Quebec rejects introduction of Sharia law into legal system in the province

Quebec, Canada - While Ontario considers a move to allow Islamic law to help settle some family disputes, Quebec sent a clear message Thursday it will not permit Muslim tribunals.

Quebec lawmakers from all parties voted unanimously in the legislature to reject the use of Islamic tribunals in the legal system. The vote was a pre-emptive strike to stop a growing movement among some Muslims to have the religion to play a role in family law.

The member of the Quebec Liberal government who led the debate Thursday took the unusual step of criticizing a report by former Ontario attorney general Marion Boyd that recommended opening the door to Islamic family law.

Liberal backbencher Fatima Houda-Pepin said any move to allow Muslim family law would lead to similar demands in criminal and civil legal areas.

"The application of Sharia in Canada is part of a strategy to isolate the Muslim community so it will submit to an archaic vision of Islam," said Houda-Pepin, the sponsor of the motion.

"These demands are being pushed by groups in the minority that are using the Charter of Rights to attack the foundation of our democratic institutions. It's a political agenda in the name of Islam."

The head of one Muslim organization was angry that Quebec is singling out one religious group.

Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal said Houda-Pepin and Quebec lawmakers are portraying the entire Muslim community as extremists.

"I'm shocked and dismayed to see the national assembly of Quebec take such a step," Elmenyawi said in an interview.

"If the Quebec government does not want faith-based arbitration, they should call it so and not specifically target Islam and Muslims. Otherwise it is very clear this is religious bigotry. To make motions against an identifiable religious community is very serious."

Houda-Pepin said her motion specifically targeted Islam because only Muslims are asking for special status in family courts.

Houda-Pepin denied that Premier Jean Charest's Liberals are putting pressure on the Ontario government, which is expected to make a decision before summer. Charest said he simply wants to send a clear message that all Quebecers are equal under the law.

"It's important to send a very clear message that there is one rule of law in Quebec," Charest told reporters.

"We are a very inclusive society, but a society that will govern itself according to one set of rules."

The debate over Sharia law surfaced in Canada two years ago when a Muslim group in Ontario proposed the arbitration of family disputes according to Islamic law.

Elmenyawi said the rules of Islam dictate that a Muslim woman who wants to remain true to her faith can divorce only through the intervention of religious imams or judges.

Houda-Pepin said the implementation of Islamic law takes different forms in every country in the Muslim world. She listed a litany of horrors that have taken place against women in the name of Sharia law, from the whipping of Pakistani rape victims who fail to prove their case to the stoning of Sudanese women accused of adultery.