Thursday, February 07, 2008

On the benign Rowan Williams

The last time the Archbishop of Canterbury (or would simply the Archbishop of Cant suffice?) sharked his way into my consciousness was in late 2006. He is these days more often put in the shadow by the eccentric behaviour of John Sentamu, Archbishop of York. Still, in late 2006 Williams was caught racketeering in the imbroglio concerning BA ground staff's right to wear religious symbols at work. How surprised I was to learn today that in the 14 months since I last noticed him he is now not only a defender of the Church of England but also the Church of Mohammed and an advocate of Sharia Law to boot. Williams tells us that some Sharia Law in the UK seems "unavoidable". Predictably, he's somewhat vague on which aspects of Sharia he might favour. I wonder whether he's thinking of those tenets which allow death by stoning of women accused of adultery, for example? Perhaps his vagueness is to be conceded. He is not after all schooled in any sense of the word in the laws or this land or any other.

The BBC quotes Williams as saying the UK must face up to the idea that "some citizens do not relate to the British legal system." Yes, prisoners mostly. And even the rest of us when forced to grapple with words like heretofore and novation. But glibness aside quite what does he mean? Again it's difficult to say but Williams feels Muslims should not be made to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty". As far as I'm aware there is no choice to be made. Living in Britain means tacitly consenting to the laws of the land. Williams does not see it that way, arguing that where:

"there's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts - I think that's a bit of a danger".

"There's a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law."

"What we don't want either, is I think, a stand-off, where the law squares up to people's religious consciences."

"We don't either want a situation where, because there's no way of legally monitoring what communities do... people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes another way of intensifying oppression inside a community."

A simple reading of what the bish proposed above might be as follows:a Chelsea football hooligan murders an Arsenal fan who made libellous, profane and deeply hurtful comments about the relative merits of Steve Sidwell within his hearing. At trial the defence barrister pleads with m'lud to take into account his client's loyalty and allegiance. Reasonable?

I can't work out quite what Williams is trying to do. He may be surreptitiously trying to advance the despicable cause of religious privilege. He may be trying to incite religious hatred, knowing full well (I assume) the incendiary effect his comments would have. If so, then he should be prosecuted. Why should the Muslim community be catered for anymore than the Italian, Greek, Indian, Scottish or Brazilian communities? Each has their own system of law so each should be accommodated equally or not at all. We must ensure that every member of society is treated equally before the law. There are many who doubt this is the case presently because of our class-riven society, formalising iniquities will benefit no one.


At 8:23 pm , Anonymous Rizzy said...

I do feel sorry for poor old Rowan. The cuddly, fluffy Archbishop has I think fallen foul of his fluffiness. What he's TRYING to say, actually makes a degree of sense. But a twitchy public and dense press are more interested in what he is percieved as saying.

Obviously, "unavoidable" was factually inaccurate and an unlucky choice of word!

As was his remaining unclear about what aspect of Sharia he was referring to.

In fact, for most Muslims I know, this is all a non-issue. We are British law and everything we do must fall within the parameters of the law of the land.

But He was addressing and exploring some highly hypothetical and intricate issues with an audience of lawyers, so I suppose he's allowed to muse over non-issues.

I know it's all good fun getting animated about lashings, stonings, unequal treatment etc.

But the mature thing to do is to try to look at the actual issue.

For Muslims, sharia is not simply a Law, like our British Law of the land. It is synonymous with 'The Islamic way of life' - a rigorous moral code that in the main part a Muslim volunteers to abide by, above and beyond the law of the country. So although British Law allows you to drink alcohol, Muslims voluntarily refrain. Although adultery is allowed, Muslims refrain. Although lying in many instances is not illegal, Muslims refrain.

Muslims scholars from the time of Algazel have looked into the thousands of injunctions derived from the Qur'an and prophetic teachings, and come to the conclusion that they are present to safeguard 5 essential needs of people, namely, preservation of life, mind, children, property and faith.

Sharia in the main part contains guidance for individuals that wilfully choose this path - 'Path to water', its literal meaning, e.g. how to pray, how to conduct yourself, manners, etiquette, how to relate to family members, food regulations, marriage regulations, etc.

It also contains some general rules for governments that again wilfully choose to follow 'the path'. Some of these rules are harsh penal laws, which unfortunately are all the press and public want to know!

So in the case of divorce, as well as getting the marriage formally annulled through the courts, British Muslims will currently look for some elder or imam to get a 'spiritual annulment' of the marriage (i.e. a sharia authorised divorce). They do not feel happy engaging in a new relationship without an Islamic divorce, as otherwise they are still 'spiritually married'. In such a case Muslims may feel as if they are committing adultery.

So all the Archbishop was suggesting was that if the government could extend its surveillance to these sharia divorce courts, then Muslims that choose to go there could at least, be assured that the imam is qualified, bone fide, offers reasonable judgements etc, and it would save the Muslims going through the whole procedure twice.

He was literally just suggesting that marriages, divorces and inheritance i.e. "Muslim personal law" be regulated and available as an option for those Muslims who choose it. At present most Muslims already comply with their 'personal law' but then have to do it all again through the formal courts.

To connect this relatively benign proposal to a suggestion that he's calling for shariah penal law for the British public is beyond ridiculous. In fact Muslim scholars/ imams have always insisted that sharia is a code ONLY for Muslims (and even then, those that choose it).

At 1:52 pm , Blogger Finnieston Crane said...


Thanks for the post. I suppose I have a tendency to leap to the attack of any clerical disdemeanours; they are many and manifold after all.

I personally feel the archbishop has neither the right nor validity to speak on matters of state.

The worst thing he said was this:

"[a sitution]there's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts - I think that's a bit of a danger".

This is contemptible dross. Everyone should be equal before the law.


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