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Islamic Law’s Foothold in German Legal System

An appeals court in northwestern Germany has decided a contentious divorce case based on Islamic Sharia law.

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In a decision that generated considerable controversy in Germany, the court ruled that the supermarket was unjust in firing the employee and was obliged to offer him an alternative position that did not conflict with his religious beliefs. The court rejected the argument set forth by lawyers representing the supermarket that the man should have been able to do his job without a fuss because Sharia law forbids only the drinking of alcohol, not the touching of bottles. The court noted that the employee had become increasingly religious and that any direct or indirect contact with alcohol would have been offensive to him.

In another case, in March 2007, Christa Datz-Winter, a judge at the Family Court [Familiengericht] in Frankfurt, cited the Koran in a divorce case involving a 26-year-old German woman of Moroccan origin who had been repeatedly beaten by her Moroccan husband. Although police had ordered the man to stay away from his estranged wife, he continued to abuse her and at one point threatened to kill her.

While not denying the facts, Judge Datz-Winter nevertheless refused to grant the divorce, arguing that a woman who marries a Muslim man should know what she is getting herself into. In her ruling, the judge quoted Sura 4, Verse 34 of the Koran, which justifies “both the husband’s right to use corporal punishment against a disobedient wife and the establishment of the husband’s superiority over the wife.”

The ruling generated so much outrage that the judge was removed from the case.

In Kassel, the Federal Social Court [Bundessozialgericht] approved the claim of a second wife for half of her dead Moroccan husband’s pension payments, which the man’s first wife wanted to keep all to herself. Although polygamy is illegal in Germany, the judge ruled that according to Sharia law, the two wives must share the pension.

In Koblenz, the Administrative Appeals Court [Oberverwaltungsgericht] granted the second wife of an Iraqi living in Germany the right to remain permanently in the country. The court ruled that after five years of a polygamous marriage in Germany, it would be unfair to expect her to return to Iraq.

In Düsseldorf, an Appeals Court [Oberlandesgericht] ordered a Turkish man to repay a €30,000 ($40,000) dowry to his former daughter-in-law, in accordance with Sharia law. In Cologne, a judge ruled that an Iranian man must repay his ex-wife’s dowry of 600 gold coins, based on the Sharia law followed in Iran.

In Munich, a Local Court [Amtsgericht] decided that a German widow was entitled to only one-quarter of the estate left by her deceased husband, who was born in Iran. The other three-quarters of the inheritance should go to relatives in Tehran. The court ruled that because the man did not have German citizenship, Sharia law applies to the division of the inheritance.

A growing number of German legal experts are now sounding the alarm about the rise of a parallel Islamic justice system in Germany.

In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Mathias Rohe, an expert in Sharia law at the University of Erlangen, discusses the rapid spread of Islamic law in German jurisprudence. He describes Sharia law as a “highly complex system of Islamic religious and legal norms” and warns, “We must be careful that we are not creating parallel [legal] structures.”

According to Joachim Wagner, a German legal expert and former investigative journalist for ARD German public television, Sharia law in Germany is far more widespread than most people realize, and that this “parallel justice system” is undermining the rule of law in Germany.

In a 236-page book entitled “Judges Without Law: Islamic Parallel Justice Endangers Our Constitutional State,” Wagner writes that, in addition to the use of Sharia law in German courts, Muslims are also establishing a shadow justice system, with Islamic Sharia courts now operating in all major German cities.

Wagner writes that Muslim jurists often seek to settle criminal cases out of court — without the involvement of German prosecutors or lawyers — before law enforcement can bring the cases to a German court.

Settlements reached by the Muslim mediators often mean perpetrators are able to avoid long prison sentences, while victims receive compensation in line with Sharia law. When cases are tried in German courts, victims are often pressured to make sure their testimony in court does not lead to a conviction, according to Wagner.

Soeren Kern

About the Author: The writer is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group, one of the oldest and most influential foreign policy think tanks in Spain.


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