’t daunted by the task ahead of her.
Instead, Dr Amra Bone believes her trailblazing path will inspire other women to follow. The former headteacher and university chaplain sits on the panel at the Sharia Council sitting at Birmingham’s Central Mosque – one of Europe’s biggest.
Its her job to rule on Islamic divorce hearings – a role traditionally reserved for bearded elders who have spent their lives studying the Quran.
Not that Dr Bone is any less qualified than her male counterparts. The 45-year-old was invited to join the panel of scholars because of her unrivalled expertise in the complex field of Islamic jurisprudence.
“My specialisms include Quranic exegesis and ethics with an emphasis on Sharia and gender,” says Dr Bone, who graduated from Birmingham University where she also completed her MA and PhD.
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Dr Bone attended school and college in Birmingham and later spent five years as a leader at a girls youth club.
“That got me started in championing women’s rights within my community and eventually lead to me being appointed a panel member of a sharia council 13 years ago,” she said.
Dr Bone was a founding member of the UK Board of Sharia Councils and soon became one of the country’s most respected sharia council panel members - often mislabelled as sharia courts - and is still one of only a few female sharia council scholars..
Based on the Quran and the Sunnah, the two main Islamic texts that deal with how Muslims should lead their lives, sharia covers everything from diet and hygiene to bigger issues such as crime and relationships.
It is estimated that there are as many as 85 sharia councils in Britain mainly issuing rulings in divorce hearings where the couple have had only an Islamic marriage, rather than a legally registered civil ceremony.
Sharia council judgements carry the required moral and cultural weight to grant a divorce before God, according to Sharia law.
Ayesha Khan, a 42-year-old mother from Birmingham who was granted a divorce by a Sharia council in Birmingham, said: “If I went to an English court, my ex-husband and wider family would not have accepted its rulings because we did not have an English civil ceremony.
“But no-one in my community can say anything if the decision has been made by a Sharia council because that’s our ultimate authority.”
She added: “If a British Muslim has not had a registered marriage and only an Islamic one then they have no redress if things go wrong apart from a Sharia Council. What are they supposed to do and turn to?”
In British Sharia courts, 90% of the petitioners are female and almost all cases involve divorce.
According to the Home Office, there are about 100,000 British Muslim couples who are not legally married, since they have only undergone an Islamic wedding, or nikah, and failed to register their marriages civilly.
Dr Bone stresses there is no compulsion for women to use the voluntary service offered by the councils and for any financial or custody issues, her council automatically refers women to the civil courts.
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