New York, Feb.9 : Sharia laws are being applied in secret in Muslim communities across the United Kingdom in clear defiance of the country's legal system, the New York Daily News reports.
According to the paper, Islamic scholars sit in mosques, converted living rooms and even a former pub to issue fatwas, or rulings, and adds that they have decided thousands of cases over the last 25 years.
This fresh development assumes significance in the wake of the condemnation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, statement calling for an "accommodation" of some Islamic legal codes within the British legal system.
The New York Daily Express has uncovered a catalogue of evidence that sharia courts are acting independently of British law.
It quoted Aydarus Yusuf, a 29-year-old youth worker, as revealing that he was involved in an unofficial Islamic court hearing of a stabbing case in Woolwich, south-east London.
An Islamic Sharia council at Leyton in east London also revealed that it had dealt with nearly 7,000 divorces since it had opened in 1982, while sharia courts in the capital have settled many hundreds of financial disputes.
Along with the Islamic council in Leyton, there are at least two other sharia courts in London. There are also courts in many areas of the country with high Muslim populations.
The Islamic Sharia Council lists members in Birmingham, Bradford, Halifax, Leeds, Manchester, Oxford, Cardiff, Peterborough and Rotherham.
Most Sharia courts concentrate on divorce cases - although such judgments are not recognised in British law - as well as financial and neighbourhood disputes. Other areas where sharia courts have been consulted voluntarily are inheritance disputes, boundary wrangles and religious guidance.
Although their rulings have no basis in law, participants agree to abide by them voluntarily and may settle their disputes without referral to the British legal authorities.
On its website, the Islamic Sharia Council warns that the divorces it grants can not invalidate a union under British civil law and advises that a separate civil divorce should be obtained.
The sharia Council is the formal body of Islamic legal opinion and jurisdiction for local Muslims. It is also a point of advice for Muslims in the city seeking a religious or theological perspective on general issues.