A new training course being run by the Law Society this summer is described as an “introduction to Islamic Sharia law for small firms”.
Critics said the fact that the Law Society was offering training in Sharia law created the “perception” that it was now “a legal discipline”.
It comes after the Society controversially published guidance last month to allow high street solicitors to draw up Sharia-compliant wills.
On Monday around 100 anti-Sharia law campaigners are expected to protest outside the Society’s head office in the heart of London’s legal establisment.
Sharia law is Islam’s legal system. It derives from the Koran and the Hadiths, the sayings and customs attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, as well as fatwas - the rulings of Islamic scholars.
Currently, Sharia principles are not formally addressed by or included in Britain’s laws. However, a network of Sharia courts has grown up in Islamic communities to deal with disputes between Muslim families.
There are reported to be around 85 such courts in the UK – however campaigners say there could be far more.
The Sharia Law event at the Law Society’s headquarters on Chancery Lane, central London on June 24 has already sold out.
It offers training in Sharia law covering wills and inheritance, family and children and corporate and commercial law.
The course is billed as “a forerunner to a planned future seminar series on Islamic law”, the Law Society said.
The Society said: “This event will set you thinking on an important area of client service as our expert and authoritative speakers highlight some basic concepts and requirements of the Islamic Sharia applicable to these practice areas.”
Solicitors have to undertake 16 hours of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training every year in disciplines such as competition or corporate law.
The Sharia course counts for one and a half hours of this CPD training, which critics said meant that it “creates the perception that Sharia law is a legal discipline”.
Charlie Klendjian, a spokesman from the Lawyers’ Secular Society said: “It creates an ever increasing perception to the public and also to the legal profession that Sharia law is a legal discipline.
“Sharia law is not a legal discipline, it is theology and we can’t constantly keep giving it this credibility and it is certainly not for the Law Society to be doing that.
“It is damaging to the perception of the primacy of English law, and that is what the Law Society don’t appreciate.”
There is increasing concern about by the use of Sharia Law in communities in the UK – last week a campaign called ShariaWatch was launched to monitor its spread.
There were unsubstantiated claims at its launch in the House of Lords that MPs and peers were afraid to speak out about Sharia Law because of the fear of reprisals.
Baroness Cox, a campaigning cross-bench peer who hosted the launch, said the Law Society’s encouragement for Sharia law was “disturbing”.
She said: “While every citizen in this country is free to practice their religion, it is deeply disturbing that an organisation as prestigious as the Law Society appears to be encouraging the implementation of Sharia Law.”
Islamic law was “often inherently discriminatory against women”, including in the way women were treated in divorce and inheritance cases, she said.
Lady Cox added: “Muslim women have claimed they feel ‘betrayed’ by Britain: they came here to escape Sharia law and they find the situation worse here than in the countries they came from.”
A Law Society spokesman said: “We hold hundreds of CPD events every year, on topics ranging from legal aid to being a happy LGB [Lesbian, Gay, Bisxexual] lawyer. That does not make these topics all legal disciplines.
“Our CPD programme is a process of continuous learning to maintain and further develop solicitors’ competence and performance across a range of subjects. Our CPD events help lawyers better serve their clients, whatever their background.”
The Society said it had held four events on Islamic Law between 2004 and 2006, although Sharia Law was not mentioned in the titles of these events.