The Home Secretary made the controversial remarks as she announced the Government is set to investigate the “misuse” of Islamist law to subjugate women.
Top Tory Mrs May, who wants Britain to stay in the European Union, insisted the inquiry will not look into the legality of Sharia Law courts in a move designed to reassure Muslims.
Instead it will focus on instances where traditional Islamic doctrine is being “exploited” to discriminate against Muslim women.
Judgements handed down by the informal courts have no legal basis, but there are fears their presence means many Muslim women are not getting access to the justice they deserve.
But in a controversial intervention Mrs May yesterday claimed many British Muslims “benefit a great deal” from their existence.
Furious commenters took to social media to blast the Home Secretary’s comments, which they branded “unbelievable”.
Belinda Wood tweeted: “Theresa May hails Sharia Benefits!! What is happening, a home sec seems to want a secondary law system for those seeking to destroy democracy.
Another user called Lithlad said: “While Theresa May explores the benefits of sharia law, Saudi Arabia bans cat photos for being ‘too Western’. I hate this septic isle.”
And a third, going under the name P.Pink, simply responded: “God help us, from atheist.”
Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy analyst and former aide to Margaret Thatcher, was also unimpressed by the comments, describing them as “unbelievable”.
She said: “Many British people of different faiths follow religious codes and practices, and benefit a great deal from the guidance they offer.
“A number of women have reportedly been victims of what appear to be discriminatory decisions taken by Sharia councils, and that is a significant concern.
“There is only one rule of law in our country, which provides rights and security for every citizen.
“Professor Siddiqui, supported by a panel with a strong balance of academic, religious and legal expertise, will help us better understand whether and the extent to which Sharia law is being misused or exploited and make recommendations to the Government on how to address this.”
It will also attempt to catalogue the number of Islamic courts and councils operating across Britain for the very first time.
But Mrs May was quick to emphasises that the inquiry will only look at how Sharia ideas were being “misused or exploited” rather than a broader examination of whether the teaching itself discriminates against women.
In a ministerial statement announcing the review Home Office minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon insisted: “It will not be a review of the totality of Sharia law, which is a source of guidance for many Muslims in the UK.”
Professor Siddiqui added: “At a time when there is so much focus on Muslims in the UK, this will be a wide ranging, timely and thorough review as to what actually happens in Sharia councils.”
She said: “I think the Government may well say ‘let’s wait until the results of the investigation’ but we need action now.
“My reservation is that it won’t get to the root of the problem. A lot of Muslim women I know say that the men in their communities just laugh at this proposed investigation, that they will go underground so the investigation will have to be very robust.”
She also blasted Mrs May’s insistence discrimination against women is only a result of a “misuse” of Sharia teaching, rather than the teaching itself.
The peer said: “I believe in freedom of religion and I believe that there are aspects of Sharia law that are totally unproblematic.
“If Muslims want to fast, well Christians do that at Lent, if they want to pray five times a day, that’s more than I do.
“But the aspects which are causing such concerns – such as that a man can divorce his wife by saying ‘I divorce you’ three times, that is inherent, the right to ‘chastise’ women is inherent, polygamy is inherent.
“I don’t think those things are a distortion or Sharia law.
“These are aspects of Sharia law which are unacceptable.”