Should religions focus on preaching issues of morality? Or can Scotland's major religions become a voice for the voiceless and speak up for the most vulnerable in our society?
With Islamic theologian Shaykh Ruzwan Mohammed of the Solas foundation, Cultural adviser to the Vatican Professor John Haldane, convener of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton, and Edinburgh Secular Society spokesman Neil Barber.
A Scottish law firm has become the first in the country to offer clients “conventional” legal representation alongside advice on sharia law.
Hamilton Burns, based in Glasgow’s south side, has teamed up with an eminent Muslim scholar who will counsel clients on the Islamic aspect of civil law cases, while solicitors give advice under Scots law.
Clients will be able to see a Muslim lawyer who is fully trained in Scots law at the same time as they consult a sharia scholar who is an expert in Islamic law. It will be the first time such a service has been offered in Scotland.
Despite public fears over what is deemed “creeping” sharia law, the firm stressed that the sharia advice was not legally binding and would mainly focus on giving Islamic guidelines on divorce or child custody based on rigorous readings of the Koran.
Shaykh Amer Jamil, the Islamic scholar who will provide sharia advice, wants to make sure that Muslims have access to the correct religious ruling on matters such as divorce.
However, critics and opponents accuse sharia of being a discriminatory and sexist legal system and an “extension” of the fundamentalist laws that allow hand amputations and stonings in countries such as Saudi Arabia.
Niall Mickel, a solicitor advocate specialising in civil law and the managing partner at Hamilton Burns said: “We hope that by incorporating sharia family jurisprudence against a background of domestic Scottish legislation, we can provide our clients with as much relevant information as possible to assist them in making the right choices.”
He insisted the service offered is “uncontroversial” and compared it to informal religious advice sought from a priest or minister by a divorcing Christian.
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh is also partner at the firm. She said: “It is difficult for Muslim women to seek divorce from their husbands.
“If the position under Islamic law is made clear, then even though the husband might not want to take the Scots law step, women may then be able to do so.”
The firm’s services would also help recent immigrants to Scotland, who are unsure of their rights under Scots law.
Employees at the law firm admit that their groundbreaking decision has been controversial.
One employee hinted that it was the fact that female solicitors were involved in the new initiative that was causing concern within some sections of the Muslim community.
Shaykh Amer Jamil trained in sharia law in the Middle East and holds a Bachelor in Law qualification from Strathclyde University.
He is noted for his campaigns against issues such as domestic violence.
He said: “Some Muslims want to know what sharia law says and find that although they can get civil advice, they find it difficult to get sharia advice, as imams in different mosques say different things.
“We will offer information so they can make an informed decision. It will cut out some of the stress of divorce.”
Maryam Namazie, an ex-Muslim and spokesperson for One Law for All warned that Islamic law was not as innocuous as the firm claimed. She will speak at a London seminar on tomorrow to mark International Women’s Day.
She said: “Sharia law is discriminatory. It is antithetical to laws that have been fought for and hard won by progressive social movements, particularly in areas of family matters.
“Laws related to family matters are the result of wrestling control from the church -- now it is being handed back to sharia law to violate rights.
“The civil matters sharia law decides on here is an extension of the criminal matters it decides on in Islamic states, such as stoning, amputations and so on,” Namazie added.