Excerpt:

It was a clear case of irreconcilable differences.

The wife said there was no love left in the marriage, she wanted a divorce. The husband insisted that she had been put under the influence of a taweez, a talisman, that had erased her affections for him. He refused to divorce.

"The husband says he has been pushed away from his home because of this taweez business," said Sheik Haitham al-Haddad, a judge in North London's Sharia council, a panel of Muslim scholars gathered in a back room of London's biggest mosque to determine whether the woman should be granted a divorce under Islamic law.

For British Muslims, many of whom have one foot in Piccadilly Circus and the other in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Somalia, the British legal system is available, as it is to all. But it is singularly impotent when it comes to civil issues such as marriage, divorce and other disputes whose dispensation in heaven is often perceived as more crucial than any ruling that might be handed down by an English judge in a horsehair wig.

A tumultuous debate was set off in Britain this year when the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said it was time to consider "crafting a just and constructive relationship between Islamic law and the statutory law of the United Kingdom." Eventually, he hinted, this could mean allowing Britain's 1.8 million Muslims to seek legal recourse in Islamic courts in certain limited cases, such as marriage and divorce, as an alternative to the civil court system.

Little known to the general public, though, is that Sharia is quietly being applied every day in Britain, via Sharia councils that dispense Islamic civil justice in more than half a dozen mosques across the country.

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