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Archbishop sparks Sharia law row

Leading politicians have distanced themselves from the Archbishop of Canterbury's belief that some Sharia law in the UK seems "unavoidable".

Gordon Brown's spokesman said the prime minister "believes that British laws should be based on British values".

The Tories called the archbishop's remarks "unhelpful" and the Lib Dems said all must abide by the rule of law.

Dr Rowan Williams said the UK had to "face up to the fact" some citizens do not relate to the British legal system.

He said adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law could help social cohesion.

For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.


But the prime minister's official spokesman said Sharia law could never be used as a justification for committing a breach of English law, nor could the principle of Sharia law be applied in a civil case.

He added that Mr Brown had a good relationship with the archbishop, who was perfectly entitled to express his views.

All British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through Parliament and the courts
Baroness Warsi

ome Office Minister Tony McNulty said: "To ask us to fundamentally change the rule of law and to adopt Sharia law, I think, is fundamentally wrong."

And Culture Secretary Andy Burnham told BBC One's Question Time: "This isn't a path down which we should go.

"You cannot run two systems of law alongside each other," he said, adding this would be "chaos".

For the Conservatives, shadow community cohesion minister Baroness Warsi said the archbishop's comments were "unhelpful".

"Dr Williams seems to be suggesting that there should be two systems of law, running alongside each other, almost parallel, and for people to be offered the choice of opting into one or the other," she told BBC News 24. "That is unacceptable."

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said he had "an enormous amount of respect" for Dr Williams, but could not agree with him on this issue.


"Equality before the law is part of the glue that binds our society together. We cannot have a situation where there is one law for one person and different laws for another.

"There is a huge difference between respecting people's right to follow their own beliefs and allowing them to excuse themselves from the rule of law."

Trevor Phillips, who chairs the Equality and Human Rights Commission said the "implication that British courts should treat people differently based on their faith is divisive and dangerous".

"It risks removing the protection afforded by law, for example, to children in custody cases or women in divorce proceedings," he said.

"There is a fundamental principle here when you appear before a court in Britain you appear as a citizen, equal to any other and you should be treated equally to any other."


Dr Williams said Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".

In an interview with BBC correspondent Christopher Landau, he argued this relied on Sharia law being better understood. At the moment, he said "sensational reporting of opinion polls" clouded the issue.

There is, and should only be, one law which covers all people and to suggest it can be otherwise is to seriously damage our rights
Patricia London, UK

He stressed that "nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well".

But Dr Williams said an approach to law which simply said "there's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts - I think that's a bit of a danger".

"There's a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law."

Dr Williams added: "What we don't want either, is I think, a stand-off, where the law squares up to people's religious consciences."

"We don't either want a situation where, because there's no way of legally monitoring what communities do... people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes another way of intensifying oppression inside a community."

Multiculturalism 'divisive'

Under English law, people may devise their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process.

Muslim Sharia courts and the Orthodox Jewish courts which already exist in the UK come into this category.

Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, welcomed Dr Williams's comments, saying they "further underline the attempts by both our great faiths to build respect and tolerance".

He should be concentrating on winning souls into the Church of England rather than getting involved in politics
Conservative MP Mark Pritchard

He added: "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."

Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "We're looking at a very small aspect of Sharia for Muslim families when they choose to be governed with regards to their marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children and so forth."

He added: "Let's debate this issue. It is very complex. It is not as straight forward as saying that we will have a system here."

But Mark Pritchard, Tory MP for the Wrekin, in Shropshire, said the archbishop's comments were "naive and shocking" and he accused him of "pseudo-theological appeasement".

He said: "The archbishop should be standing up for our Judeo-Christian principles that underpin British criminal law that have been hard fought for.

"He should be concentrating on winning souls into the Church of England rather than getting involved in politics."

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For more material see Melanie Phillips, and Rabbi Rosen both wrote on this topic.

Posted by Ralph Zwier on 2008-02-10 09:29:42 GMT

Where were my comments wrong? In any case I never defended the Archbishop's views. Casandra's comments, which I agree with, were not a contradiction of anything I wrote. Please explain to me how an Archbishop's comments could lead to Sharia law being adopted in a country where the vast majority are not Muslims,where many if not most of the Muslims don't want Sharia law, and where changes to the legal system have to pass a legislature which is elected by a majority, added to which we have a situation where these comments have created an uproar and demands for the Archbishop's resignation. I could also add that in Britain, which I have spent some in the church is not very influential, and its members have also been in uproar about the comments. Sorry mate but give me a believable scenario not a few platitudes and an unsupported and indeed strange accusation. How many educated Muslims have you met?

Posted by Peter on 2008-02-10 08:50:11 GMT

I have never had such a reaction in terms of e-mails and personal approaches on a single topic as in the past few days, to the Archbishop of Canterbury's lecture and interview. Rather than write my own response, I enclose below a good and clear rebuttal by Melanie Phillips.  She is quite right to correct the analogy the Archbishop made with Jewish law in the UK, and also to emphasise that all should be equal before the law. I can add that the Human RIghts Court of Europe has found that sharia law is incompatible with its Human Rights Convention, and that a state can make sharia parties illegal for this reason.  The case was Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and others v. Turkey,  Reported in European Human RIghts Reports 2003.   An excellent summary and discussion is found in Paul Taylor's Freedom of Religion: UN and European Human Rights Law and Practice.  Cambridge University Press. 2005.  Pp. 314-5

Posted by Mark Durie on 2008-02-09 12:06:19 GMT

Despite his undoubted intellect and book learning, the Archbishop has little, if any, true wisdom and certainly no real knowledge of the true nature of Islam. Such a man has no place whatsoever in the leadership of worldwide Anglicanism and in no way reresents what the majority of educated Anglicans believe and desire. Without a doubt he will have to go. And he will. His demise is certail and hopefully, it will be swift.

Posted by Anna on 2008-02-09 10:48:28 GMT

I understand that a good half of the Tampa boat people were Christians. How many Imams sent them? And Fabian socialism hasn't got very far, that's a strange example to give. Correct me if I am wrong, but your argument seems to be that there will be a flow on from the statement of an elderly cleric that will cause us all somehow to become Muslims. Do you have so little faith in the strength of western democracies?

Posted by Peter on 2008-02-09 04:10:47 GMT

Further proof of muddled thinking, and a complete failure to understand the basis of liberty and equality before the law. There is no further need to wonder why the C of E is in terminal decline

Posted by Gwundu on 2008-02-09 01:11:09 GMT

A lot of contributers seem to be over the top on this one. The Archbishop suggested no more than that "some aspects of Sharia" should be incorporated in the English legal system. He did not in any way support overall Sharia law, child marriages or anything of the sort. He was strongly opposed in this by some Muslim associations and loudly condemned by Christians throughout the world, Germany Thailand and elsewhere. He has been described as an old fool and members of his own church are asking for his resignation. The idea that somehow Muslims are going to introduce Sharia law bit by bit so slowly that the people would not notice it happening is a fantasy. Britain is one of the oldest of democracies, laws can be changed only by Parliament, which has to face the people at periodic intervals. Given that large numbers even of British Muslims don't want Sharia this will not happen. Will the people wake up one day to find the pubs all suddenly closed and wonder how it happened? Of course not. Britain has a fully functional and long established democratic system political system with its checks and balances. It also has a strongly entrenched regard for freedom of speech with some outsiders mistake for a weakness. That is why the Archbishop can make a statement, be derided for it, and life goes on as before.

Posted by Peter on 2008-02-08 22:06:41 GMT

It is beginning to boggle my mind how the Western World is being dictated to on the rule of law by a foreign culture that is a proven in violence among themselves and toward those who do not believe in that foreign culture. What am I talking about? It is the Theo-political cult known as Islam to the politically correct and as Mohammedanism to me after its blood thirsty founder Mohammed. The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rohan Williams is the symbolic head of Anglicans world wide, which includes the American version known as Episcopalians. Dr. Williams is publicly saying that Britain should adopt or incorporate Mohammedan Sharia Law into the legal system of Britain to accommodate the vast numbers of Mohammedans living in Britain. I have some observations about this suggestion from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let me start with my initial reaction when I first read this: Is the moron abandoning the Christian faith to a Theo-political cult whose aim is to convert people first by persuasion and second by the threat of violence up to and including execution? I mean Europe is all about Capital Punishment being the practice of a barbaric past. Yet the essence of Sharia Law is physically harsh up to including the death penalty for some of the most ludicrous of acts of law breaking. We are talking about honor killings for offending the Mohammedanism within the Mohammedan family, death for leaving Mohammedanism for another faith or atheism, death for insulting Mohammed and his Allah and probably more that I am unaware of. Sharia Law allows polygamy and a means to divorce by simply pronouncing verbally I divorce you three times. Thieves punished under Sharia Law can loose hands in amputation. And what if a Mohammedan breaks a British law that is not illegal in Sharia Law - does the Mohammedan escape justice? God help us if this becomes an issue in America. If Mohammedans cannot live under the Rule of Law in the West the answer is simple: move to nations that practices Sharia Law or amend the Mohammedan faith to be compatible to Western Laws. In America where religious issues and the Rule of Law is a big deal there is a precedent to follow. America is a secular nation that guarantees the free practice of religion of conscience as long as it conforms to the Rule of Law. The Precedent: Before Utah could be admitted into the Union of the United States of America the Mormons had to have a prophetic revelation; i.e. the official ending of the practice of polygamy. Once the revelation became official, Utah became a State. My God America needs to stick to our foundational values to enforce one Rule of Law justly to all people regardless of Faith or Conscience and Britain should as well. If the West does not stand up for its culture the permeation of the Muslim Brotherhood agenda for the West will become a reality before anyone can do anything to peacefully reverse it. Friends this will mean dhimmitude for non-Mohammedans. I have never agreed with the term or the liberal church vision of a “Progressive Church.” The Archbishop of Canterbury is progressing Anglicans into a position of inferiority to the supremacist minded Mohammedans of the world.

Posted by on 2008-02-08 17:29:25 GMT

The archbishop is not advocating Britain abandons its own legal system and adopts sharia; nevertheless, Islam advances by degrees, one small step at a time. The west is suffering Death by a Thousand Cuts at the hands of muslims and this would be another very serious wound.

Posted by David Reed on 2008-02-08 16:59:49 GMT

I knew Dr Williams was an anti-Semite, sorry, anti-Zionist/pro Palestinian, but it looks like he is prepared to be dhimmi as well. Let's not have to reap what he has sown.

Posted by Shyrla Pakula on 2008-02-08 16:22:31 GMT

It seems that the Anglican Church has been hijacked by extremist leadership who are prepared to collaborate with and give in to Islamist demands - either out of fear or of affinity with the Islamist's belief and ideology. I would not be surprised if a secret deal was made between the Islamists and Anglican church leaders: Let's have a truce - if you give us Sharia laws and take anti-Israel actions, including disinvestments - we'll halt the terrorist attacks on British soil. History will judge those "religious" leaders harshly for selling their soul to Satan. Unfortunately, the people of England will pay a heavy price for their failed leaders.

Posted by rm on 2008-02-08 10:30:26 GMT

The statements of an elderly Archbishop of a declining Church will be totally ignored by everyone. Time for retirement? Perhaps that is what he is angling for,

Posted by Peter on 2008-02-08 06:03:56 GMT

Once again, the Anglicans are off track...the archbishop should focus on his core business and stay out of areas he knows nothing about. Not long ago, the Anglican church's world council passed an anti-Israel "divestment" resolution as recommended by a report from a delegation of their "Peace and Justice Network" who were hosted by some anti-Semitic "replacement theologists" in their church in Jerusalem. Copy and paste this link into your browser to see the full report, with my commentary: /group/wajiw/web/070102+rev6+0409+APJN+Full+Report+Text+with+footnotes+by+SL.doc

Posted by Steve Lieblich on 2008-02-08 02:05:09 GMT

Always thought Dr. Williams was a "clown". This just adds further evidence to the fact. One thing for sure he may represent what the high church of England thinks, but he certainly doesn't represent what the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has to say regarding these issues for His children. Its absolute madness when one sees a secular Government showing more sense than one who is supposed to have a Biblical world view. Talk about a wolf in sheeps clothing. Who needs enemies with "friends" like Dr. Williams.

Posted by Philip Hammond on 2008-02-08 01:31:12 GMT

I would hope that moderate Moslems would themselves realise the problems of Dr. William's proposal. His suggestions publicise the difficulty of assimilating people of Moslem faith into a liberal democratic system

Posted by Clive Berger on 2008-02-08 01:25:50 GMT

Posted it some time ago-ghastly! docstalk

Posted on 2008-02-08 00:30:53 GMT