Islamic Mediators and Germany's 'Two Legal Systems'
For years, Islamic mediators have been stepping in to solve family disputes and marital problems among Muslims in Germany. A new book takes a closer look at how their reliance on elements of Sharia law, instead of German law, affects Muslim women.
Demir furniture store in the western German city of Recklinghausen is the go-to place for people in need of either inexpensive furniture or, for some Muslims, advice on how to handle a disobedient daughter.
In his 400-square-meter (4,300-square-foot) warehouse-like shop, Haj Nur Demir, a 61-year-old Lebanese man, sells items like used desks, washing machines and armchairs from estate sales. The furniture dealer is tall, slim, gray-haired and sports a mustache. He also exudes authority. It's a good trait to have in his second profession.
Demir estimates that he has settled more than 2,000 conflicts in Muslim families in Germany and Lebanon since 1972. Sometimes Demir merely provides information on the phone, and at other times he practically has to throw himself between the parties to prevent them from coming to blows.
Demir's typical clients are husbands whose wives have left them and fathers of couples who are having problems. They often complain about their wives and daughters, namely Muslim women who rebel against corporal punishment or want to free themselves from the confines of marriage, even if they have children.
First, Demir speaks with the fathers, and then with the couples. The ultimate goal, says Demir, is to keep the family together. He says that he tells the men they have to treat their wives better and to not use violence, and he explains to the women that as divorcees with children they will not be able to find a new husband in their community. At the end of Demir's missions, the wife usually returns to her husband.
He has authority, but Demir has no legal training whatsoever. Men like him have established a parallel family justice system in Germany in recent years. Imams, arbitrators and so-called justices of the peace become active before German courts are even involved. They perform marriages and divorces, and they propose rules for child custody. They also try to convince women and girls who rebel against their families to return or stay.
An Imported Tradition
Immigrants from Turkey and Arab nations imported arbitration to Germany. It is based on a thousand-year-old Islamic legal tradition rooted in customs and the Koran. In cases of marital strife, for example, the Koran calls for "an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from her family."
The Yazidi, Roma and Albanians have similar arbitration traditions. Sometimes there are months-long peace talks before the arbitrator makes a decision, which then has the effect of a court ruling. For example, a daughter who has fled to a woman's shelter returns to her parents and is permitted to begin vocational training programs, while a pregnant daughter is required to marry and move in with her boyfriend's family. (...)