One Law For All and the Lawyers’ Secular Society are pleased to announce a student research competition on the subject of sharia law.

Sharia What's Going OnThe competition is sponsored by the National Secular Society and the winner will receive a prize of £300. The winner and the two runners-up will have their essays published in full on the website of all three organisations.


In June 2010 One Law For All produced a report, Sharia Law in Britain.  It was clear from this that Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals are operating in violation of UK law, public policy and human rights.

It’s unclear how sharia is being applied elsewhere in Europe, especially as mediation and arbitration – the legal mechanisms under which sharia seeks to operate in the UK – are generally less prevalent in the rest of Europe. There was even evidence in One Law For All’s report of sharia’s application to criminal matters in the UK.

The purpose of the competition is to understand sharia’s reach and influence in Europe, and to highlight any harm or human rights abuses which might be taking place.

What to do

If you would like the chance to win £300 all you need to do is write a well-researched and well-referenced essay, of about 2,500-3,000 words in length, on the subject of sharia law in Europe.

As we already have reasonable information on the situation in the UK we’re asking you to focus your research on the rest of Europe – but feel free to compare the results of your research with, say, some of the practices of Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals here in the UK.  Your research can focus on one European country or more than one.

The research must also focus on sharia’s influence on criminal law and/or family law matters (rather than, for example, sharia-compliant mortgages).  We’re particularly interested in evidence of sharia conflicting with established, fundamental legal principles such as gender equality, the rule of law and child welfare.

We’re not just looking for research on “formal” or “official” manifestations of sharia, so if you find evidence that sharia is being applied in unofficial or secretive settings then that’s certainly worth writing about.

You can also submit a joint essay, written by up to four students in total.

How to do it

You’ll need to email a Word document, written in English, to by Friday 11 October 2013.  The winner and two runners-up will be announced on Friday 8 November 2013. Please check the document carefully for spelling mistakes, use double-spacing, and make sure it’s well-referenced with footnotes and (if relevant) a bibliography. On the accompanying email please provide your full name, higher education institution, course name and contact number.


– This competition is open to full-time or part-time students at a higher education institution within the EEA (European Economic Area) for the academic year 2012-13 or 2013-14, including overseas students based at those institutions.

– The prize for the best essay is £300. This will be paid shortly after the winner is announced. If the essay is a joint submission payment will be made to the student who emails the essay.

– The winning essay, and the second and third-placed essays, will appear in full on the websites of One Law For All, the Lawyers’ Secular Society, and the National Secular Society,

– The deadline for submissions is Friday 11 October 2013. The winner and two runners-up will be announced on Friday 8 November 2013 and will be selected by representatives of One Law For All and the Lawyers’ Secular Society, whose decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

– Students retain the copyright in their essays but One Law For All, the Lawyers’ Secular Society and the National Secular Society are granted a royalty-free, perpetual licence to use, sub-licence and reproduce the essays on the condition they provide full acknowledgement.

– The promoters are One Law For All and the Lawyers’ Secular Society.



1 Comment

  1. I have a question about the way this works in the UK.

    In the US we have Jewish rabbinical courts. They operate within the Jewish community here in New York. Generally, nobody notices them.

    The same is true of the Amish. They have their own systems of adjudication and arbitration. Nobody seems to notice much.

    The reason nobody notices them (usually) is because they have no real civil power. That is, if someone were to ignore their rulings, they might suffer opprobrium from within that community, but there is no legal force behind any of it. Yes, people get harassed — but at that point the harassers are breaking the law and it would mean a lot of trouble for them.

    In fact, there have been several court cases in the US on this issue and consistently the courts have said no religious body has any real civil power, and their rulings are simply not enforceable if they conflict with existing civil law, full stop. Thus the Catholic Church can’t discriminate against employees when they aren’t employed in a religious capacity. (That falls generally under employee law, and it is why Catholic hospitals can’t refuse to hire Jewish doctors, for instance. (There’s some dispute over whether they can be required to offer coverage for contraception as part of their health plans, but that is being worked through now).

    So I want to know if anyone in the UK or anywhere else is actually proposing that sharia courts — or their Jewish equivalents, for that matter, or the Catholic Church — be given any real civil power? The kind where a sharia court case would supersede existing civil laws? Because maybe I missed it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anywhere. As far as I am aware the courts in the UK have been pretty consistent in this area as well, though they (just like those in the US) have tried to find workarounds in specific cases (usually involving families, for obvious reasons that have nothing to do with the law).

    Maybe it’s because in the US we have the official church-state separation. That makes it pretty clear that no religious body can have any authority whatsoever in civil matters. (Even marriage — while the Church won’t grant divorces, that has zero bearing on whether you get alimony or child support and it won’t stop the state from garnishing your paycheck if you owe it).

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