Opinions?: Arbishop and Sharia law?

What do people make of this whole fandango?

Just curious.

He must be a re-incarnation of Epimetheus … :slight_smile:

I’m glad I’m in China! On the other hand, I know I’m going to have to return to the UK one day before too long.


I’d like some of whatever it is he’s been smoking, but I swore off crack when I got married.

What exactly is Williams trying to accomplish by suggesting that a secular government adopt aspects of religious law. What will he do next, suggest that Parliament legislate the proper procedure for selling one’s daughter into slavery, just because it’s mentioned in the Christians’ Old Testament?

There’s a short answer and a long answer.

The short answer is that, as John Dodds says in another thread, he was perhaps too consumed by a sense of his own rightness (the sin of pride?) to realise quite how his words would be received (which have had the effect of uniting in opposition just about all politicians, all leaders of religion bar his own and almost all social commentators, and encouraged the tabloids to add to the gaiety of the nation by splurging headlines about “bashing the bishop”, which as we all know is old-fashioned schoolboy slang for the sin of Onan…)

The long answer - all right, the slightly longer answer - allows for the possibility that in what he said there might have been the tiniest grain of intelligence peeping out.

What he said was as follows (according to someone who’s read his speech who wrote in The Times): there are lots of people in Britain (where of course we do not have a division between church and state, and bishops still sit but do not vote in the House of Lords) who look to religious precepts in their solving of domestic and contractual problems. Some of these solutions are recognised in law (for example, many marry in church or synagogue), and some aren’t. When they aren’t, the danger is run that people will both feel and be marginalised. With a non-hierarchical religion like Islam, we risk this marginalised legal process being controlled at a local level by “primitivists” and not by wise authorities (like, say, the bishops of Church of England perchance!). If we handle this right, we could have sensible Sharia courts with legal standing, and if we handle it wrong we could have a lot of bongo-brains (I quote from The Times) exercising real power outside the law. We won’t like that.

That is apparently what he said, give or take the odd bongo-brain reference. Of course, even then it begs huge questions - about for example opting in and out of a justice system, the rights of women, the definition of a religion, the effects of being coerced by religious hierarchies, extreme punishments etc etc etc.

But you did ask.


What Hugh said.

For Americans, it’s important to realize that the UK already recognizes the decisions of rabbinic courts in some matters. For instance, Orthodox Jews can’t get a civil divorce without getting a religious divorce first. (Thus preventing the situation where a husband refuses to grant his wife a religious divorce, while getting a civil divorce himself and merrily going on with his life.)

(My source on this is one of the articles on the current fracas. I’m not an expert on UK law. Or rabbinic or sharia law, for that matter.)

Thus there’s a precedent for allowing religious believers to have their disputes settled by religious authorities. In that context, recognizing some aspects of sharia law is not all that radical a suggestion.

The key word is some aspects. The Archbishop’s critics have chosen to evoke the most extreme practices of Islamic criminal law, which is a complete mischaracterization of what he actually said. Suggesting that imams might judge debt disputes is not the same thing as advocating public executions.

Clearly, he horribly misjudged how his words would be received, a shocking error for anyone with his experience as a public figure. (See also Pope Benedict’s blunder from a few years back, where he quoted a medieval critic of Islam and no one heard the rest of the speech.) But he did actually have a point that’s worthy of intelligent debate.


You might be interested a few languagelog.com articles on the issue from the last few days.

I think it was a misudged statement blended by a typical media beat-up and misquoting (or extremely selective quoting, where they say what they want, then quote his 2 words (“seems unavoidable”) at the end to make it seem like he said it all.

Kind of typical journalism these days - butcher what is said so that the radical is quoted and any justifications, qualifications etc. is stripped out.

i.e. Maybe Sharia Law should be accepted for some civil matters (such as those that already go through mediation etc.) provided both parties agree.

Strip that back to “one rule for muslims, another for the rest” (according to The Sun) and you are bound to sell more newspapers.


Whilst I would be lying if I told you I’d read the whole thing, I’ve had a flick through it and there is ALOT of room for it to be… edited interpretatively…

And it has been like you say.

I think having seen what I have of it, I think he may have a very good point. There are going to Sharia courts whether formalised or not - large proportions of the muslim community are going to rather go to the Sharia courts (and will also coercse others into doing the same - that’s not a comment on muslims, more of a comment on large groups of people); so if you have them formalised so that they are in line with civil law, then ultimately you’re going to have LESS rather than MORE of a “one rule for muslims, another for the rest of us” situation.

I was having a debate with mum about this, she was saying that the most vulnerable people will be women, and they would suffer most from it. I disagree on the basis that if you they went to a formal Sharia court they would have their civil rights enforced, whereas at an informal one you wouldn’t.

Another thing it will solve is situations like we’ve seen a few times - a muslim teacher refusing to unveil her face in school - that kind of thing. If they are saying “I am doing this because of Sharia law” and someone disagrees with them, then it can be taking to a Sharia court and a decision can be made as to whether those in question are indeed following a religious code, or whether they’re just being awkward.

What seems to have been edited out when he’s been quoted is that he’s not proposing an paralell legal system, but a supplimentary one.

I don’t think that would be the case… the Sharia law would be applicable for civil situations (eg. business dealings, family situations) that are not criminal, but would otherwise end up in a civil court.

But importantly, both parties would have to agree to be bound by the decision made by the Sharia court. Which means they would in all likelihood both be Muslim. Schools, other government groups, etc. would probably not agree to it.

[Although it could be argued they should display religious tolerance anyway…]