The chief of the 70-million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion advocates the establishment of Islamic law in Britain, drawing a rebuke from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who suggested that perhaps British law would serve better.
In a recent interview with BBC Radio 4’s “The World At One Today,” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams confirmed adoption of sharia “seems unavoidable.”
“As a matter of fact, certain conditions of sharia are already recognized in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system,” Williams said.
“We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal laws of religious communities is (sic) recognized by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances,” he said.
However, according to published reports, Brown was of a different opinion.
“Our general position is that sharia law cannot be used as a justification for committing breaches of English law, nor should the principles of sharia law be included in a civil court for resolving contractual disputes,” a spokesman for Brown’s office said.
“If there are specific instances like stamp duty, where changes can be made in a way that’s consistent with British law and British values, in a way to accommodate the values of fundamental Muslims, that is something the government would look at,” the spokesman continued.
“In general terms, if there are specific instances that can be looked at on a case-by-case basis, that is something we can look at. But the prime minister believes British law should apply in this country, based on British values,” the spokesman said.
In the BBC interview, William advised the UK to “face up to the fact” that some residents do not relate to the British legal system and that Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters handled by a sharia court.
“There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of others kinds of religious law,” Rowan continued.
“Nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that has sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states: the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women,” he said, according to a Times report.
“But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them,” he said.
Williams claimed Orthodox Jewish courts already are in operation in Britain, and the pro-life views of Catholics and other Christians are “accommodated within the law.”
However, Alistair McBay of the National Secular Society said Rowan’s comments “directly undermine” the concept of citizens being equal under the law.
“We have segregated schools, segregated scout groups and even segregated toilets for Muslims, and now the archbishop says we should have different laws. It’s madness,” he said.
“This is a Christian country with Christian laws,” added Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice. “If Muslims want to live under sharia law then they are free to emigrate to a country where sharia law is already in operation.
“Any accommodation with sharia law does nothing to help social cohesion. Christian law has been eroded by secularism and this country was founded on Christian values,” he said.
Ramadhan Foundation chief Mohammed Shafiq welcomed the comments, advocating for such attempts “by both our great faiths to build respect and tolerance.”
“Sharia law for civil matters is something which has been introduced in some western countries with much success; I believe that Muslims would take huge comfort from the government allowing civil matters being resolved according to their faith,” he said.
A Ministry of Justice expert told the London Independent there’s nothing to prevent people from following sharia now, so long as “an activity prescribed by sharia law does not contravene the law of England and Wales.”
Sharia is the Islamic religious law that operates in many Muslim countries around the world, including Libya and Sudan. Egypt’s constitution also defines sharia as the source of its law. Some nations also have secular codes that operate alongside, but mostly subservient to, sharia.
On the Times’ online forurm, a reader wrote, “Sharia law is yet another gob of grease on the slippery slope that we do not want, need or deserve.”
Added Bill Paoli of Oakland, Calif., “Didn’t Henry II settle this nonsense some time ago?”
“Williams would make a great running mate with Sen. Obama or Hillary in our upcoming presidential election,” John Carey, of Philadelphia, added to the This London forum.
Nor is it the first controversy for the Anglican church, which is in turmoil over the practice of its American branch, the Episcopal Church, of advocating for homosexuality.
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