More than 1,000 Indonesian Muslims gathered in front of the presidential palace on Sunday to press the government to ban a Muslim sect that has been branded heretical by most Muslims.
An Indonesian government team is drafting a decree that will ban the Ahmadiyya sect, which views itself as Muslim but has been branded a heretical group by the Indonesian Ulema Council, the secular country’s highest Muslim authority.
Chanting “Allahu Akbar (God is Great)” and “Disband Ahmadiyya”, the members of the Indonesian Muslim Forum (FUI), a group of about 50 Muslim organisations, urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to issue the decree.
“We are pushing the president to immediately issue a presidential decree disbanding Ahmadiyya,” FUI Secretary General Muhammad Al Khaththath told Reuters.
The FUI also asked the government to capture Ahmadiyya’s leaders and seize all its assets.
Archive for the 'Freedom of Religion' Category
Alison Ruoff, a senior member of the Church of England’s ruling council, says mosque building should be banned until Muslim states stop persecuting Christians. Another example of They Do It In Saudi.
I will be adding to this list as and when I can. If you have any suggestions leave them in the comments and I will review your suggestions.
[Interviewer: ]To begin with you’ve given this vision of if as a nation Britain wants to achieve social cohesion, that challenge is how to accommodate those of religious faith in relation to the law; and you’re words are that the application of Sharia in certain circumstances if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples’ religion seems unavoidable?
[Rowan Williams: ]It seem unavoidable and indeed as a matter of fact certain provision of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law; so it’s not as if we’re bringing in an alien and rival system; we already have in this country a number of situations in which the law the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justified conscientious objections in certain circumstances in providing certain kinds of social relations, so I think we need to look at this with a clearer eye and not imagine either we know exactly what we mean by Sharia and not just associate it with what we read about Saudi Arabia or wherever.
Lecture at Royal Courts of Justice:
Among the manifold anxieties that haunt the discussion of the place of Muslims in British society, one of the strongest, reinforced from time to time by the sensational reporting of opinion polls, is that Muslim communities in this country seek the freedom to live under sharia law. And what most people think they know of sharia is that it is repressive towards women and wedded to archaic and brutal physical punishments; just a few days ago, it was reported that a ‘forced marriage’ involving a young woman with learning difficulties had been ‘sanctioned under sharia law’ – the kind of story that, in its assumption that we all ‘really’ know what is involved in the practice of sharia, powerfully reinforces the image of – at best – a pre-modern system in which human rights have no role. The problem is freely admitted by Muslim scholars. ‘In the West’, writes Tariq Ramadan in his groundbreaking Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, ‘the idea of Sharia calls up all the darkest images of Islam…It has reached the extent that many Muslim intellectuals do not dare even to refer to the concept for fear of frightening people or arousing suspicion of all their work by the mere mention of the word’ (p.31). Even when some of the more dramatic fears are set aside, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about what degree of accommodation the law of the land can and should give to minority communities with their own strongly entrenched legal and moral codes. As such, this is not only an issue about Islam but about other faith groups, including Orthodox Judaism; and indeed it spills over into some of the questions which have surfaced sharply in the last twelve months about the right of religious believers in general to opt out of certain legal provisions – as in the problems around Roman Catholic adoption agencies which emerged in relation to the Sexual Orientation Regulations last spring.
BBC REPORTING AND COMMENTARY
BBC — “Williams under fire in Sharia row”:
Dr Rowan Williams said the UK had to “face up to the fact” some citizens did not relate to the UK legal system.
Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said such moves would create “social chaos.”
But Bishop of Hulme, the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, criticised the “disgraceful” way in which the archbishop had been “ridiculed” and “lampooned” by some.
“We have probably one of the greatest and the brightest archbishops of Canterbury we have had for many a long day,” he said.
BBC — “Williams ‘shocked’ by at Sharia row”:
Friends of Dr Rowan Williams say he is in a state of shock and dismayed by the criticism from his own Church.
All the main political parties, secular groups and some senior Muslims have expressed dismay at his comments.
However, the Bishop of Hulme, the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, criticised the “disgraceful” treatment of Dr Williams.
BBC — “Puzzled voices among Bradford’s Muslims”:
About 75,000 Muslims live here and many of them have been following the reaction to the comments by Dr Rowan Williams.
But the view over the mosques tells its own story. The people who attend each place of worship believe in their own interpretation of Sharia Law.
What one group believe to be Sharia is likely to be disputed by others just down the road.
The president of one mosque on Leeds Road in the city, Dr Bary Malik, is also a magistrate.
Shortly before Friday prayers he explained that he could foresee problems with the Archbishop’s suggestion.
“There are so many different sects in Islam, which version of Sharia Law are we going to have?” he said.
BBC — Christopher Landau, “Sharia law and the British legal system”:
[Rowan Williams] argues that Muslims find themselves “faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty” and that Britain will only be able to come to terms with its multi-faith society if its legal system learns to adapt.
The archbishop says that anxieties “haunt the discussion of the place of Muslims in British society”, and that sensational reporting of opinion polls means that any debate around Sharia has become distorted.
He refers to the Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, who has written that “many Muslim intellectuals do not even dare to refer to the concept for fear of frightening people or arousing suspicion of all their work”.
The archbishop accepts that Sharia is often the justification for appalling legal practices and punishments – but that is not what he is calling for.
BBC — Nick Tarry, “Religious courts already in use”:
For many non-Muslims, the idea of a religious court holding power over British citizens seems totally alien to our mainly-secular culture.
But not to all non-Muslims. It has often been remarked on how similar Muslims and Jews are in many of their traditions, such as food laws, burial rites and language, and this case could prove no exception. Jewish courts are in daily use in Britain, and have been for centuries.
BBC — Dominic Casciani, “Q and A: Sharia Law explained”:
[W]hat kind of Sharia are we talking about in the UK?
The key issues are family law, finance and business. In practice many Muslims do turn to Sharia guidance for many of these day-to-day matters, particularly family disputes.
And how does this work in practice?
Muslims are increasingly looking to the example of Jewish communities which have long-established religious community courts.
These “courts” are legally recognised in English law as a means for warring parties to agree to arbitration. The law sees this as a practical way of helping people to resolve their differences in their own way, without clogging up the local courts.
But what about incorporating Sharia into British law?
In two important areas British law has incorporated religious legal considerations. British food regulations allow meat to be slaughtered according to Jewish and Islamic practices – a touchstone issue for both communities.
Secondly, the Treasury has approved Sharia-compliant financial products such as mortgages and investments. Islam forbids interest on the basis that it is money unjustly earned. These products are said by supporters to meet the needs of modern life in a way that fits the faith.
BBC — Abdal Hakim Murad, Radio 4 Thought for the Day:
So what will be the fallout? One can only hope for something positive. Muslims know that their heritage of legal wisdom, the Shari’a, bears many very different interpretations. Secular law is the same. So in the midst of this flexibility, there is hope for a constructive dialogue. And if the Archbishop has helped that process along, many of us, of whatever faith, will be grateful.
BBC — “Williams in synod Sharia address”:
He told the Church of England’s general synod he felt some remarks had been taken out of context, but he accepted he may have created misunderstanding.
He has faced calls to apologise for his comments, in which he implied adopting aspects of Sharia law was unavoidable.
Earlier PM Gordon Brown praised Dr Williams’s “great integrity”.
BRITISH NEWSPAPERS (QUALITY/BROADSHEETS)
Guardian — Leader, “Sharia and the state”:
Dr [Rowan] Williams’ case for the recognition of sharia law in Muslim communities (regarded by the European court of human rights as incompatible with democracy) is that, in a world of multiple identities, loyalty to the state and loyalty to a religion can be damagingly in conflict. While secularists might regard that as the particular merit of a secular state, the archbishop sees it as a source of weakness. Recognising sharia, he suggested in a lecture to lawyers last night, would strengthen the state. It would, he said, acknowledge the case for religious space. The tolerance that once seemed to accommodate different freedoms is threatened in a world dominated by a philosophy of rights. He illustrated the same point in an earlier BBC interview by his warning of the tension between the law and religious conscience during the parliamentary battle over the human fertilisation and embryology bill.
Guardian — Riazat Butt, “Archbishop backs sharia law for British Muslims”:
The Archbishop of Canterbury tonight prompted criticism from across the political spectrum after he backed the introduction of sharia law in Britain and argued that adopting some of its aspects seemed “unavoidable”.
Rowan Williams, the most senior figure in the Church of England, said that giving Islamic law official status in the UK would help achieve social cohesion because some Muslims did not relate to the British legal system.
Guardian — Will Woodward and Riazat Butt, “Laying down the law: ministers cool on archbishop’s sharia suggestion”:
The prime minister’s spokesman yesterday gave a chilly response to Williams, reluctant perhaps to turn the story into a row between church and state, and mindful of not wanting to be seen to be closing down debate. He pointed out that in some cases, for instance concerning stamp duty, regulations could be altered in line with sharia principles. But the spokesman added: “The prime minister believes British law should apply in this country, based on British values.”
Lady Warsi, the Muslim peer who is the Tories’ spokeswoman on community cohesion, was more blunt. “The archbishop’s comments are unhelpful and may add to the confusion … in our communities.” Mark Pritchard, the Tory MP for the Wrekin, went further, accusing Williams of “pseudo-theological appeasement”.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said he had a “huge amount of respect” for the archbishop but could not agree with his views. “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.”
Guardian — Elizabeth Stewart, “Q&A Sharia Law”:
Are there different interpretations of sharia?
There are five different schools of interpretation of sharia: one in the Shia tradition of Islam and four in the Sunni tradition. Middle Eastern countries of the former Ottoman empire favour the Hanafi doctrine and north African countries prefer the Maliki doctrine; Indonesia and Malaysia follow the Shafi’i doctrine; Saudi Arabia adheres to the Hanbali doctrine; and Iran follows the Shia Jaafari school. All the schools are similar, but some take a more literal approach to texts while others prefer a loose interpretation.
Guardian — Andrew Brown, “Misjudgment that made martyrs of others”:
Lambeth Palace, says an insider, has been inundated with racist and Islamophobic abuse since the news of the archbishop’s speech broke, and much of the fury and disgust directed at Williams comes from inside the church.
How could one speech have united against him the liberals, the conservatives, most Muslims, most Christians, all secularists, all the political parties, everyone who only read the headlines, and almost everyone who read beyond the headlines of the lecture he gave? Could any common idiot have written it?
There are people at Lambeth Palace who could have told Williams what the headlines were going to say this morning. My understanding is that some of them did, but he thought he knew better.
It is all very well for the archbishop to explain that he does not want the term “sharia” to refer to criminal punishments, but for most people that’s what the word means: something atavistic, misogynistic, cruel and foreign. It is the Death of a Princess, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the hangings in Iran and the stonings in Afghanistan. It is the law which locks up middle-aged primary teachers for allowing their classes to name a teddy bear Muhammad. To the British media a demand for sharia is a demand to “behead those who insult Islam”. A failure to understand this simple matter of modern English usage should cost someone his job.
Guardian — Clare Dyer, “Jewish Beth Din could be archbishop’s model”:
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s message was not that there should be one law for Muslims and another for the rest. What he seemed to be positing was that the secular legal system should accommodate the traditional sharia councils which exist around the country, dealing with family and other disputes. One model could be the Beth Din, the rabbinical courts set up by a UK statute more than 100 years ago, which means they are recognised within the legal system.
They mainly deal with disputes between Orthodox Jews, although anyone can use the courts. Two individuals agree to have their dispute handled by the Beth Din rather than the ordinary courts. The judges, or dayanim, who preside are rabbis. If a dispute is over a contract under English law or another country’s civil law, the court can “incorporate” some of the rules of the civil law into Jewish law. In reality, the proceedings are a form of arbitration. The majority of Beth Din awards that are contested are enforced by courts in the UK, although they can be overruled.
Guardian — James Sturcke, Hélène Mulholland and agencies, “Bishop condemns ‘shameful’ sharia outcry”:
A leading bishop today condemned the furore caused by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on the formalisation of sharia law in Britain as a “shame on our nation”, after the former home secretary David Blunkett warned of catastrophic consequences.
The Bishop of Hulme, the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, robustly defended Rowan Williams and said he was appalled at the “kneejerk” reaction to a serious piece of academic work.
“We have probably one of the greatest and the brightest Archbishops of Canterbury we have had for many a long day,” he told BBC Radio 4′s World at One.
“The way he has been ridiculed, lampooned and treated by some people, and indeed some of the media within this process, is quite disgraceful. It is a shame on our nation.”
The bishop said Williams had raised a vital issue for a society facing many multicultural challenges.
“He has a responsibility as leader of the established church in making sure the spiritual life of this nation is as healthy as possible. I believe he was doing that yesterday.
“I believe he was standing up for the different faith communities and the ways in which they are treated and was raising questions for people to debate in our society about the way in which Islam is treated alongside Judaism, Christianity and other faiths.”
Telegraph — Leader, ” Archbishop of Canterbury’s inept intervention”:
The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday used a lecture in the Royal Courts of Justice to propose that sharia law should be applied in certain circumstances. The idea is not as outlandish as it may first appear.
There are already sharia councils in this country to which Muslims turn for advice and religious sanction in matters such as divorce. Likewise, Orthodox Jews have recourse to the Beth Din over, for example, dietary laws, divorce and tenancy disputes.
A further instance of legal sensitivity to religious belief is the ability of Christian doctors to opt out of abortions. So Dr Rowan Williams’s argument that there should be “a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” is, to a certain extent, recognition of a situation which already exists.
The problem lies, rather, in the status of the messenger and the timing of his intervention. If there is a case for the creation of sharia courts, it would be better made by a joint group representing the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Coming from the senior bishop in the Church of England, it is vulnerable to interpretation as appeasement of Islamic extremism prompted by fear of social unrest.
Telegraph — Jonathan Petre and Andrew Porter, “Archbishop Williams sparks Sharia law row”:
He said the Church of England was allowed to operate its own courts, as were Orthodox Jews, and the anti-abortion views of Roman Catholics and other Christians were taken account of within the law.
“We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances,” Dr Williams said.
He continued: “It would be quite wrong to say that we could ever license a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general.
But Dr Williams said people needed to look at Islamic law “with a clear eye and not imagine, either, that we know exactly what we mean by Sharia and just associate it with… Saudi Arabia, or whatever….
“I do not think we should instantly spring to the conclusion that the whole of that world of jurisprudence and practice is somehow monstrously incompatible with human rights just because it doesn’t immediately fit with how we understand it,” he added.
Sharia law was originally more enlightened in its attitude to women than other legal systems, Dr Williams pointed out, but did now have to be brought up to date.
Telegraph — Gordon Raynor, “Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury”:
Three months ago he gave an interview to a Muslim magazine called Emel in which he compared Muslims in Britain to the Good Samaritans, and praised the Muslim ritual of praying five times a day, but attacked “Christian Zionists” and claimed “the United States wields its power in a way that is worse than Britain during its imperial heyday”.
He also angered victims of 9/11 by saying that Al Qaeda terrorists “can have serious moral goals” and arguing that the 9/11 terrorists should not be called evil.
As one of his inner circle was recently quoted as saying, his biggest fault “is that too often he seems to bend over backwards to be kinder to his enemies than he is to us”.
Although reaching out to other religions may be a laudable thing to do, Dr Williams’s critics argue that his time would be better spent trying to heal the deep divisions within the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican church.
Telegraph — “Williams attacked over Sharia law comments”:
Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission: “The Archbishop’s thinking here is muddled and unhelpful. As far as I am aware no serious body of Muslim opinion supports the idea of special treatment, or exemption from the law of the land based on some vague “conscientious objection”. Raising this idea in this way will give fuel to anti-Muslim extremism and dismay everyone who is working towards a more integrated society. However, his 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. This is the opposite of what modern multiculturalism should mean. I don’t doubt the Archbishop’s desire to accommodate diversity, but we cannot do so at the expense of our common values.”
Independent — Ben Russell and Colin Brown, “Archbishop of Canterbury warns sharia law in Britain is inevitable”:
Dr [Rowan] Williams told BBC Radio 4′s The World At One: “It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system. We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances.”
He added: “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 other kinds of religious law.”
Dr Williams insisted there was no place for “extreme punishments, the attitudes to women” in some Islamic states. He said: “That principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western democracy. But I think it is a misunderstanding to suppose that people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that.”
Gordon Brown has spearheaded government efforts to persuade Muslims to integrate. But Downing Street immediately distanced itself from Dr Williams’ remarks, insisting that sharia law could not be used to override the will of Parliament or the courts.
Independent — Paul Vallely, “Williams is snared in a trap of his own making”:
[Rowan Williams'] error is assuming that the leader of a major church has the same intellectual freedom that he had when he was merely an eminent theologian. The cold fact is that the semiotics are entirely different. An academic may call for a nuanced renegotiation of society’s attitudes to the internal laws of religious communities. But when the Archbishop of Canterbury does that the headline follows, as night follows day: “Sharia law in UK is unavoidable, says Archbishop.”
This is not what he was saying, and yet it is. News has little room for the subtleties of academic gavottes around delicate subjects. A canny religious leader – or at any rate his press office – ought to know that.
The problem comes when you ask what is meant by sharia. Most of us are clear. It is to do with the stoning to death of adulterous women (even when they have been raped) and chopping the hands off thieves. It is what the Saudis do, and the Taliban.
However, this is, Dr Williams suggests, a travesty of the truth. What sharia means, and most Islamic jurists agree, he tells us, is not a list of laws but a way of thinking that expresses the universal principles of Islam. Codifications of that law, by the Saudis, the Taliban or whoever, are inevitably reductive and therefore false. “An excessively narrow understanding of sharia, as simply codified rules,” he says in the full lecture on which the stories were based, “can have the effect of actually undermining the universal claims of the Koran.”
Independent — Deborah Orr, “Don’t be fooled… the archbishop wants to beat extremists at their own game”:
Clearly one wouldn’t want to formalise any sort of organisation that might display a bias towards indulging [...] petty insubordinations, though it might be added that since there has already been a formalisation of the Catholic church’s wish to reject the inquiries of gay adoptive parents, we might have formalised such an organisation already in electing the present government.
Williams does suggest, though, that far from being a conduit for these sorts of cases, in which much legal, court and tribunal time is squandered, a religious body that took seriously the business of distinguishing between religious and cultural demands could be an asset in a pluralist society. It could keep such silliness out of the mainstream courts.
I have to confess that it lifts my heart to imagine a legally and religiously recognised board of religious Muslim people, widely supported, and committed to taking a lead in plotting a modern yet Islamic attitude to the rights of women in Britain and around the world. It could be rather wonderful, and is quite a different proposition from the one we have been led to believe that Williams made.
Independent — Johann Hari, “Rowan Williams has shown us one thing – why multiculturalism must be abandoned”:
Where a multiculturalist prizes the rights of religious groups, a liberal favours the rights of the individual. So if you want to preach that the Archangel Gabriel revealed the word of God to an illiterate nomad two millennia ago, you can do it as much as you like. You can write books and hold rallies and make your case. What you cannot do is argue that since this angel supposedly said women are worth half of a man when it comes to inheritance, and that gay people should be killed, you can ditch the rules of liberalism and act on it.
The job of a liberal state is not to stamp The True National Essence on its citizens, nor to promote “difference” for its own sake. It is to uphold the equal rights of every individual – whether they are white men or Muslim women. It has one liberal culture, with freedoms used differently by different people.
So as well as scorning the Archbishop, we should thank him. He has helped to deliver the funeral rites for multiculturalism. With his matted beard and tortured hand-wringing to a desert-God, the Archbishop has unwittingly pointed us towards a vision of a better Britain – one that chooses proudly to be liberal.
Times — Leader, “Church in a state”:
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has made admirable efforts to engage constructively with Islam and its clerics. His sensible conversations about the Muslim world stand in welcome contrast to the attitude of some of his colleagues, notably the Bishop of Rochester, whose remarks last month about unspecified “no-go areas” for non-Muslims were unnecessarily provocative. Many members of the Church of England were furious, and felt that those remarks undermined all the work they had been doing to improve interfaith relations.
In trying to retrieve that situation, and smooth sensibilities, Dr Williams did something yesterday that was far from sensible. He said that the adoption of parts of Sharia in Britain looked “unavoidable”, and called for “constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law”, over issues such as resolving marriage disputes. Muslims should not have to choose, he said, between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.
These remarks are astonishing. Because a different set of rules seems “more appropriate … in some cultural and religious settings” does not justify exempting one set of citizens from the laws laid down by Parliament. It is fundamental to this democracy that there should be one law for everyone. People of many faiths – Jews, Hindus, Sikhs – have settled happily in Britain without demanding a new set of laws for themselves. It would be more useful to ask how to help more Muslims to integrate successfully into what is a tolerant culture, than to urge a change in that culture to suit a notion that some parts of the Muslim community feel more comfortable with.
Times — Ian Edge and Robin Griffiths-Jones, “Does Islam fit with out law?”:
The Temple Church in the heart of legal London and the Centre of Islamic and Middle East Law (CIMEL) at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London are sponsoring a series of lecture-discussions on Islam in English law. The sponsors are telling every ticket-holder that an important part of the series is the opportunity for people from different backgrounds to meet. “Please make the most of this opportunity, from this first evening, by introducing yourself to those sitting around you,” they say.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, launches the series this Thursday with a foundation lecture on civil and religious law in England. The discussions are part of the 2008 Temple Festival, a year-long mix of music, art, drama, history and law events to mark the 400th anniversary of James I granting the Inner and Middle Temples freehold of their land.
English law and Islamic law differ in principle and in application. English law has been shaped in large part by the principles and history of Christian culture, but acknowledges no duty of obedience to any revelation, scripture or doctrine ascribed to God. In current practice, it attends closely to the rights and freedoms of the individual and protects them against curtailment from the state or from corporate power.
It is the prime duty of all Muslims to follow, as much as they are able, the traditions of Islamic law, which include the principles imparted by Allah to the Prophet Muhammad. Islamic law has tended to protect and strengthen the community in which, it is intended, the individual can then live a devout, good and ordered life.
Times — Matthew Parris, “Williams is dangerous. He must be resisted”:
Properly understood, the effect of devolving national law and national morality to local and group level is profoundly conservative. Dr Williams’s ideas really represent the wilder fringes of a bigger idea: communitarianism. Communitarianism can come in a surplice, a yarmulka or from a minaret and is all the more dangerous because armed with a divine rather than a local loyalty. It almost always proves a repressive and reactionary force, fearful of competitors, often anti-science, sometimes sceptical of knowledge itself, and grudging towards the State.
There is absolutely nothing “left-wing” or woolly-liberal about empowering it. A Britain in which Muslim communities policed themselves would be more ruthlessly policed, and probably more law-abiding than today. But it would be a Britain in which the individual Muslim – maybe female, maybe ambitious, maybe gay, maybe a religious doubter – would lose their chances of rescue from his or her family or community by the State.
The State, not family, faith or community, is the guarantor of personal liberty and intellectual freedom, and it will always be to the State, not the Church, synagogue or mosque, that the oppressed individual needs look. Some two centuries ago Nonconformism in Britain, by offering the individual an unmediated approach to a personal God, started to liberate Christians from the Church. Dr Williams seems not to understand this. Or perhaps he does, and is on the other side.
Times — Minette Marrin, “Archbishop, you’ve committed treason”:
Williams’s behaviour looks like vainglorious attention-seeking, but it is also something much worse. To seek to undermine our legal system and the values on which it rests, in a spirit of unnecessary appeasement to an alien set of values, is a kind of treason. It is a betrayal of all those who struggled and died here, over the centuries, for freedom and equality under the rule of law and of their courage in the face of injustice and unreason. Theirs is the good that we should hold fast and so of all people should the Archbishop of Canterbury. Otherwise, what is he for?
Times — Ruth Gledhill, “The intellectual arrogance that pervades the heart of Lambeth Palace wisdom”:
Dr [Rowan] Williams holds [...] populist tendencies in disdain. His staff respect his office and his personal qualities too much to argue otherwise. The Archbishop’s lack of regard for the popular press in particular is indicated by the fact that his press secretary, the Rev Jonathan Jennings, is leaving in the next few months to return to parish work and insiders say that there are no plans to replace him. The present press officer, Marie Papworth, is expected to take on Mr Jennings’s duties.
Times — David Brown and Ruth Gledhill, “Archbishop faces fresh pressure over Queen’s ‘worry’ at Sharia speech”:
The Queen was said to be worried about the continuing controversy surrounding Dr Rowan Williams’ belief that it was “unavoidable” that aspects of Sharia would be incorporated into the English legal system.
The Times has learnt that the Prince of Wales has already distanced himself from the Archbishop’s speech last week, fearing that his comments have damaged multi-faith relations.
According to The Daily Telegraph today, the Queen is also distressed over the controversy which she fears threatens to undermine the authority of the Archbishop and damage the Church of England, which already faces schism over homosexual clergy.
A royal source told the newspaper: “I have no idea what her view is on what the Archbishop said about Sharia. But the Queen is worried, coming at such a difficult time in the Church’s history, that the fallout may sap the authority of the Church.”
The Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, is the only person with the power to dismiss the Archbishop of Canterbury, but she would not act unless instructed to by the Prime Minister.
Times — Mary Ann Sieghart, “Our British laws are there to protect Muslim women”:
It is one thing to respect Muslims’ need for halal butchery or for Sharia-compliant mortgages: these are genuine religious differences that harm nobody. But polygamy, forced marriages and (dis)honour violence are practices more cultural than religious. They are rooted in the culture of South Asian communities, often deeply rural, and have no place in modern Britain. They do not deserve respect or even toleration.
Observer — Jamie Doward, Anushka Asthana, David Smith and Gaby Hinsliff, “How law and faith war broke out”:
Given the profound reactions to Williams’ speech, some Muslim scholars fear the archbishop has unwittingly inflamed community tensions. ‘I think the speech will have an impact on social cohesion,’ said Dr Irfan al Alawi, International Director Centre for Islamic Pluralism. One key problem, he points out, is that sharia law is not monolithic. It does not exist as a unified, indisputable set text, but is interpreted by scholars.
‘If we assume for a second that the UK adopts sharia law in certain respects, there need to be scholars who go through the rigours of studying Islamic law as well as a good understanding of the customs of this country,’ al Alawi said.
‘Adopting sharia law would mean the need for better trained imams rather than a man who has read one fiqh [Islamic law] book. In fact, in Islamic legal tradition a scholar cannot give a ruling until he understands the customs of his people and we don’t have these qualified imams in the UK. We will have radical fatwas issued by unqualified imams.’
Observer — Mark Townsend, “Top judges in key ruling on sharia marriage”:
Last week, as Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared it was ‘inevitable’ that certain parts of Islamic law would be introduced into Britain, the Court of Appeal was told how a 26-year-old British Muslim with learning difficulties was married over the telephone to a woman in Bangladesh. It was arranged by the man’s father and deemed lawful under sharia law.
Lord Justice Thorpe, Lord Justice Hall and Lady Justice Hallett were asked by the man’s family to reject an earlier decision that, because the groom was unable to give his consent, the marriage was unlawful. Mr Justice Wood said that the true test into the validity of the marriage was ‘whether the marriage is so offensive to the conscience of the English court that it should refuse to recognise and give effect to the proper foreign law’.
The judge added that the long-standing British policy to recognise sharia marriages conducted abroad should be offset by the understanding that ‘there are occasions when such a marriage cannot be recognised in England, for example where to do so would be repugnant to public policy’.
Observer — Jason Burke, “Don’t believe myths about sharia law”:
[I]n France, a country where the only identity officially recognised is that of ‘citizen of the republic’, last week’s row provoked keen interest. The British system of multiculturalism is seen by many Frenchmen as evidence of an unforgiveable and incomprehensible laxness. Yet, at the same time that he demands ‘immigrants’ adhere to French values, President Nicolas Sarkozy has enraged defenders of his nation’s aggressive secularism by insisting repeatedly that Europe has ‘Christian roots’ and that religion, in its broadest sense, is at the root of civilisation. In Germany and Holland similar debates are taking place as large immigrant communities, particularly those established for several decades, challenge the status quo, asking what their place is in ‘Christian’ countries?
Observer — Andrew Anthony, “A quiet man who said too much”:
In many respects, Williams, not helped by his preachy beard and imperious eyebrows, has come to resemble the caricature of the C of E vicar: someone who has strong views on everything except God. One of his most acute critics, American liberal bishop John Shelby Spong, has called Dr Williams a ‘neo-medievalist’ for preaching an orthodoxy to the faithful in which he himself does not believe. To which the archbishop counters that he really does believe in ‘the Resurrection and the empty tomb’.
Independent on Sunday — Joan Smith, “British women are already suffering from Islamic law”:
There is an argument, and it is a compelling one, that we should all be subject to the same laws. People who look favourably on a parallel system of religious courts for civil matters claim they do no harm if all parties consent to their use. This, of course, is the crux of the matter: how can we know that women from traditional and religious families have given consent when they are under huge pressure from relatives? They may be threatened into accepting the authority of a religious court, just as hundreds of young women (and some young men) are coerced into getting married against their will.
Financial Times — “Some civil jurisdiction but no parallel legal system”:
In Britain, Muslims can already choose to have disputes settled privately under Sharia law. The government also recognises some Sharia-compliant investment and banking products, such as mortgages, and allows meat to be slaughtered according to strict Islamic practices.
The government has not, however, authorised the establishment of formal Sharia courts to deal with criminal law proceedings
Under the Archbishop’s proposals, Muslim groups would be expected to follow the precedent set by Beth Din, the Jewish court, which legally arbitrates marital and financial disputes between Orthodox Jews.
Family lawyers said this might mean establishment of local Sharia councils, which could deal with Muslim marriages and divorces, among other civil matters. It would not allow for the creation of a “parallel” legal system.
Economist — “What role for sharia in the West?”:
[T]he Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organisation which is often criticised for the stridency of its cultural demands, made a better fist of defending what it called the archbishop’s “thoughtful intervention” than any Anglican did. The Anglican prelate had not been calling for a parallel penal code, or for the existence of two different legal systems, the MCB noted. All the archbishop was implying was that Muslims should enjoy parity with other religious communities, like the Jews, who have set up their own institutions to arbitrate disputes and interpret religious rules.
In any case, the reality to which the archbishop was referring is palpable enough: there are already plenty of sub-cultures in Britain where people choose to regulate their behaviour, in matters like diet, marital status and inheritance, by a set of self-imposed norms which may differ quite sharply from the remainder of society.
openDemocracy — Theo Hobson, “Rowan Williams: sharia furore, Anglican future”:
The problem with Rowan Williams’s lecture lies behind the actual text. The problem is that he has contributed to the debate about national identity in a disturbing rather than reassuring way. He has signalled that he doesn’t want to hold Christianity and liberalism together. Instead, he wants to oppose secular liberalism, and to defend the rights of all faith communities to resist it. This is what has shocked so many commentators: Williams has shown that he rejects the vague liberal Protestantism of the majority of the British people: the idea that Christianity and secularism are pretty much compatible. No, he says, his role is not to prop up this dated ideology, but to fight the corner of faith communities, and to cast doubt on the very idea of liberalism.
openDemocracy — Fred Halliday, “Islam, law and finance: the elusive divine”:
The message conveyed from a text replete with caveats and circumlocutions was (in the words of Rowan Williams’s preceding BBC radio interview) that “as a matter of fact certain provisions of sharia are already recognised” in society and law, and that their application is “unavoidable”.
The media furore that has ensued is as predictable as it is founded on widespread ignorance of the ostensible substance of the argument [...] In this it is part of a wider pattern whereby news stories about aspects of “Islamic” activity and social practice – “Islamic law” or “Islamic banking” or “Islamic dress”, for example – come to prominence and are circulated without a proper examination of the provenance and meaning of these terms.
openDemocracy — Tina Beattie, “Rowan Williams and sharia law”:
Nowhere in the lecture does [Rowan] Williams call for the implementation of sharia law – though this has become the default assumption underlying the febrile controversy the talk and its accompanying media coverage almost instantly generated. Rather, he asks how it might be possible for the civil law to accommodate some of the legal procedures by which Muslim communities in Britain have traditionally regulated their relationships and financial affairs, while safeguarding the equality and human rights afforded by modern law for vulnerable inidividuals (particularly women) within those communities. He reiterates several times that it would be important to ensure that “no ‘supplementary’ jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights.” He also points out that there is already provision in English law for Jewish and Christian communities to have some autonomy over the governance of their religious affairs, without thereby putting themselves outside the law.
openDemoracy — Tariq Modood, “Multicultural citizenship and the anti-sharia storm”:
There are significant practical difficulties in giving public recognition and legal incorporation of sharia councils. They must of course work within United Kingdom law, only delivering judgments that are consistent with it, including human rights, gender equality and child-protection legislation. There must be no compulsion or social pressure to go to them in preference to civil courts or other lawful remedies. The adjudicators need to be properly trained and qualified, both in terms of Islamic knowledge and authority but also in terms of their understanding of UK law and British society, the complex context in which the cases arise and within which they must be understood and resolved.
As there is no single ecclesiastical authority in Islam, certainly not in Sunni Islam, these problems cannot be addressed simply at the top and filtered down through a hierarchy. Yet it is a fact that sharia adjudication councils do exist and operate in Britain and so it is very likely that some of the problems just mentioned are problems that already exist. These must be addressed, but in sensitive and feasible ways; that is, not by picking a fight with Muslims but by bringing them deeper into British institutions and practice, and by equitable treatment that extends to Muslims the opportunities and resources that other groups enjoy.
openDemoracy — Roger Scrutton, “Islamic law in a secular world”:
It seems to me that we stand in need of a [reminder] of what we owe to the Christian legacy. And one of the things that we owe to that legacy is the idea that law is and ought to be a secular institution, whose authority is founded in human decisions and is independent of, and in an important respect takes precedence over, divine commands.
It sounds paradoxical to put the point in that way, and it is not surprising if Muslims find it difficult to accept such a vision of law. How can human decisions take precedence over divine commands? How can something demanded by God be set aside by a merely human institution?
None of the schools of fiqh could admit to such a thing. Their ijtihad (effort) was expended on showing that divine law, as revealed in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, is indeed compatible with this or that practice found to be necessary in the government of society. This effort was by turns approved and disapproved, so that by the time the Ottomans strove to lead the Muslim people into the modern world, there was no choice but to adopt European codes of law, while allowing the various communities within the empire to settle matters of marriage, domestic strife and inheritance according to their own legal traditions.
openDemocracy — Sami Zubaida, “Sharia: practice of faith, politics of modernity”:
Rowan Williams, the archbishop, rightly pointed out that informal sharia tribunals were in any case in operation among certain Muslim communities in the United Kingdom, and asked whether these should not be recognised and formalised in some way. Orthodox Jews already enjoyed such recognition, so why not Muslims? And if so, what kind of “recognition”? Surely not extending to enforcing their judgments on unwilling or weak parties and against the law of the land?
The problem in resolving these questions is partly that not enough is known about the forms and procedures of these bodies, nor about the scope of their operation. Do these bodies mix sharia provisions with customary law of the ethnic communities? Resort to these tribunals, legally a form of arbitration, can only occur if all parties to a transaction or dispute agree to be bound by its outcome. What happens, however, when the parties are not equal – as in the hypothetical case, say, of a wife from a village in Kashmir against more powerful and informed husband and in-laws? May there not be a case for formalising these tribunals in some way in order to monitor the fairness of procedure and the truth of consent? Or would recognition initiate a process of institutionalisation which may spur further demands for alternative legal provisions? The Archbishop of Canterbury, in my opinion, has raised important questions, swept away in the furore engendered by the symbolic potency that the mention of “sharia” seems to engender.
New Statesman — Martin O’Neill, “Attack on secularism”:
[Rowan] Williams’s real aim is an attack on secularism. Giving Muslim legal traditions a privileged position in UK law is a way of attempting to de-legitimize a fully secular legal system. It is a way of protecting the special position of religion in British public life, and, with it, thereby protecting the grotesque anachronism of special status of the Church of England. If Williams really cared about the value commitments of his fellow citizens, whether Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or atheist, he should be campaigning relentlessly for the disestablishment of his own church.
Muslim Council of Britain — “British Muslims Stand up to be Counted as Equal Citizens”:
We do not seek parallel legal systems, nor do we aim to enforce on anyone any particular code or way of life. But we do expect a fair discourse free from the current shrill hysteria screaming of impending doom from invading hordes.
British Muslim Initiative — “BMI letter to Archbishop of Canterbury”:
We are writing to thank you for your intelligent, thoughtful and reasoned comments on the legal recognition of communal religious identities in modern British society, and to express support for your spiritual and moral courage in the face of the onslaught in response to your speech.
We have similarly been taken aback by the astonishing scale and vicious tone of the media reaction and the manner in which your comments have been taken out of context and used as a pretext for unleashing all manner of prejudiced and hostile views on Islam and Muslims.
Times — Usama Hasan, “What is Sharia?”:
Anyone familiar with this rich history of Sharia is left bemused by the ignorant and prejudiced notions that often dominate debates about it, especially the strange assumption that the last of the Abrahamic faiths has values that are somehow radically different from those of Judaism or Christianity.
Returning to the Archbishop’s lecture, I’d like to illustrate one of his key points, that of cultural and faith loyalties, with the example of marriage. Many people in this country, perhaps the majority, will not be too excited about a register-office wedding, but would love to have their dream wedding in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple. It is only right and proper that the law of the land recognises all such marriages. Over the past few years mosques have finally begun to be registered as public buildings suitable for the solemnisation of marriages.
Imam Abdassamad Clarke of Ihsan Mosque in Norwich, “The Archbishop & The Shari’a”:
The genuine sense of outrage from British people, admittedly provoked and aggravated by the gutter press, must be accepted. There can be no doubt that there is a real feeling that something thought of as British culture is under threat, and this threat is presented to them as coming from hapless Muslim immigrants, often in the third or even fourth generation, and from refugees.
Of course, it is questionable how in any meaningful sense the Daily Express, for example, has anything to do with British culture. Do they stand for Shakespeare, Donne, Milton and Carlyle or even D. H. Lawrence? In the context we are examining, do they have the faintest interest in the roots and principles of British common law, and, if so, where are they when habeas corpus and most of the liberties granted by Magna Carta are being whittled away? The unfortunate answer must be that they are howling for their immediate abolition. Yet this sense that the British people at large have that their culture and way of life are under threat is palpable and ought to be addressed.
REACTION IN THE BLOGOSPHERE
Andrew Brown, “Laws of the land”:
Dr [Rowan] Williams, characteristically, is interested in the arguments over what sharia law actually says. The rest of the country is more interested in whether and how it might be enforced. Only if Islamic law can be reduced to a game played between consenting adults can it be acceptably enforced in this country; and that’s not, I think, how it is understood by its practitioners. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Jeevan Vasagar, “Bravo, Rowan”:
The problem is that the right, and their fellow-travellers on the Muslim-bashing left, will seize on this. For them, it’s a case of mediaeval misogyny versus western enlightenment. Suddenly, papers that oppose abortion and believe career women will always be unhappy start cross-dressing as feminists. Don’t believe this ruse – they’re just using feminism as a stick to beat Muslims with.
Rowan Williams is right about this, though his quiet voice is getting drowned out in the hysteria. Sharia already plays a role in devout Muslim lives, and has to be accepted and understood. But there also has to be a right of appeal. In Muslim countries that practice sharia, it is not a static entity but a living body of rules – just like secular law – which often co-exists with inherited colonial structures and traditional practices.
Asim Siddiqui, “Reinventing sharia”:
The archbishop is right to suggest ways to integrate alienated Muslims into the mainstream. Part of that is to educate more religiously and/or culturally assertive Muslims on what sharia actually should mean in a modern context. This is the work for Muslim scholars to reinterpret practices considered by some to be “Islamic”; such as women witnesses being worth half that of men, men having up to four wives, custody of children transferring to the father, inheritance etc. In each case, there are multiple interpretations. It is for progressive Muslim scholars to ensure the more liberal and tolerant interpretations that are rooted in the Islamic tradition and part of Britain’s libertarian heritage become dominant over time. That would do far more to aid Muslim integration than introducing a work in progress into statute.
Daniel Finkelstein, “Why the Archbishop is wrong about Sharia”:
The Archbishop of Canterbury is often hard to follow – by which I mean hard to comprehend. But when a sentence peeks through the fog and makes itself understood, I frequently find I disagree with him.
Not long ago I attended a lecture by him about freedom of expression and when asked to describe it later I said: “It was too obscure for me to know when to heckle.”
I do not have the same difficulty with today’s extraordinary remarks about Sharia law.
Ruth Gledhill, “Has the Archbishop gone bonkers?”:
The Archbishop believes adopting aspects of sharia law into British law would help maintain social cohesion. But who exactly is asking for this? No Muslim organisation in Britain has requested it, I could not find any who even wanted it. Instead, Muslims I spoke to this afternoon seem fearful of the effects the Archbishop’s latest remarks will have on those already prejudiced against their community. As well they might be. His speech was delivered this evening at the Royal Courts of Justice in Strand, London.
j-tron, “Has Ruth Gledhill (and everyone else) gone completely bonkers?”:
[Ruth] Gledhill begins her piece in about the same way as all of them begin, accusing the archbishop of arguing for an adoption of sharia law by the British government. To be fair, she does say that he is only interested in “some” sharia law, but she makes no effort to explain. She then goes on for several paragraphs accusing the archbishop of attacking the rights of women, then bringing in comments by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and an Islamic scholar, the scholar being the only one in the piece who at least mentions that Williams’ intentions are only related to particular aspects of sharia that relate to personal issues.
What Gledhill doesn’t include at all is the archbishop’s lengthy explanation of sharia as a practice of ethical truth seeking in Islam, as opposed to the system of repression that it has come to be known as by the media. Not that the media has made this idea up entirely. There are extreme, harsh forms of sharia that are imposed by hard line Islamists, some of which have become the law of the land in places like Pakistan and the Taliban controlled parts of Afghanistan. These are horror shows in which women are treated as objects of scorn and public humiliation. But Williams makes explicit that these are extreme interpretations of what is not a specified code but in fact a way of developing ethical law. “To recognise sharia is to recognise a method of jurisprudence governed by revealed texts rather than a single system,” he says. Sharia is a way of actualizing and living out what Islam claims to be revealed truth, namely the truth about God that is revealed in the Quran and to a lesser extent the Haddith.
Yahya Birt, “The Trouble with Shariah”:
For some decades now under English civil law, marital and inheritance law and the arbitration of disputes have been judged under Shariah if both parties have freely consented to adjudication on that basis. This has required the civil courts to provide guidance to judges on ethnic minority law and to call upon a roster of Islamic legal specialists, many of them ulema. Where such claims have fallen foul of English law or contravened basic human rights legislation, they have been rejected by the courts. Conversely, we can also note the recent recognition of some aspects of Islamic finance in English law to enable the development of a competitive Islamic finance sector.
Therefore, the question is how much should these cases of arbitration be dealt with by the civil courts and how much by minority courts regulated under English civil law?
Obsolete, “Bearded extremist must die! (or resign, whichever comes first)”:
Even if [Rowan] Williams is genuinely surprised and dismayed by the reaction to his speech, it has to be based on a rather less than intellectual naviety. You mention Sharia and the instant, instinctive image it conjures up is limb chopping, flogging and beheadings. This was always what was going to occupy the tabloids’ mindset, and they have had an absolute field day. I haven’t even bothered to look at either the Express and Mail, but the Sun’s coverage is, to say the least, little sort of sickening in its distortion and use of images that are almost designed to encourage Islamophobia. The Scum naturally decided that the most appropriate image for its front page was the woman in the niqab flashing a v-sign, without any attempt to provide the context in which it was originally taken: when the police raided those who have now pleaded guilty to the beheading plot. They were entitled to feel aggrieved by how the media had descended upon their home and were at the time recklessly scaremongering as usual.
Almost unbelievably, the Sun’s headline for its current online, updated piece is “Williams: victory for terrorism”. To consider his speech to be any sort of victory for terrorism would require a rhetorical leap that even Melanie Phillips would blanch at, but the Sun is more than happy to link Sharia law with terrorism.
Simon Barrow, “Sharia subjects II: Real problem, wrong solution”:
In an odd way, the Archbishop seems to be recognising that particular privileges for the Church of England are not on. But he is also being leant on to preserve them by seeking to construct a multi-faith establishment instead. That is no more credible or justifiable, it seems to me. His loss of a clear nonconformist conscience is unhelpful. Nonetheless, the issues ought to be discussable, and the anti-Muslim hysteria that seems to have conditioned some reactions to what Rowan Williams did (or didn’t say) is disturbing. We have a problem of cohesion and recognition, to be sure. But the way to solve it is by voluntary cooperation and civic action, not the collusion of religion with governance and vice versa. That is the Christendom era from which we are, rightly, retreating.
More at OurKingdom: “Subjets of Sharia I”, “Sharia subjects III: Do our rulers understand what rule of law is?”, “Sharia Subjects IV: Crikey — it’s all connected”, “Sharia Subjects V: What ABC actually said (in part)”, “Sharia Subjects VI: Sharia Subjects VI: Concurrent jurisdiction would be used to coerce average believers”, “Sharia Subjects VIII: The real purpose of the Archbishop”, “Sharia Subjects VII: Beattie & Halliday in openDemocracy”, “Sharia Subjects VIII: The real purpose of the Archbishop”, “Sharia Subject IX: Her Majesty frowns”, “Sharia Subjects X: Williams defers to the interest of the stronger”, “Sharia Subjects XI: Law, free religion and civic pluralism”
Global Dashboard, “Sharia law in UK ‘inevitable’ – Archbishop of Canterbury”:
As ever, when you actually listen to what [Rowan Williams] says, he comes across as thoughtful, considered and nuanced; he points, for instance, to the fact that Orthodox Jewish courts already exist in the UK. But I can’t help wondering whether this is a pretty bad error of judgement in communication terms. Even the BBC’s own coverage of the story on BBC News Online loses most of the nuances; I’ve listened to the whole interview, and I’m not sure that I fully understand where Williams is going with this.
The risk here is that what would have been fine as an article in Prospect, say, or the London Review of Books, ignites a firestorm by dint of appearing first on a broadcast medium, followed by immediate pickup on the internet. Just wait for the reactions from the US right wing blogosphere to roll in as they gleefully take this as confirmation of all their predictions about dhimmitude. It’s the “unavoidable” bit that’ll really drive the story. They’re going to have a hard few days’ work in the Lambeth Palace press office…
Austrolabe, “Shariah ‘Courts’ and Freedom of Contract”:
[T]he issue of ‘shariah courts’ is really just an issue of freedom of contract: the idea that people entering freely into a contract — whether that be a marriage contract or a commercial contract — have the right to agree as to how they settle any disagreements (subject naturally to the law). In the case of a marriage contract, this might be agreeing that a local committee of religious leaders would rule on the division of property following a divorce; or, in the case of a business transaction, it might be deciding that a private arbitration organisation or industry association rules on any disagreements.
The point is that the arbitration body — regardless of whether it is a Rabbinical court, a Shariah court or a secular body — derives its authority not from statute but from the consent of the parties requesting arbitration. The fact that the parties are choosing to settle their commercial or social disagreements by reference to the Qu’ran is therefore of no more consequence to society than if they decided to settle the same dispute by tossing a coin, asking a neighbour to decide, or any of the other myriad of ways in which human beings settle disagreements peacefully.
Quaequam Blog!, “Does Rowan Williams have any more idea of what he’s going on about than I do?”:
Sadly though it appears that he must have it both ways, appearing to not only argue for exceptionalism, but refuting the value of the enlightenment project itself. He seems only interested in religious people having this flexibility and appears to attack the notion that it should be a universal right on the grounds that that would be a “legal monopoly” – the right is reserved only to people with their own quasi-legal (religious) framework. Any attempt to talk about universalism in the context of a single rule of law for all is denounced as positivism.
Matthew D’Ancona, “A massive clerical error”:
Yes, many British Muslims have dual loyalties. In the era of globalisation and population mobility, this is common enough, as identities pile up within individuals. British Catholics have long confronted (successfully) the question of distinct allegiance to Crown and to Rome. Likewise, British Jews are perfectly capable of identifying passionately with the state of Israel but being, first and foremost, citizens of this country. Our islands teem with new Britons who have complex emotions about their new home and where they have come from.
Garry Smith, “We’re all for tolerance but…”:
The BBC’s Have Your Say has been inundated with outraged comments (over 11,000 comments since yesterday afternoon, most still in moderation) and demands for the Archbishop’s resignation. There, and on blogs, a common theme is “I can’t believe he said that”. Unfortunately, this thought does not seem to have provoked any great desire to find out exactly what he did say. How many of those 11,000 people actually listened to the Archbishop’s 10 minute interview or read his speech? (Both available from the BBC article above.) How many bloggers offered their opinion based on nothing more than a badly written news summary of Williams’ views and their own deeply felt misunderstanding of the concept Sharia law? Too many to count.
Chris Dillow, “Rowan Williams & Civil Society”:
In saying that the UK’s adoption of part of Sharia law is inevitable, I suspect the Archbishop of Canterbury is making the same mistake he made in calling for laws against “cruel speech.” He’s failing to see that there should be a (big) space between individuals and the law, a space filled by civil society. In a free society, consenting adults should be able to settle disputes however they like; this might entail recourse to a coin toss, Sharia, Beth din or whatever. The job of UK law is merely to ensure that consent is free, informed and not too onerous. This means that Sharia shouldn’t and needn’t be part of English law, but merely of civil society.
Andrew Gimson, “Rowan Williams was right to speak out”:
Dr Rowan Williams’s critics say he should not have given this lecture because it was bound to be misinterpreted. To me he is a hero for defying this attempted censorship and for showing us how to conduct an intelligent and good-natured conversation on a highly controversial subject.
Pseudo-liberals would rather avoid the question of how to reconcile the claims of sacred and secular law. They are terrified by the idea that we should look carefully at sharia law, and resentful of the calm and learned way in which the Archbishop has done so, for it shows up their own intellectual timidity.
I fear some of the pseudo-liberals regret the arrival of so many Muslims in our country, but are too cowardly to say so. Behind their liberalism lies a terrifying bigotry.
Dr Williams has better manners, and is also more realistic: he knows the Muslims are here to stay and realises it would be a disaster to leave them isolated from our national life.
Patrick Hennessy, “Is this the end of one law for all?”:
However it is also almost breathtaking in its other-worldliness. Did the Archbishop realise how his musings would be greeted by Joe Public? And isn’t his declaration that “an approach to law which simply said – there’s one law for everybody – I think that’s a bit of a danger ” – a precise repudiation of the very foundations of our society, that all are equal under the law?
With understatement bordering on self-parody the BBC reports that “Dr Williams’ comments are likely to fuel the debate over multiculturalism in the UK.” Yes…just a bit.
Andrew McKie, “What ‘British law’?”:
Odd, in all of this fuss over about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on sharia law to see the Prime Minister’s spokesman stating that “British law would be based on British values”. The BBC kept banging on about it as well.
I know that Mr Brown has been very keen on pushing the idea of Britishness recently (probably to deflect the suspicion of his Scottishness which a good many voters – unsurprisingly, given the manifest unfairness of devolution, and the failure to sort out the West Lothian Question – seem to have).
But surely he, as a legislator and a Scot, must have a passing awareness of the fact that there is no such thing as British law, and never has been.
Matthew Wardman, “Before you Start another Archbishop of Canterbury Barbecue…”:
Interestingly, Archbishop Rowan [Williams] in the interview [...] comes out as a sceptic about the proposed Islamic prayer call in Oxford:”I think I would be very uneasy about licensing a regular daily call to prayer. It doesn’t even happen in many Muslim environments. It becomes an iconic thing that some Muslims want to push because they want to be recognised and some people want to push it back on because their space is being invaded. I think we need a bit of an injection of common sense in a mixed community which will never be homogeneously Muslim about what’s appropriate. A daily call to prayer doesn’t seem to be appropriate in that sort of environment.”
James Kirkup, “Faith and freedom”:
At the heart of the storm over Rowan Williams’ thoughts on Sharia law lies what many see as the fundamental incompatibility between Western laws – made by largely secular democratic parliaments and applied by largely secular independent judges – and the laws of Islam, which derive from holy texts and is applied largely by clerics. Basically, it comes down to this simple question: do we live according to God’s will, or man’s?
Iain Martin, “The Archbishop provokes outrage”:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has managed to make himself a unifying figure this morning, but probably not quite in the way he intended when he gave that interview to the BBC’s World at One. Across the spectrum, there is condemnation and complete bafflement about what Rowan Williams thought he was doing.
Britain’s party leaders are of one mind. The Question Time audience last night seemed pretty united and British newspapers this morning prove that they still have the knack of capturing the national mood on stories such as this with a simple image or phrase in a way broadcasters can never quite manage.
Dal Nun Strong, “Keeping shari’ah law civil”:
If by “shariah law” we mean dispute resolution mechanisms for Muslims that are based on the provisions of their shared faith, well then these are already in place. In the UK, for instance, if two people agreed to have their case judged by a system of law that is different from the law of England and Wales (for example, in front of a scholar of Islamic law), if the system for reaching judgement is accepted as fair by both parties and the sanction is proportionate, then the civil courts will enforce the judgement. The ambit of such “alternative dispute resolution” bodies does not cover the whole ambit of Islamic jurisprudence, but no doubt some committed people are working on this.
That these manifestations of consensual shari’ah are already in place is a simple fact. If the process works for the participants, I’m glad for all of them. However, the reason why the participants might be happy with the process is because they have individually agreed to be subject to that process.
Brian Crowe, “Lazy journalism, lazy politics – the response to Rowan Williams”:
[Rowan] Williams offers a vision of a pluralist society in which the rule of law secures human dignity against the threat of “specific communities or traditions … claiming finality for their own boundaries of practice and understanding” and in which “individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters”. For Christians this will mean freely accepting ecclesiastical discipline, for Jews the Beth Din courts and for Muslims aspects of sharia law.
Williams has offered an important, thoughtful reflection on pluralism. He and his press office should be unsurprised that our media and politicians are incapable of responding appropriately.
Sunny Hundal, “Shariah law and the Archbishop (again)”:
2) I’m concerned that having separate civil legal systems, especially when in cases where women have less rights than men, will lead to abuses of the system. What if a woman does not want a divorce by Shariah and wants an official legal divorce, but the family refuses? What do you do then? How will she enforce it?
3) It may be “inevitable”, as the Archbishop says, but not for about 20 years I’d say. I see no immediate need for it now. This is just going to blow up into a silly controversy with the usual scaremongering headlines in tomorrow’s Daily Express.
Gracchi, “Civil and Religious Law in England: Contra Canterbury!”:
I have heard Rowan Williams speak and unlike some from this website am fairly well disposed to him- he gave a fascinating talk on art and philosophy at Cambridge in 2005. I suppose that makes me a perfect advocate of the argument that today the Archbishop has made a complete idiot of himself. Partly he has made an idiot of himself through the fact that whatever Rowan Williams does understand, the media isn’t one of the things that he gets. Partly though he has made an idiot of himself because he has advocated a concept of law which I think is dangerous and creates a special privilege for established Churches in this country which they should not have.
Blairwatch, “Death Comes for The Archbishop”:
This being the Church of England, [Rowan Williams] offers up a slightly half-baked middle way, which he’s still not entirely convinced by. This goes along the lines of people being able to choose jurisdictions in a sort of legal market, based on their personal and cultural preferences. I’m not convinced it’s a great idea (my preference would be for a strong and understood state legal system with a few adhoc delegations or carefully thought out liberalisations in specific areas, biased towards those which are as uncontroversial as possible), but that’s what he’s proposing and that’s what people should be debating. Instead, we’ll doubtless get ‘Loony Sandal Wearing PC Liberal Bearded Bishop Invites The Taliban To Take Over’. I’ll be watching for it, since even nominally liberal media outlets seems convinced that what he’s saying that ‘sharia in the UK is unavoidable’, so God knows what the Mail, Sun and Express are lining up. The British media, rushing into print with a story based on a misreading of a single line of a complex and detailed document? I’m truly shocked.
Chris Schuler, “No to sharia law”:
Dr [Rowan] Williams says that Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”. But his proposal would only make the choice starker. At present, British Muslims who do not want their divorce, for example, to be settled under sharia law have recourse to the law of the land. If the decisions of sharia courts were legally binding, they would in effect have to renounce their religion, something that could expose them to victimisation and might even endanger their lives.
James Macintyre, “In defence of Rowan: what about a pause?”:
As it happens, the howls about how the Church should stay out of “politics” are being made by pundits looking through the wrong end of the telescope: the Archbishop of Canterbury – unlike, say, Prince Charles, who swings in and out of the political sphere like an axe in a tea room – can say whatever he likes. If you don’t like the fact that we have a state church, you should call – with great justification – for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Oh, and the substance of the issue of sharia law, separate legal provisions are already made for the Orthodox Jewish community in the UK.
Ali Eteraz, “Opposing Sharia Arbitration Courts in UK”:
Coercion won’t be by people putting a gun to the heads of women. Instead, women will be gently “reminded” (with a nice hard grasp on their arm) that if they don’t go to Sharia judge they will be seen as impious and not-devout. You have no idea of the power of social death.
We have enough issues of piety-pressure in our communities already. Half the girls I know that wear hijab do it because of piety-pressure. This pressure gets out of hand in cases of marriage, divorce and custody. Think about it. These days, even the most liberal and secular Muslims, when they get married, go through the entire nikah procedure/ceremony. This isn’t because they are religious (there is a nice open bar at the wedding hall). Its because of piety-pressure. It is an impeccably strong force. Muslims in the US are polled to be more socially conservative than Evangelical Christians (and Muslims in the UK are more conservative than American ones).
Then, there is the beating issue. Let’s say that a woman consents to going to the arbitration court, but once there, she wants to bring up domestic violence. What’s the Sharia judge going to say? “Was it with a stick the width of my thumb?” Give me a break. Also, the question arises, is the judge, in such a situation, going to be able to kick the matter up to a secular court in the form of an interlocutory appeal (an appeal that takes place during the case)? I suspect most people will say that the answer is yes. If the answer is yes, and we have to call a bunch of expert witnesses to the secular court, then why are we in the Sharia court in the first place? What about women beating men? It happens about 15% of the time. I don’t think Islamic family law even recognizes this.
Atif Imtiaz, ” On the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments”:
[The Rowan Williams/sharia issue] is about British society and the faith question, but this is also about Anglicanism and its future especially its relation to the Muslim community in Britian. Here I want to characterise two approaches of inter-faith towards Muslims: Christian humanism and Rowan Williams is an example of such and Christian identity politics and Michael Nazir-Ali is an example of such.
Ben Myers, “On sharia and hysteria: or, why Rowan Williams is right”:
I reckon the Archbishop’s biggest problem is simply that he’s so much smarter than anyone else in the Church, and of course infinitely smarter than the poor news media, who haven’t the faintest idea what he’s actually talking about. The result is a public spectacle of stunning, breathtaking misunderstanding. (Today, some outraged nincompoop in the English Church was even calling for Williams’ resignation…)
Cranmer, ” Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Shari’a law in Britain is unavoidable’”:
Dr [Rowen] Williams did not advocate Shari’a law; he said quite distinctly that ‘aspects’ of it might be incorporated into British law. He said other religions enjoyed tolerance of their own laws, and called for ‘constructive accommodation’ with Muslim practice in areas such as marital disputes. But he stressed that it could never be allowed to take precedence over an individual’s rights as a citizen. This is an important distinction.
Asked if the adoption of Shari’a law was necessary for community cohesion, Dr Williams said that certain conditions of Shari’a ‘are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system’.
It is this statement which exposes the barefaced hypocrisy of the present government, for New Labour has already permitted Shari’a principles to be applied to Muslims and not to other British citizens. While the Prime Minister’s spokesman insisted that ‘British law would be based on British values’, he admitted that concessions had already been made in specific instances, such as a relaxation of the law on stamp duty to avoid it being paid twice when Shari’a-compliant mortgages were used. And husbands with multiple wives have been given permission to claim extra welfare benefits following a year-long review, and this will lead inexorably to different pension rights and exemption from death duties. Once the Government recognised and legitimised polygamy, it is only a matter of time before legislative creep demands further accommodating exemptions.
And yet the Archbishop’s naivety is astonishing. He treats Radio 4 as if it were an Oxford theological college, and assumes that his audience is made up of academics with the ability to dissect and analyse words with his professorial precision.
Shari’a may be a complex and convoluted legal system, but it means only one thing in the UK: oppression, barbarism and injustice. This judgement may in itself be unjust, but the word is alien and, like ‘jihad’, has taken on its own meaning.
Madeleine Bunting, “A noble, reckless rebellion”:
[Rowan Williams] was honouring his audience last night – many of whom were lawyers and academics – by engaging them in a complex exploratory argument. Here is a fine mind at work: what sort of anti-intellectual populism assumes we should be able to easily understand everything he says? It’s a bad day when all our public figures are trapped in a parade of simplistic, anodyne platitudes: our politics have reached that degree of non-speak, and bishops are close behind them. What Williams did was defy all media convention – it was a rebellion against the spin and public relations mediation of public life; buried in all the frustration, there has to be a measure of awe for someone so recklessly prepared to buck the system and continue to be what he is – a big mind and a big heart but without a political bone in his body.
Yusuf Smith, “Ignorance and bigotry unleashed by Williams speech”:
The most irksome aspect of the objections to Dr Williams’s speech, however, was the suggestion that if Muslims do not like British law, they should live somewhere else, apparently meaning their home countries, as if Britain was not their home country. The Muslim community are not guests in this country, but a long-established minority who have as much right to be here as the white population. It is unseemly that a polite suggestion, not an aggressive demand and not even from within the community, should provoke such suggestions.
Daniel Davies, “Don’t get your niqab in a twist (part 2)”:
[W]hatever system of institutionalised sharia the Rt Rev Rowan is anticipating, we know that it’s going to have to be one that is compatible with European human rights law, particularly with regard to not discriminating between individuals on grounds of sex, race, religion or lack thereof or sexual orientation. Any attempt on the part of sharia courts to implement a version of sharia which discriminates against women would simply end up as a nice little earner for Matrix Chambers and Ms Cherie Booth QC.
Yunus Yakoub Islam, “The definition of a fool…”:
Doctor Rowan [Williams'] defiance before the media furore and the Bishop of Hulme’s condemnation of the press response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s radio interview as “shameful” are patently foolish. If you sit in front of a journalist, whether he be a Radio 4 stalwart or a tabloid tosspot, and say “Shariah law is probably inevitable in Britain”, how can you express shock and surprise when the shit hits the fan? It doesn’t matter one jot that what you were talking about was something quite different to what The Sun and David Blunkett take to mean Shariah. For the average hack (and his parliamentary pals), Shariah means stonings and beheadings.
Lenin’s Tomb, “Another pogrom, chaps?”:
The reaction to Williams’ statement adequately expresses the three basic coordinates of contemporary Islamophobia, veering between burning resentment about Them getting ‘special treatment’, fear and loathing of the ‘Muslim threat’, and finally a vague ‘humanitarianism’ in which whitey rescues Asian Babes from their non-white male captors. The first two being the usual racist discourse, and the latter being a staple of colonial ideology. Incidentally, these reactions are being blended in roughly the same measure in both the crude right-wing tabloids and in the broadsheets. (One outstanding exception, which beats all competition by its single-minded devotion to a daily dose of anti-Muslim racism is the Daily Express, which – like most pets – is coming to resemble its owner: as unadulterated scum).
Simon Barrow, “A multi-faith muddle”:
After a period of stunned ecclesiastical silence framed by sustained public outrage, Lambeth Palace has now issued a clarifying statement about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s controversial Temple Church address on religious and civil law in England. What it reveals is that there is an even larger agenda here – the notion that maintaining special provisions and exemptions for Christians in a “secular unitary system” now requires some kind of multi-faith settlement, given that the historic privileges of the Church of England are unsustainable.
Ayesha Khan, “Sharia sensibilities”:
The laws and rights of sharia seem archaic to most people in British society. The volume of media coverage following the archbishop’s speech suggests that there is not just misapprehension and bemusement, but outright hostility. For many, there is an instinct to fight for the rights of the women that are perceived to be undermined or abused by Islamic law. That is an admirable instinct. But those women who need our help most will not seek our assistance if we refuse to take seriously their religious and cultural preferences and practices.
Damian Lanigan, “Islam in the UK: Choosing battles”:
Britain is quite rightly proud of its tradition of tolerance and reasonableness. It is presumably aware that there are a large number of Pakistanis, for instance, in the UK for good historical reasons. One aspect of reasonableness is that one must be prepared to accommodate notions one finds unpalatable. So we should choose our battles carefully,and realise that they are not all of equal importance. It is obvious that honour killings not be tolerated: no crime is expiated by its cultural provenance. However, in other areas, we’ll need different strategies: for instance we need to persuade Muslims that arranged marriages are a bad idea, and foster a broader emancipation for Muslim women at the same time.
Catherine Bennet, “It’s one sharia law for men and quite another for women”:
How hard our pious Prime Minister must have prayed recently for the Lord to help him achieve the seemingly impossible: the opportunity to make an official challenge to discredited multicultural pieties that would not immediately provoke accusations of racism, and of Islamophobia, and more than anything, of hypocrisy. In vain; until last Thursday, when the archbishop spake on The World at One or, as it might be, out of the whirlwind.
Dave Cole, “In defence of Archbishop Rowan Williams”:
These are sensitive issues; sobriety is needed. The reaction of many sections of the press – to put words into the Archbishop’s mouth that are quite different from what he said – inflames tensions in the name of money. God and mammon, indeed. The assertion of Christianity, tradition, history and cultural norms I find repugnant as it is an appeal to the dead and not to reason. Equally, the assertions are based on misinterpretations, which makes me think that they are phobic of Islam; they have an unreasonable, pathological fear. There are, for instance, sections of Islam that would shut themselves off from all who don’t agree with their interpretation of the world. Making any generalisation about contemporary Islamic practice on the basis of such a group is like comparing the Church of England to the Exclusive Brethren. I would add that the official Christian tradition in England is, at least since the first Elizabeth, that of the Via Media. It is a tradition of accommodation and delaying unnecessary conflict in the hope that it dissipates.
Alexander Goldberg, “Deferring to a higher law”:
A few years ago, I conducted research on sharia councils and courts. I found those attempts intriguing which aimed to create a British or European Muslim discourse. Within that discourse there were discussions of whether those institutions should use the Arbitration Act to enforce decisions in the future or, as the late Zaki Badawi advocated, to create councils that simply advised or worked with consenting believers to produce an Islamic legal opinion that took into account several Muslim schools of law and the English common law system. What was interesting was that this initiative was a logical and respectful attempt to enable believers to maintain their individual moral and religious values within a common law framework. These initiatives are about integration not segregation.
David Aaronovitch, “”:
[W]e would have a Britain-friendly supplementary Sharia and a “market element” in law for those who freely chose it – and who, sensibly, could object to that? Neither Dr Williams nor his argument deserved the beating-up they received. And if his contribution was “unhelpful”, it was largely rendered so by the reaction to it. Obscurity rarely in itself incites hatred. But he was obscure, because it is only with great difficulty and by seeking for evidence that we can work out where his direction of travel might take us.
Lawrence of Arabia, “When Liberalism Loses the Courage of Its Convictions”:
The allowance of parallel legal institutions with the UK strikes at one of the central tenets of Politically Liberal “theology” of religions: the separation of faith and works. As a Roman Catholic the separation was never particularly appealing and it has always fascinated me the extent to which Catholics have failed to fight against it in their desire to enter into the mainstream of Liberal cultural and political life (JFK for instance had to embrace it in order to legitimize his candidacy). Nonetheless, when Liberalism begins to question the foundations of its own existence one has to wonder whether or not Liberalism has lost its faith. Is the Liberal experiment failed?
And what next from the Archbishop of Canterbury? It has been suggested that the creation of parallel religious courts will help Catholicism in such matters as adoption. Many adoption agencies in the US and the UK have run into problems as they are required, under existing law, to allow same-sex couples to adopt children (in the state of Massachusetts for instance, Catholic charities no longer arranges adoptions). But what else will be covered. Will divorces be denied to Catholic couples? What criminal charges will a husband be allowed to bring against his wife if he finds out she is using birth control? If he finds out she had an abortion – i.e., in the eyes of the Church, committed murder?
Where is Liberalism going?
Crooked Timber, “Will no-one rid me….”:
[T]here is nothing treacherous about the Archbishop’s comments. He is appealing to the long-established British tradition of muddling through, tinkering with institutions as is needed to achieve goals of stability and rough fairness (he’s the one who is “holding fast to that which is good”). The revolutionaries—or to put it far more harshly than I ever would, the traitors—here are, in fact, the Archbishop’s critics. Ms Marrin is presumably now organising a campaign to disestablish the Church of England, close down the Jewish courts, and sever the connection between the Monarch and a sectarian Church.
Andrew Anthony, “He ought to split his church from the state”:
If Dr [Rowan] Williams was seriously concerned about constitutional law and religious justice, he would look at the dwindling number of his followers in this country and call for the disestablishment of the Church of England.
Britology Watch: “Sharia, English Law and British Values”:
[T]his is why it’s particularly pernicious that the row that erupted over Rowan Williams’ lecture should have referred to the idea of accommodating Sharia within British law. No, Dr Williams’ lecture is entitled Islam in English Law: Civil and Religious Law in England. It’s an English matter, not British. English law already allows certain types of dispute to be resolved in civil, rather than legal, procedures under the terms of Orthodox Jewish law or, indeed, sharia; and the outcomes of such procedures are legally binding. What the archbishop is proposing is no more than a formalisation and extension of such arrangements so as to ensure legal oversight and improved guarantees that the rights and freedoms enshrined in English law are not overridden by the rulings of any given sharia court, which can vary according to the ethnic background and school of Islamic belief of each Muslim community.
Andrew Copson, “The archbishop adapts to survive”:
Judging by the outraged reaction of so many at Rowan Williams’ comments on sharia law, there was considerable surprise that he said what he said. In fact, nothing could be less surprising. Of course Williams wishes to argue for the extension of at least some of the privileges enjoyed by his own church to other religions. Such an argument, coupled with the sustained critique (some might say assault) on secularism and other Enlightenment values by a number of bishops in the Church of England, is the best defence the church today has for its own privileged position.
Justin McKeating, “The values of nothing”:
The thing is, the beauty of all this is that the people trying to knock the Archbishop’s hat off don’t have to have heard or read Rowan Williams’ views. They’re all confident in their safety in numbers. They can think to themselves, ‘well, someone here must have heard him and read him, so I don’t have to’, ignoring the motives of a lot of the people at the head of the throng. The wisdom of crowds, my arse. It’s a mob, pure and simple: most of them are simple and very few are pure. Hmmm, it turns out the Archbishop is a weapon with a multitude of uses – you can use him as a stick to beat anyone you like.
Ziauddin Sardar, “Sharia: heat but no enlightenment”:
By using Sharia as the basis of his lecture, [Rowan Williams] allowed the demons of western perception of Islam out of the bottle and ended up being thoroughly demonised himself. My own reading is that the import of Archbishop’s lecture lies elsewhere: with the debate within the Anglican Church about gay clergy, female bishops, and the issues of human fertilisation and embryology. He used Sharia as a distraction and thus failed to promote a proper public debate on issues that rally mattered to him and his Church. As such, the reaction to the Archbishop’s comments have little to do with what he said. They have largely been, with few exceptions, about attacking Muslims, creating a full-scale Islamophobic moral panic: just look at the headlines.
Larry Catá Backer, “The Church of England Speaks to the Relationship Between Law and Religion”:
The Archbishop’s thinking becomes clearer at this point—there is a taming issue. Suppression doesn’t work, but perhaps absorption and assimilation might. There is a sense that Rowan might be seeking a kinder and gentler form of Sharia within the welcoming embrace of British cultural and legal values. Law, culture and religion and their interconnection become a valuable tool: “now that principle that there’s one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy, but I think it’s a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that. An approach to law which simply said: “There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said.” I think that’s a bit of a danger.”
Bishop Alan, “Abdul the Bogeyman”:
English law is a funny old thing. Its very purpose is unclear — For fifty years there’s been a fascinating row (known in the trade as Hart/ Devlin), about whether English law is designed to secure minimal social cohesion (Hart) or enforce morals (Devlin). At the time of Roman Catholic emancipation back in 1829 we experienced big social hysteria about how people who theoretically owe allegiance to other systems of law could be completely part of English society. We’ve pretty much managed to work that one out — the whole idea that Roman Catholics are a sinister fifth column is just wrong, though this crazy notion has deep roots in English history. Loyal is as loyal does. Within the overarching framework of monarchy we’re all still here, and the deep fried hysteria from 1780 (the Gordon riots) or 1685 (the Popish Plot) seems, frankly, potty. From this we learn that the English sometimes do hysterical kneejerks. Best check that the bogeymen really are bogeymen. In a country containing people who don’t know the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile, this is particularly important.
Mike Higton, “Rowan Williams and Sharia: A Guide for the Perplexed”:
[Rowan] Williams places at least as strong an emphasis on the limits that religious freedom must have in a liberal, pluralist state. He argues quite directly, for instance, that this freedom can’t be allowed to deny to anyone the rights that we in our society regard as universal. It can’t be allowed to curtail anyone’s full citizenship. And he is in the lecture completely uncompromising about that, and spends a good deal of his lecture asking what conditions would have to be met if our society were to move towards any kind of greater legal recognition of the role of sharia of the kind mentioned. He suggests that there are areas where such recognition might nevertheless be possible: ‘aspects of marital law, the regulation of financial transactions and authorised structures of mediation and conflict resolution’ – and in some of these areas there is already a recognition of sharia in British law. Nevertheless, he does not mince his words about the difficulties that will be involved in handling this question appropriately and sensitively.
More: “Williams and strategy”
Pragna Patel, “Failed by religious law”:
I am not just talking about extreme examples of control [but] to the everyday experiences of abuse and violence to women and children in which religious community leaders are implicated. Over some 30 years, we have never known of women resorting to the civil law for divorce, injunctions and custody of children without first having exhausted internal methods of resolution through community and religious structures. It is only when they are failed at every turn that they seek justice from the wider legal system. Most when listened to, are encouraged to return to abusive families, having first been castigated for being disloyal to their religion and culture. (The experiences of the many Jewish women who have had to endure the Beth Din system also confirms the unequal status accorded to women in these undemocratic community arbitration schemes.)
The Sceptic Blog, “Sharia law in the United Kingdom”:
Between [the law of the land and communual religious institutions] two areas lies a wide range of civil matters where the secular institutions may well be able to handle them, but where there may be significant advantages in having them addressed by people who are able to empathise with the social, cultural and religious aspirations and values of the parties involved. One takes it that this is one of the areas to which the Archbishop is referring. Certainly Jewish law strongly supports the idea that a dispute between Jews should be handled by the Jewish courts wherever possible (Shemos 21:1 ; Gittin 88b). And in the United Kingdom for some years we have managed to put this into practice through the mechanism of the Arbitration Acts: Jews with a dispute on any commercial matter can go the Beis Din and sign an arbitration agreement, following which the matter proceeds as an arbitration and the Beis Din’s decision may be enforced if necessary through the secular courts, and can be challenged there only on limited, mostly procedural, grounds.
Tariq Modood, “Multicultural Citizenship and the Anti-Sharia Storm”:
The storm that the Archbishop’s views have caused is in many ways more instructive than what he himself said. The reaction was immediate and has been wholly disproportionate. Part of the problem is language. Simply to say something positive about ‘sharia’ leads to knee-jerk hostility amongst many people, just as the term ‘secularism’ regrettably is understood by some Muslims as a policy of atheism, colonialism and postcolonial despotism. The use of either of these terms can simply lead to the closing of minds, however reasonable and qualified is what is being said. Beyond this, it is clearly indicative of deep insecurities and fears about Islam amongst many, probably most of our fellow citizens. While this demonises and victimises us Muslims the ethic of dialogical citizenship gives us a basis to both stand up for our equal status in a dignified way and to seek to address these fears sensitively and in the spirit of mutual concern and solidarity. It is not easy to be sympathetic and considerate when one is being attacked but our shared future depends upon handling even Islamophobic hysteria in the spirit of common citizenship. For this is our country and its problems no less than its gifts are ours too.
Serious Golmal: “Why the Archbishop got it wrong”:
Why then the massive furore? Well, let’s go back to the line the archbishop drew in the sand. On one side of it Williams has placed secular liberalism and on the other side he places Religion. His intention is that is all faith-based communities, led by the Church of England, should throw off the pretence of compatibility with secular liberalism once and for all. This is contentious and it will not go down without a battle. I suspect the archbishop would very much like Sharia law to be the crucible in which this battle should be fought.
Dan Slater, “When the Law of Religion Meets the Law of the State”:
Whether government courts should ever defer to religious ones, writes [New York Times correspondent Adam] Liptak, is a question whose answer depends on whether the parties consented to religious adjudication, whether they’re allowed to change their minds and whether the decisions of those tribunals are offensive to fundamental conceptions of justice. “The hard questions, as the archbishop learned, arise in the area of family law,” says Liptak, “where the agreement to arbitrate may be uninformed or obtained by duress.”
One law professor told Liptak that government courts should refuse to enforce any ruling from a religious tribunal that leaves a woman worse off than she would have been in a conventional divorce. “Society has a stake in the outcome,” said Washington & Lee’s Robin Fretwell Wilson. “Some religions are tilted against women.”
The government has banned Yusuf al-Qaradawi from entering Britain:
The government confirmed to the Guardian that Yusuf al-Qaradawi had applied to come to the UK but had been refused.
The decision could hand the Tories a small political victory as the Conservative leader, David Cameron, last week called for his exclusion from the UK, saying Qaradawi was a “dangerous and divisive” preacher of hate.
I agree with Sunny Hundal on this issue:
Afghanistan’s upper house of parliament lauded the death sentence handed down against a local journalist who was found guilty of insulting Islam, an official said Wednesday.
In a statement signed by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the chamber’s chairman, the Senate also condemned what it called “international interference” to have the sentence annulled, spokesman Aminuddin Muzafari said.
The journalist, 23-year-old Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, was sentenced to death last week by a three-judge panel in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for distributing a report he printed off the Internet to journalism students at Balkh University.
The article asked why men can have four wives but women can’t have multiple husbands.
The court in Mazar-i-Sharif found that the article humiliated Islam. Members of a clerical council also pushed for Kaambakhsh to be punished.
The government had threatened to refuse to give the Weekly Herald a publishing permit if it continued to use the word.
The paper’s editor said the word had long been used by Christians to refer to God in the Malay language.
The ruling was immediately condemned by civil rights and Christian groups in Malaysia, who said it infringed their right to practice their religion.
But Malaysia’s internal security department demanded the word be removed, saying only Muslims could use it.
Malaysians argue over word for ‘God’
A church and Christian newspaper in Malaysia are suing the government after it decreed that the word “Allah” can only be used by Muslims.
In the Malay language “Allah” is used to mean any god, and Christians say they have used the term for centuries.
Opponents of the ban say it is unconstitutional and unreasonable.
It is the latest in a series of religious rows in largely Muslim Malaysia, where minority groups claim their rights are being eroded.
A spokesman for the Herald, the newspaper of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, said a legal suit was filed after they received repeated official warnings that the newspaper could have its license revoked if it continued to use the word.
“We are of the view that we have the right to use the word ‘Allah’,” said editor Rev Lawrence Andrew.
I think Masroor had his tongue lodged in his cheek somewhere when he was writing this piece, though I am sure others will have different views. In whatever way you read the piece, the website of a major British newspaper has allowed a Muslim to engage in polemics against another faith and touch some controversial points. So, if the Guardian happens to invite a Catholic blogger to type a piece criticising Muslims for not leaving Islam and entering the Church, I hope we do not see the kind of outrage we have seen in the last couple of years by some Muslims and cries of Islamophobia — this sort of exchange of views is ‘free speech’, however strained, in action.
Across the Atlantic a somewhat similar argument on free speech has been unfolding, involving Mark Steyn and his rant against Muslims, which was published in a Canadian magazine. There a Muslim organisation, the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), is using the law to demand some kind of remedy against Macleans, the magazine which published Steyn’s polemic.
I am against this sort of ‘solution’ to rebut anti-Muslim bigots. As has been pointed out by people with as differing views as Ali Eteraz, Inayat Bunglawala and the bloggers at Austrolabe [1, 2], such legal remedies will only come to hurt Muslims, their beliefs and causes they hold dear. What if Christians take exception to their beliefs being criticised by Muslims as ‘idolatry’? What if a staunchly pro-Israeli organisation demands space in a pro-Palestinian media outlet to respond to criticisms? There is nothing to stop the arguments used by some Muslims to curtail the freedom of others to criticise their own beliefs from being applied to Muslim criticism of Christianity, Hinduism, secularism and materialism. Indeed, as Sunny Hundal points out, it is Muslims living as minorities in liberal societies who will bare the brunt of such attempts to curtail public utterances.
Despite my reservations of the move made by the CIC, I would say that I do not think an abstracted freedom of speech under threat in cases such as this, the Danish cartoon fiasco or Popegate, largely because the state or its agencies are not directly intervening to prevent publication (there is no board of censorship which reviews suitable material prior to public release — that would be a direct attack on freedom of speech). Rather, most of the fuss is caused after the event. In the Macleans case, for example, a Muslim group with its allies are using a legal avenue to try and remedy a grievance they believe they have. I assume this legal body will review the case, and if the case is as flimsy as defenders of Macleans say it is, then it will be dismissed. I also assume this will have the added side affect of helping future cases to define what is and isn’t ‘free speech’.
In addition, speech, like our ‘conscience’, is always ‘free’: we are free at all times to utter words, have beliefs and so on. What is really at stake in discussions such as these are the consequences, if any, a society metes out for holding specific beliefs and expressing them in public. Despite pious assertions, liberal democracies seek to restrict and regulate our public utterances too: a wide variety of reasons are invoked to curtail what can be said such as the right to privacy, the national interest, symbols of cultural importance or protecting the vulnerable from harm (whether this is a good thing or not is a separate discussion). What some Muslims living in liberal democracies would like is for their beliefs to be held in such regards with respect to the law; but in liberal democracies, religious beliefs are generally not deemed worthy of legal protection from scrutiny or even ridicule — doing so would lead to the problems highlighted by Eteraz, Bunglawala and Austrolabe [1, 2].
It might be worth nothing that there is some tension here with Burke’s criticism of abstracted rights as laid out in his attack on the French Revolution. Burke attacked the ‘pretended rights’ of those who created abstracted theories of rights, by pointing out that an talk of such rights (e.g. the right to food or medicine) is all when and good, but what good is it if there are no farmers or doctors? Similarly, it might be said that while one may talk of the right to free speech for all, what good is it without the ‘vehicle’ to express these views? This is what at least one individual directly supporting the case against Macleans has suggested. I think this tension can be resolved by looking at the actual case of Muslims in Canada, and Canadian society in general (which is what Burke’s critique forces us to do). Examination shows that Canada is largely a tolerant, multicultural, society in which people are largely provided means to get an education, earn a living and engage in society in a variety of means (yes, these are all generalisations, but fair ones). There are no records of state-sponsored pogroms against Muslims. Those Muslims who found Macleans to be in the wrong when publishing Steyn’s piece were not totally powerless to respond. Avenues open to them included writing letters, starting boycotts, getting pieces written in magazines more sympathetic to their situation (rivals of Macleans), setting up public debates, raising funds to start their own magazine, and a whole host of other initiatives suggested by Eteraz — all of which, I assume, are legal in Canada. These would have been better means in which to respond to Steyn; they would certainly have been more effective.
The Macleans affair reminds me of a similar case that arose in France several years ago. Then the author Michel Houellebecq was accused of racism after an interview he gave to a magazine in which he called Islam a ‘stupid religion’. Houellebecq was eventually acquitted in court. That case was similarly a short-sighted moved by Muslim organisations, albeit the situation in France for its Muslim minority is vastly different to those in Canada.
Once again, I am forced to conclude with the insight by Atif Imtiaz that too many Muslims living in liberal democracies remain ‘cultural delinquents’ (Imtiaz is discussing British Muslims, but I think it is fair to extrapolate to this case in Canada). The first response of some Muslims, or at least the organisations that claim to represent them, to situations such as the Danish cartoons and the Macleans case is to resort to law and politics rather than engage through rhetoric and the arts — look at this piece by Chris Morris as an example. With time, however, I am more confident now than I have been in the past, that this will change.
Religious vigilantes have killed at least 40 women this year in the southern Iraqi city of Basra because of how they dressed, their mutilated bodies found with notes warning against “violating Islamic teachings,” the police chief said Sunday.
Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf blamed sectarian groups that he said were trying to impose a strict interpretation of Islam. They dispatch patrols of motorbikes or unlicensed cars with tinted windows to accost women not wearing traditional dress and head scarves, he added.
“The women of Basra are being horrifically murdered and then dumped in the garbage with notes saying they were killed for un-Islamic behavior,” Khalaf told The Associated Press. He said men with Western clothes or haircuts are also attacked in Basra, an oil-rich city some 30 miles from the Iranian border and 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.
“Those who are behind these atrocities are organized gangs who work under cover of religion, pretending to spread the instructions of Islam, but they are far from this religion,” Khalaf said.