The Archbishop and Sharia Law


The thing about Sharia law is that it’s already here in a civil sense.  It gets through on the religious tolerance ticket – freedom of religion . . . the right to peacefully follow the religion of ones choice and all that.  So we really shouldn’t let the media whip us up into a panic about the the Archbishop’s comments.  He wasn’t suggesting that Sharia law be imposed on all of us.  Context is needed once again.  From my understanding, he was speaking just in terms of marital, family and financial issues – that where British law conflicts with Sharia law on these issues, Muslims should be given exception and British law should allow them the space to run their lives in abidance with their Sharia.    

But as we know, British feelings on Islam are intense and we’re clearly not ready for any kind of legal endorsement of Sharia law.  The very suggestion has had a divisive effect.  The Archbishop argued that allowing Sharia law would help cohesion but already his comments have caused conflict and anger

Some people have argued that giving Sharia law any kind of legal status would make it open to misuse and manipulation and although the Archbishop said only the unharmful aspects of sharia should be allowed for, at the risk of seeming unfair towards Musim integrity, I too would be concerned that loopholes might be found, resulting in civil human rights being ignored and the oppression of women increasing.  That must be avoided at all costs.  Muslims say that Sharia law elevates the status of women but if that is the case, it is clearly being misused.

Much of British law is archaic and stupid. Most of it was built on Christian beliefs and should probably be thrown on the scrapheap of religious doctrines to rot forever but until such a time comes that we can get religion out of the state altogether, we should all equally abide by the law as it stands.

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34 responses to this post.

  1. My views coincide with yours, Earthpal. In fact this is a comment I sent to Respect Discussion Board:

    “I think we should consider in depth what the Archbishop has meant to say. In actual fact all laws are derived from custom, from traditions, and if the population of a country is considerably increased by others whose customs and traditions are diametrically different, why should the law not include these other customs and traditions.

    As Michael says there is always a way to establish special arbitrations that give the present laws a nuance in their application.

    And I am inclined to side with the Archbishop in something that I consider paramount in the path to achieving a full – if ever possible – mutual understanding among the population.

    One other thing is the mutilation or those customs which attempt at the integrity of the persons, and there should always be the possibility of abjuring those customs and traditions if anybody is not in agreement with them. Both on one and the other side of the fence, so to speak.”

    http://michaellee.modernwriters.org/viewtopic.php?t=7052

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  2. Good points Jose.

    I have been reading the thread with interest. Michael is as clued-up as ever. I’d forgotten about the Jewish Beth Din. Who can blame Muslims for feeling discriminated against when we are allowing the law to make religious exceptions for Jews and not for them.

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  3. For those who may be ignorant of the expression Beth Din – not English of course which is another point to be taken into account – I wish to give here a link which I think is useful enough.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beth_din

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  4. Posted by Dave On Fire on February 9, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    India has always had seperate legal codes for the different religions, at least for certain elements of civil law, and many Indians see this as the natural way to satisfy everyone in a multicultural society.

    (An aside: divorce is much harder for a Muslim woman than for a Hindu woman, but funnily enough those who kick up a fuss about this are usually not Muslim feminists but Hindu sexists (why should we have to put up with these liberated females when they don’t…?))

    I think that, as long as everyone gets a choice as to which law they are tried under, there isn’t much harm in ideas like this. I would strongly oppose a system like my Malaysian flatmate says exists in her country: not only do Malay Muslims have stricter laws than ethnic Chinese, but the interdiction of apostasy binds them to these stricter laws forever.

    The archbish’s comments were clearly well intentioned, but he was very naive if he didn’t expect a paranoid right-wing backlash (or else very brave in facing up knowingly to the backlash).

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  5. Anyhow I think the Archbishop did what, given his standing, he had to. He showed he is a tolerant person.

    Religion must be a question of choice in any case, as must the laws and customs of a country.

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  6. The ‘archbish’s’ interest I believe is not the muslims per se but the wider issue of the decline of the influence of his church within UK society. It is a cunning way of highlighting the issue. Give the muslims more say over their affairs he is suggesting and the church more say too!

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  7. Posted by Dave On Fire on February 10, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Not really, Matt. The church has ample say over its affairs, just the scope of their affairs are narrowing. But, like Jose says, our laws developed from a strongly Christian tradition anyway – we still have CofE-only blasphemy laws – so I really don’t think there’s anything for him to push for on that account.

    As the backlash continues, did anyone else see the disgraceful cover of this morning’s Indy?

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  8. […] The liberal press bears a great deal of responsibility for that. For what it’s worth, the Archbishop’s suggestion of allowing for certain disputes to be mediated by Sharia law has nothing that should be […]

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  9. Dave, regards the Indy cover and its article on domestic violence, the more a culture hides women behind the man, the more a women is expected to be quiet out in public the more likely the violence (which goes on in every society) will stay undiscovered until it’s too late.

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  10. Posted by Dave On Fire on February 11, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Well, like I said to the editors, the headline is based on wild speculation and…

    …the IoS’ front cover strongly hints at an association between Islam or Muslims and domestic violence, and the article does nothing to dispell this idea. This is dangerous and offensive for two reasons. It trivialises the crimes committed against women outside of the restrictive “honour” category, and it contributes to the normalisation of Islamophobic racism in Britain today. These are both phenomena that, in my view, the IoS would do better to challenge than to reinforce.

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  11. Posted by Paul Moloney on February 11, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    ” I would strongly oppose a system like my Malaysian flatmate says exists in her country: not only do Malay Muslims have stricter laws than ethnic Chinese, but the interdiction of apostasy binds them to these stricter laws forever.”

    And remember that Malaysia’s is a _liberal_ interpretation of Sharia law. And it has absolutely poisoned interacial relationships there, especially when it comes to intermarriage. To take my own family’s example: if, say, my Christian brother-in-law there married a Malay woman, he would legally obliged to convert and also have the children from his previous marriage convert.

    As for implementing it in the UK, a simple example: Sharia allows men to divorce a wife merely by saying “I divorce thee” 3 times (heck, even a text message will do), while a woman must give definite proof. Noone has yet explained how this could operate in parallel with a civil divorce. Does the civil divorce take precedence? Or does the Sharia divorce? What happens to a wife who doesn’t want to allow her husband to avail of a quickie Sharia divorce?

    People are talking of “knee jerk” reactions, but they’re coming from _both_ sides.

    P.

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  12. Posted by Dave On Fire on February 11, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Well that’s not the kind of implementation that anyone’s talking about here, is it? It’s more the kind of arrangement where, if both parties consent beforehand to go to a Sharia court, the Sharia court’s judgement is binding, otherwise “normal” civil law applies. Much like the arrangement with the Beth Din courts, which also have a pretty sexist view of divorce.

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  13. Posted by Paul Moloney on February 11, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Noone has convincingly explained why, for reasons other than family or societial pressure, a woman would consent to take part in a religious divorce which favours the husband. Or why liberals or secularists should be helping religious conservatives to remove those women’s freedoms.

    The Beth Din argument – “The Jews do it, why can’t we”. Well, scrap those courts too.

    Here in Ireland, we’ve only just gotten out of an 80 year nightmare where the Catholic Church essentially had its own parallel legal system; it’s not something I’d recommend.

    P.

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  14. It’s hard to know what to think because there are many conflicting viewpoints on this. I’ve read about British Muslim women who adamantly state that Sharia doesn’t oppress them and I’ve read about Muslim women who have family members, or have themselves been the victim of Sharia justice and have dreadful stories to tell.

    In an ideal world, everyone with a god belief would be able to practise his or her religion freely and nobody would get hurt or offended or threatened or oppressed or discriminated against.

    Is it possible to see if Sharia is being applied fairly? Is there evidence that Sharia judges do not discriminate against women (and gays for that matter) due to cultural patriarchal systems which, let’s be honest, do still exist in some Muslim communities? Maybe if a few female judges were allowed to preside over the Sharia courts . . . ? I doubt it.

    There are many myths and misconceptions about Sharia that the right-wing groups love to cultivate but we have to be honest. I recognise the ‘liberal dilemma’ here and I’m not comfortable with it but Sharia law does often discriminate against women. From my understanding, under Sharia law, women are automatically disadvantaged in divorce, inheritance and custody disputes. Even if, as Dave said, both parties needed to agree to take their dispute to the Sharia courts, I’d have to ask, as does Paul, how much of it is genuine consent and how much is family/community/religious pressure?

    Sharia already governs all aspects of Muslim life but after all that we’ve been through as a society to eventually come some bit close to equality and human rights for all, do we really want to legally endorse a system that is ultimately determined by men, that discriminates against women and suppresses gays? Gawd! I think I’ve just described the Tory party!!

    Ultimately, religious beliefs are personal. The state should stay out of religion . . . and vice versa.

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  15. By the way, hi Paul Maloney. As a new commenter, thanks for your input here. It’s very welcome and valued.

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  16. Posted by Dave On Fire on February 12, 2008 at 1:36 am

    I’d have to ask, as does Paul, how much of it is genuine consent and how much is family/community/religious pressure?

    Ah, but you could ask the same question about the veil. Seriously, though, I don’t doubt that many aspects of Sharia law are quite sexist and oppressive (as, like you point out, is the case with many traditional institutions). But it’s not always easy to distinguish between when someone freely chooses to follow a tradition that we would never see as worth following, and when someone is genuinely coerced into doing so. With the veil and with Sharia, I’m sure there are women who fit in both categories, though the latter fits far better into the media agenda.

    But we’re not fit to call ourselves liberals if we don’t accept that others are choose to live with a dress code or a scripture that we personally would not choose. And where there is genuine oppression? Imagine how much easier it is to mislead and coerce women, especially the illiterate and non-Anglophone, in dingy, informal underground “courts” than in the harsh light of day. Imagine if Sharia rulings could be upheld as legal if and only if both parties had previously testified before the relevant civil authorities that they understood their rights under British law and the implications of their distinction.

    I understand why this kind of thing makes us uncomfortable, but I don’t see it as much of a dilemma. The liberal position on Sharia (or, indeed, Beth Din) should surely be the same as that on, say, prostitution or drugs: anyone should be free to choose it, none should have to fear being forced into it. And, when we talk about prostitution and drugs, liberals (ok, I don’t often count myself as a “liberal” per se) tend to form a consensus of legalisation and regularisation – based on the principle of indivudual freedom, and the knowledge that all the associated problems are made far worse when it’s pushed underground.

    Doesn’t that apply here?

    Reply

  17. Posted by Dave On Fire on February 12, 2008 at 1:40 am

    *…if we don’t accept that others are free to choose to live…

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  18. Well said EP. Most religions are sexist. Common law, not religious law, thank you very much.

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  19. Posted by Paul Moloney on February 12, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Thank you for the welcome, Earthpal.

    “Is it possible to see if Sharia is being applied fairly? Is there evidence that Sharia judges do not discriminate against women (and gays for that matter) due to cultural patriarchal systems which, let’s be honest, do still exist in some Muslim communities? ”

    What kind of evidence are you looking for, beyond the actual facts? It’s not a matter here of imperfect judges incorrectly implementing a fair system; differences between men and women are inbuilt and inherent in the legal system itself, hence the ruling by the ECHR (see below). We could argue that _if_ Sharia law was fair, it could be implemented. And if the Catholic Church allowed openly gay men to be priests, then Peter Tatchell could be Pope.

    The cynical part of me (that is, most of my body apart from maybe my appendix) thinks that if Sharia law was fair, then there wouldn’t be much of rush to implement it, since it boils down to men wanting an advantage. One of the main arguments that anti-divorce people here in Ireland had during the various referendums, after all, was nothing to do with Catholic morality but, essentially, “do you want that thieving ex-wife of yours to steal half the family farm?”.

    As for “discrimination against homosexuals”, again, do you think that Sharia law recognises the legal rights of openly gay people?

    “Thereare many myths and misconceptions about Sharia that the right-wing groups love to cultivate”

    Believe it or not, patriarchial religious leaders tend to be also right-wing. I’m not sure the reason why certain left-wingers are aligning themselves with _them_ against other right-wingers, other than inverse racism and/or liberal guilt. The European Court for Human Rights states that Sharia law is imcompatible with democracy, because it rules on inheritance, women’s rights and religious freedom violate human rights – is that court just another bunch of right-wingers to be dismissed? Strip away the myths and conceptions, and the core left is still unpalatable.

    And who exactly is calling for Sharia law to be implemented? The irony of this whole situation is that we’re talking about it because an elderly fundamentalist Christian guy think it’s a good idea. The only Muslim group who have come out publically to entirely agree with him are the Muslim Council of Britain, who I believe represent a tiny minority (< 10%) of Muslims. For examples, are there any organized Muslim women’s groups who have come out with an opinion – that is, groups representing Muslim women as a whole, not just the fundamentalist ones? I would rather hear their opinion about it, since they have the most to lose.

    During the history of the Magdelen laundries in Ireland, few if any women actually got up and walked out of what was essentially slavery; as left-wingers and/or liberals, should we just have shrugged our shoulders and support those instituation because the women had free will?

    P.

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  20. Bravo, bravo!

    [sits down, looks to the left & waits for Dave’s reply]

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  21. Verify that Sharia is being applied in accordance with British Law is not a question to be solved by non-Muslims. I think those affected should be acquainted with the possibility they have to denounce anything that harms their personal integrity.

    It is the very same that happens to non-Muslims who can at all times sue anyone who attempts at their personal or collective integrity. There are laws for that.

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  22. Hi Jose

    If you’re reffering to the laws of libel, in the UK these normally only benefit the wealthy because they can involve long & drawn out cases.

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  23. I will catch up with this thread tomorrow folks.

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  24. Posted by Paul Moloney on February 13, 2008 at 1:45 am

    Sorry, Jose, I’m not clear on what you mean either.

    P.

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  25. Posted by Dave On Fire on February 14, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Matt, Dave’s been busy.

    Ok, so…

    As for “discrimination against homosexuals”, again, do you think that Sharia law recognises the legal rights of openly gay people?

    Nope, probably not. If I was gay, I sure wouldn’t want to go through a Sharia court. In fact, I don’t want to go through a Sharia court. And so I won’t. But if someone else doesn’t have a problem with going through, I’m not particularly inclined to stop them.

    I mean, you haven’t engaged with the points I was making, just gone on about how Sharia sucks.

    patriarchial religious leaders tend to be also right-wing. I’m not sure the reason why certain left-wingers are aligning themselves with _them_ against other right-wingers, other than inverse racism and/or liberal guilt.

    I’m not aligning myself with any religious leaders. I find pretty much every religion I’ve ever been exposed to quite distasteful. But there are people who are religious, and who take their religion seriously, and these people are certainly not all mouth-foaming priests, rabbis and mullahs. They’re mainly nice, normal people, albeit usually from different backgrounds to myself. And yeah, I’m inclined to align myself with these people when they are attacked from the right.

    That’s all I’m doing, by the way. I’m not particularly advocating what the archbishop is advocating, I’m just defending his proposal from hysterical rightwing attacks. Sharia law is regularly hyped up in the media, so it’s not surprising that when it’s mentioned people panic about unfair alien laws being imposed upon people. But, basically, religious people tend to do things according to their religion, and, with some religions, it is possible to get the religious proceedings recognised by civil law to avoid having to go through the whole thing twice. The bishop suggests we do this for Islam, too, and while I don’t actually agree with this sort of thing I have to recognise that it is a quite timid, and certainly a liberal, proposal that it’s not worth getting in a tizzy about.

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  26. In northern Nigeria Sharia law was imposed and suddenly cases of women being stoned to death for apparently looking at a man a certain way started happening. Think that couldn’t happen in the UK? It already has, except with knives and these women were in love with someone they weren’t ‘allowed’ to be in love with. Who does these ‘honour’ killings? Fathers, brothers and uncles. I cannot and will not even begin to try and understand this. To even think about this behaviour frightens me to the core.

    And before you say ‘this has nothing to do with Sharia Law’, take note that Saudi Arabia moved a few days ago to stamp out any signs of Valentines Day.

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  27. Posted by Dave On Fire on February 15, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    In northern Nigeria Sharia law was imposed and suddenly cases of women being stoned to death for apparently looking at a man a certain way started happening.

    Good job no-one’s imposing anything over here then.

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  28. I’ve read so much about this issue that I’ve lost track of the whole debate.

    I do know that the bishop’s words were blown phenomenally out of proportion and the media has totally sensationalised it with some very unsavoury reporting and ridiculous games (see The Sun newspaper).

    But all I can see now is this:

    Religious leaders talk of a desire for for cohesion and inclusiveness but insist on all kinds of discriminatory exemptions . . . things such as segregated (state-funded!!) schools, exclusion from gender-equality laws (not many female bishops and Catholic priests around), making church attendance compulsory if you want to join the Scouts or Guides, no gay priests . . . and on it goes.

    And the bad thing is, they get all these things! We allow them to.

    In all honesty, I think the Bishop was being very fair from his religious stance. I think he is a thoughtful and tolerant man and he is simply seeking the same rights for Islam that Christianity and Judaism already enjoys in this country.

    And I can go along with that for much of it. For instance, I fully accept that, should they so desire, Shiekhs should be permitted to wear turbans, Muslim ladies should be free to wear the veil, the hijab, the niqab, the burqa, whatever. Halal meat should be allowed if it doesn’t involve animal cruelty, school girls should be allowed to wear a small jewel that represents their faith so long as it doesn’t compromise safety.

    But when it comes to coersion . . . and discriminatory policies that deny people their human right to be the person they were born to be, I don’t agree that any of them should have exemptions or special theocratic circumstances. The law must apply to all. We are not a multi-tiered theocracy. We are a democracy. Or at least we’re trying to be. We just need to boot out the Royal family then we might nearly be there.

    We just need to keep religion out of it!

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  29. > Halal meat should be allowed if it doesn’t involve animal cruelty

    That’s already allowed. A street near to where I live is jam packed full with halal butchers/meat.

    Yes, give the muslims equal rights as the christians and the jews oh, and humanists, buddists, sikhs …..

    But the state and it’s common law system must have the final say.

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  30. Yeah, I know it’s allowed. We have it in schools and hospitals etc.. And kosher meat. It’s debatable actually as to whether halal and kosher meat is cruel to animals. Some animal rights groups want it banned.

    “Common law is final” Absolutely.

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  31. It´s an interesting debate, and greatly to the credit of the Archbishop, whose name has completely escaped me, that he has the intellectual courage to even address the issue.

    He also looks like a religious leader, not like his predecessor Robert Runcie, who looked like a homely country vicar. This is to be applauded.

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  32. Interesting discussion on this on Question Time last night on the TV. Obviously some strong opinions were aired but what I found interesting and very telling was the almost complete isolation of the church Bishop who was on the panel. Everyone else defended the ‘common law for all’ approach and some even suggested the church should retreat further into a dark hole.

    Religion in Britain is not popular!

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  33. Hi Zeddie. Great to hear from you. The Bish – he’s called Rowan Williams but I always want to call him Rowan Atkinson for some odd reason. Yes, he does look like the typical phropet lookie-likie. I’m not sure why he does that thing with his eyebrows though. I’m sure they don’t swoop up like that naturally. I like him. I think he’s a genuine religious person with a lot of tolerance and compassion. And I agree he was brave. That or he just likes controversy.

    Hi Matt, I missed QT this week. How you described the isolation of the bishop is probably a pretty accurate reflection of our society in general these days – thank goodness.

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  34. I just think he looks like a wizard – which all religous leaders should really. Hats off to the man.

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