Archbishop of Canterbury says sharia law for British Muslims is “unavoidable”

The Archbishop of Canterbury sparked controversy today when he said the introduction of sharia law for British Muslims was “unavoidable”.

Rowan Williams told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that Muslims should be able to choose whether to have matters such as marital disputes dealt with under sharia law or the British legal system.

His comments were strongly criticised by the National Secular Society but welcomed by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which stressed it did not back the introduction of sharia criminal law.

Willams said giving sharia official status in the UK would help maintain social cohesion because some Muslims do not relate to the British legal system.

Its introduction would mean Muslims would no longer have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.

Williams said his proposal would only work if sharia law was properly understood, rather than seen through the eyes of biased media reports.

The archbishop said he was not proposing the adoption of extreme interpretations of sharia law practiced in some repressive regimes.

He said: “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. 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.”

Williams went on: “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 there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them. In some cultural and religious settings they would seem more appropriate.”



2 Responses to “Archbishop of Canterbury says sharia law for British Muslims is “unavoidable””

  1. 1 Astonished February 7, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    I was listening to a discussion about this issue on the BBC World Service when someone said that there were Jewish courts in the UK so why should there not be Sharia courts. I did not even know there were Jewish courts, with legal authority in Britain. Why on earth do Jewish people have a separate court system?! I thought I lived in a secular country but apparently not! Just another reason, in my opinion, to abolish the House of Lords and give the British people the power! Jewish courts, what next, Mormon courts Scientologist courts?!?

  2. 2 Rown Williams and Sharia Law March 3, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    What the archbishop said was definitely controversial but then maybe he should be praised for opening up the debate and talking about the issue.

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