May 26, 2010

Kenyan judges outlaw Islamic courts

by Sara Levy

A panel of judges in Kenya has ruled that Islamic family courts are illegal and discriminatory.

The three judges, sitting as a constitutional court, said Kadhi courts are unconstitutional because they favour one religion over another.

Kenya is a secular country, so all religions should be subject to equal treatment under the law, the judges ruled.

Whether the courts are allowed to continue to operate will go to referendum in August as part of a process to create a new constitution in Kenya.

Stephen Mwenesi, a high profile Kenyan lawyer, said the judges’ decision was “nonsensical”.

“Sometimes state institutions like courts ought to read the mood of the nation and allow for compromise and accommodation thereby creating an environment of peace and tranquillity,” he said.

“This is a very divisive decision whose implications are legion.”

Kadhi courts, set up under British colonial rule, are used by Kenya’s Muslim minority to deal with matters of marriage and inheritance.

The Christian church in Kenya started legal action against Kadhi courts six years ago, culminating in this week’s ruling.

Muslim groups in Kenya have pledged to appeal against the judges’ ruling.

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