IN July 2008, the Uganda Law Reform Commission presented the much-anticipated revised version of the Domestic Relations Bill (DRB) to Members of Parliament and civil society organisations.
As the nation awaited the outcome, the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) held further consultations on the Bill and made several observations.
One of the observations by the UJCC is that Sharia law is undesirable in Ugandaâ€™s legal system.
In their report, UJCC states that it, â€œfinds offensive the silent introduction of Islamic Sharia in Ugandaâ€™s laws and more so the complicity or silence of Christian legislators. The Constitution has already made provisions for Sharia law in Article 129 to include Islamic Courts.
This is troublesome. If you again provide for Muslims in our laws the way it is proposed, we are going to open the country to have two legal systems â€” one Islamic and another common as we have known it.
It is troublesome in the sense that the country has become Islamic whereas it is neither the intention of the majority of the framers of the Constitution nor the Ugandan people. You also open a can of worms in matters of appeal and allegiance. This is a recipe for disaster and religious wars in the future.â€
For so long, Muslims and Christians have co-existed peacefully in Uganda and their religions are religions recognised by the Constitution.
Therefore, any Act of Parliament must provide for the interests of both groups. The Bill was withdrawn from Parliament because it did not conform to the spiritual, social and economic interests of the Muslim community, especially in matters of family, marriage, divorce and inheritance. For example, Muslims could not accept a law that encourages infidelity in the name of co-habitation.
We could not accept a law that threatened our spiritual existence and our social and marital practices taught to us by the Holy Quran. The Muslim community asked for further consultations with the Uganda law Reform Commission and these culminated into the revised Bills.
Ugandan Muslims have practiced Sharia law for long.
There is a Director of Sharia law and functioning Qadhiâ€™s courts at the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council.
These courts are provided for in the Constitution although their operations need to be boosted. Sharia law is recognised in Britain, the seat of the Anglican Communion, and Muslims usually seek rulings on family or property issues from Sharia Councils, which work in alongside statutory and common law.
In Britain, the common law system is available to everybody but to Muslims it is impotent when it comes to civil issues regarding marriage, divorce and other disputes whose dispensation in heaven is perceived as more crucial than any ruling that might be handed down by an English judge in a horsehair wig.
Ugandan Muslims have advocated Sharia law to deal with these importance issues because secular laws cannot address them to the satisfaction of our conscience. Therefore, Sharia law is inevitable in any community where Muslims are a part.
There is no need of creating fear among Ugandans about Sharia law because it will only complement other laws. Qadhiâ€™s courts will improve our legal system by making service delivery faster. Moreover, they do not have jurisdiction over non-Muslims.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, opened a constructive debate in Britain when he said it was time to consider â€œcrafting a just and constructive relationship between Islamic law and the statutory law of the United Kingdom.â€ Dr Williams hinted that this could mean allowing Britainâ€™s 1.8 million Muslims in the UK to seek legal recourse in Islamic courts in certain limited cases such as marriage and divorce, as an alternative to the civil court system. Today, Sharia law is dispensed daily in all mosques in the UK.
Muhammad Siddique, a paralegal who advises the Sharia Council in Dewsbury, in northern England, recently told the Los Angeles Times that English judges are willing to accept agreements that are reached in Sharia courts as long as it has been put into proper form.
â€œIt (Sharia Law) saves time for the courts and it shows that both parties are wiling to compromise and reach some sort of agreement,â€ he added. Suhaib Hassan who sits on the North London Council, said the Sharia Council offers divorces that are cheaper and quicker than those available in civil courts.
Then Sheikh Haithan Al-Haddad who is a judge in North London's Sharia council said that Sharia councils in Britain do not involve themselves in criminal law or any aspects of civil law in which they would be in direct conflict with British civil codes.
Shawzia, a 32-year-old physician obtained a divorce decree in a civil court but went a head to seek a Khula (divorce under Sharia law) because she her wish was incomplete after the decree from the civil court.
â€œBefore this Khula happened, I didnâ€™t consider myself divorced, spiritually. I couldnâ€™t move on with my life. I needed completion. I still felt married.â€ Muslims in Uganda feel the same about Sharia law.
The assertion by UJCC that Sharia law is a recipe for religious wars is outrageous because there are no religious wars in West Africa where Sharia law is more pronounced mainly because of larger Muslim populations.
It is not true that Uganda has become an Islamic state. The Constitution provides for freedom of worship and states that there shall be no state religion. This is why Uganda is a member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, of which President Museveni is chairman, while at the same Christianity is also recognised as one of the religions Ugandans profess. Uganda belongs to all of us and that is by the Almighty Godâ€™s will.
The writer is the Public Relations officer Uganda Muslim Supreme Council
Sharia law inevitable in Ugandaâ€™s legal system