- Channel 4 documentary was granted access to Birmingham Central Mosque
- Filmed over a year, provided an eye-opening insight into lives of British Muslims
- First episode looks at marriage and relationships between Muslims
- Men and women who have Islamic weddings aren't married in eyes of British law
- Birmingham Central Mosque's Sharia Court has the only female judge in the UK
As the number of Sharia courts operating behind closed doors - and beyond the reach of British law - continues to grow apace, a new documentary has exposed what really happens during the shadowy proceedings.
There are believed to be 85 Sharia courts in the UK, and last night Channel 4's Extremely British Muslims aired footage captured inside Birmingham's Central Mosque as a council dispensed its strict religious form of justice.
Viewers witnessed the struggle of mother-of-four Fatima, 33, as she sought permission to divorce the drug dealer husband she says has emotionally abused her throughout their 14 year marriage.
The Islamic court, which seeks to provide Muslims with resolutions to financial, familial and marital disputes according to the principles of their faith, granted Fatima's request.
But that she was forced to plead her case at all is in stark contrast to the divorce process for Muslim men, who need only tell their spouse 'I divorce you' three times in order to free themselves of a marriage.
Fatima visits the Sharia Court to obtain a divorce from her husband of 14 years who has been in prison for the past two years
Dr Amra Bone is the only female judge to sit in the Sharia Court in the UK, she helps to deal with requests relating to the break down of marriages
Inside the Sharia Court that specialises solely in divorce for Muslims along with two other judges
Under Islamic law, marriage is a legal bond and social contract between a man and a woman, but the marriages are not binding under UK law.
On Extremely British Muslims, Fatima had to explain exactly why she no longer wants to be with her other half to the three judges, one of whom was the only female Sharia Court judge in the country, Dr Amra Bone.
Fatima wished to be granted a divorce, and claimed she has been a victim of emotional abuse.
'I've been on my own with the children, [with] no support from him and there was emotional abuse,' she said.
She refused to take him back even after Dr Bone said that her husband was willing to change.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: THE RISE OF SHARIA JUSTICE IN BRITAIN
The Islamic Sharia Council (a registered charity) was founded by the late Shaykh Sayyid Matawalli ad-Darsh in 1982.
A 2015 Daily Mail investigation revealed that 85 Islamic courts - most attached to mosques - were dispensing 'justice' across the UK at the time.
It told how the fate of vulnerable Muslim women was placed in the hands of elderly clerics, who were heard to lay out medieval-sounding rulings to those seeking an escape route from an ill-fated marriage.
It cited the Dutch Academic Machteld Zee's Choosing Sharia, which describes a senior cleric claiming it was wrong to prosecute men who rape their wives, and another who, upon learning of the plight of a woman who had not seen her errant husband in four years, refuses her divorce application and lectures her instead on the 'scientific reasons' for polygamy.
Zee, an atheist, argued that there is enormous cultural pressure on Muslim women to settle family disputes via Islamic rather than normal courts.
Under Islamic law a man need only say 'I divorce you' three times to his wife to end his marriage - but a woman needs the approval of a cleric, and the process incurs a fee.
The Islamic Sharia Council vigorously disputed much of what was reported in Zee's findings at the time.
It came after hard-line Islamists declared their intention to implement a 'Sharia law zone' in the London suburb of Waltham Forest in 2011.
The ISC deals largely with marriage and divorce, but occasionally looks at financial and family disputes in search of resolutions that conform to religious principles.
They operate outside of UK law, but lay down judgements which can be given full legal status if approved in national law courts. Hearings are usually held behind closed doors.
Best-selling author Martin Sixsmith described in a Daily Mail article last month how he was told of one case in which the Sharia court decided a man had the right to exact the death penalty on his neighbour's children after they objected to the idea of marrying his own children.
Sharia law, derived from the religious rules of Islam, relates to all aspects of a Muslim's life, from dress, to marriage, to diet and hygiene.
'There's no love or trust and I fear him. I am 100 percent [convinced], there is no looking back' she explained.
While she waited for an answer she explained that after a couple of months of marriage her husband 'started to show his true colours' and things soon spiralled 'out of control'.
Fatima had gone against her parents' wishes when she first married him and admitted she regrets rushing into the marriage.
The presiding judge Dr Amra Bone informed Fatima that her marriage has been dissolved and reflected on Fatima's case.
'This is a marriage of choice [as opposed to an arranged marriage].
The wife is discovering afterwards, he has been on drugs.
'We think it's very important for the family to play a role in finding out what the boy is like before anything happens, and in cases where they've already fallen in love it is in fact too late.'