CHICAGO – In Muslim neighborhoods in Canada, some women fear the legal power handed to their religious leaders.
As long as the country's law is followed, religious leaders can play a role in Canada's legal system. But a controversy has erupted over whether Muslim law should be used.
Two parties in a Canadian civil dispute, like a divorce, can opt to use a religious leader as a mediator, and the mediator's decision is binding. Canadian native tribes, Christians and Jews use this system.
"If Muslims have a civil dispute among themselves, they would want to settle the matter within the community rather than take it outside," said Shabir Ally, president of the Islamic Information Institute (search).
But some Canadian Muslim women fear that Muslim law, or Sharia (search), will be imposed on them in these civil mediations. Critics say Sharia has been used, or abused, to discriminate against women. And some Canadian Muslim women say they will be badgered into accepting decisions from conservative imams acting as mediators.
"They will be oppressed in a sense because they'll be coerced into feeling they need to follow this process of binding arbitration, implementing Sharia. Otherwise they're deemed as blasphemous and labeled by the community and then where else is she to go?" said Iman Zebian, a member of the board of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (search).
Unless the government watches closely, these women worry that imams acting as legal arbitrators will take advantage of women in the name of Islam.
Click on the video box at the top of this story to watch a report by FOX News' Steve Brown.