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Harold Fickett | 02.08.08

Issues

Church & State & Sharia Law

Photo by David Lisbona

The leader of the Anglican communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, is advocating that the UK accommodate the sharia law of Islam. While counseling that sharia law must never be allowed to trump basic human rights, the Archbishop believes that in “some cultural and religious settings” Muslims should be allowed to resolve some disputes, such as divorce cases, apart from the greater British legal system.

In typical Anglican fashion, the Archbishop is trying to find a middle way between opposing principles. He imagines that Muslims will be willing—as any good Anglican would—to translate sharia’s repressive stance towards women “into a setting where that whole area of the rights and liberties of women has moved on.”

But many Muslims believe that sharia law—including its draconian provisions against women—is immutable because of its divine authorship. No doubt the Archbishop’s heart is in the right place. But I fear that he has become so accustomed to tailoring his truth to the times that he can’t see in another religion a far different spirit than that of his own.

The difference is reflected in the article I cited above. The Islamic spokesman cited, Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, accuses another Anglican prelate, the Bishop of Rochester, of lying when he said that non-Muslims face a hostile reception in areas of Islamic radicalism, which the bishop called “no-go areas.” The term used might have been offensive, but the truth of the comment is unassailable. So who is doing the lying?  But Mohammed Shafiq will have none of it, threatening the gentle Archbishop, “Unless he [Dr. Williams] speaks out against this intolerance, Muslims will take his silence as authorisation and support for such comments.” 

As the Archbishop points out, there may well be limited areas in which British law can accommodate Islamic practices, just as it does Orthodox Judaism and even—horrors—Catholic opposition to abortion. But Dr. Williams seems oblivious to the possibility that limited accommodation to sharia law now could open the door to more oppressive practices in the future. As Mike Judge of the Christian Institute said, “The idea that you can have the moderate bits without the nasty bits coming along at a later time is naive.”

I don’t want to engage in fear-mongering, but there’s good reason to worry that Anglicans are blind to the fact that many Moslems would like to see theocratic rule established in Western Europe. Ironically, such rule would destroy the very same civil rights that these Anglicans want to extend to Moslem citizens now.

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