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Saturday, February 09, 2008 

Sharia Law in UK! How about that?

The Archibishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams seems to have scratched a very sensitive issue in the United Kingdom that brought public, cleric and intellectual wrath upon him. Dr. Williams suggested that some aspects of Sharia Law can be applied in the UK since the British law people may devise their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process. This justifies the existance of Islamic and Orthodox Jewish courts in England. Dr. William's explained in a lecture his concerns:

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 that 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.

This lecture will not attempt a detailed discussion of the nature of sharia, which would be far beyond my competence; my aim is only, as I have said, to tease out some of the broader issues around the rights of religious groups within a secular state, with a few thought about what might be entailed in crafting a just and constructive relationship between Islamic law and the statutory law of the United Kingdom. But it is important to begin by dispelling one or two myths about sharia; so far from being a monolithic system of detailed enactments, sharia designates primarily – to quote Ramadan again – ‘the expression of the universal principles of Islam [and] the framework and the thinking that makes for their actualization in human history’ (32). Universal principles: as any Muslim commentator will insist, what is in view is the eternal and absolute will of God for the universe and for its human inhabitants in particular; but also something that has to be ‘actualized’, not a ready-made system. If shar’ designates the essence of the revealed Law, sharia is the practice of actualizing and applying it; while certain elements of the sharia are specified fairly exactly in the Qur’an and Sunna and in the hadith recognised as authoritative in this respect, there is no single code that can be identified as ‘the’ sharia....

He goes on to suggest the implementation of different aspects of Sharia law in Britain that is to allow minorities better access to a law that represents their own culture and religion. However, it seems the English went heywire when they were confronted with the idea that the head of their religious institution is actually presenting an idea that is related to application of Islamic concepts in their country. Many many of them just went to the wrong side of the stick.

Needless to say, they were not protesting against the Archibishop, they humiliated him an a way that shows how intolerant the West can be if Islam is at the doors. Some called for the Archibishop to step down; even his own church turned against him.

Dr. Rowan Williams' recommendation was simply to apply the civil system of Sharia law in accordance to the English law and human rights as implemented in Britain. However, it is just too hot to think of for the British.

I know many others would just attack the Dr. Williams and call him whatever disgraceful and insulting their tongues and witty-insult brain machines could invent. Nevertheless, the whole situation offers a greater emphasis on the fact that the West's knowledge of Sharia law and Islam is as shallow as nil.

I do congratulate the Archibishop for his exceptional courage to bring up such a debate. I just hope some enlighted man does not lose his place for some concerns driven by greater understanding of the other. The controversy came at the time when it is the peak of a debate on the circumistances Muslims face in Europe and the discrimination they suffer there. Yet again, the attack the Archbishp received how truly misrepresented Islam, Muslims and Sharia are in the West. I hope we had religious leaders that are that enlighted. Period.

Read the stories on BBC here, here and here...
Read a complete transcript of Dr. Rowan Williams lecture here.

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"a very sensitive issue" indeed. How can an infidel Westerner even comment without sounding islamophobic/racist etc. ?

If 2 Muslims in the UK or elsewhere use the Qu'ran and the sunna to settle a dispute and no local law has been broken, knock yourselves out for all I care.

"the idea of Sharia calls up all the darkest images of Islam" so true, so bear with me:

When you say "Sharia" I get images of women being stoned to death, public beheadings, thieves having their hands cut off, a gang-rape-victim sentenced to 200 lashes ... and the list goes on.

Where did I get these images from ? Biased media ? maybe. So it's not true ? "we" need some education then.

"the peak of a debate on the circumistances Muslims face in Europe and the discrimination they suffer there" oh yeah ? When Egypt stops treating Copts as 2nd class citizens and don't put religion on IDcards, then start lecturing "us" about discrimination.

No, I don't call Dr. Williams any bad names. It's a debate that needs to be. I call Sharia a thing of the dark, distant, ignorant, primitive, violent, misogenic, best forgotten past.

See? it's not easy. The average Westerner can't just be rational about it. Misconception ? most likely. It's like saying Palestine to Muslim/Arab.

Now, show us some, just some good about Sharia, and then we can move on.

Sorry if I offend. My aim is to explain the word Sharia as read by blue eyes.

Well, as long as you are willing to get educated about it, here is Sharia 101: muslims believe in all divine religions. Thus, according to Sharia, Dr. Rowan Williams IS NOT an infidel... (YEAH, WHAT ABOUT WHAT YOUR PREACHERS SAY AND WHAT BIN LADEN SAYS?) I answer you back, what about Puritans??? Who is right??

So let's take back the infidel thing please, halalhippie. That is to start with.

Well, it is just as true as you stated it... You need to know about Sharia law and what I said that the whole controversy emphasizes the whole idea of european ignorance of the religion of one fifth of human beings on earth.

I am not saying it is entirely your fault, and I am not saying that it is not. What I am saying here is simply that Dr. Williams could read through the stereotypical completely-wronged ideas about Sharia law; and could, at least just a little, get into the heart of it. Now that he is calling for it to be applied to CIVIL aspects like marriage, inheritance, child custody and things.

I meant to picture how similar it is in Europe as it is in here.

And by the way, again it is another stereotype about having christians as second class citizens. Can you prove it to me, buddy?

Thanks for not going Jihad on me, if you allow the jest :-)

Now" What about Bin Laden and the Puritans"... yeah some ppl just overdo it, let's leave them out of the equation for now.

And dr Williams "is calling for it to be applied to CIVIL aspects like marriage, inheritance, child custody and things" I have absolutely no problem with ppl doing their cultural things Arab style; it only adds to cultural richness, BUT: Very, very few Muslims I have talked Sharia with say you can pick and choose, you MUST take the whole package, including all the nasty punishments I listed.

If I'm wrong and you actually CAN leave out the things that do not belong , neither in the 14th not the 21st century, I'd love to see it in action, preferably in a Muslim-majority country.

See, Sharia has a major image-problem in the West. You think of civil aspects, I think of Chop-chop Square in Riyadh.

Maybe it's like saying "women's liberation" to an Arab male; he'll get all sorts of images of his own daughter being promiscous (sp?) overnight.

Discrimination against Christians in EG ? the very thought of having a private matter like religious affiliation on an ID card, would be deeply offensive to me. Like having a G for gay or an S for straight, makes me think of apartheid. But then again, maybe "you" are all used to it and think nothing of if.

It's a matter of understanding, do I understand what you say when you say "Sharia" and do you understand what I hear ?

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