"...then we gave you a Sharia in religion, follow it,
and do not follow the lust of those who do not know..."
Qur'an, Sura 45:17.
...there was a legitimate fear that fundamentalist practices as
codified in sharia law even more worrisomely, as interpreted by individual
imams would leave women vulnerable to judgments founded on religious texts
that clash with Canadian law and values." Rosie Dimmano 1
Many countries in the West are experiencing a conflict between:
Muslims who feel an obligation to be obey
the law system used in many Islamic countries, and
A desire to recognize equal justice and liberty for all, particularly
with regard to gender.
In Ontario Canada, for example, columnist Haroon Siddiqui wrote about critics
who complained that
with the proposed establishment of Sharia law:
"Multiculturalism was eroding common values. The line separating
church and state was being erased. Theocracy was being grafted onto Canada."
Religious courts already exist in the UK. They help individuals settle
disputes, but can only act as long as both or all parties agree to the process.
Their final arbitration decisions are binding and enforceable. Criminal matters
are reserved for the UK's state courts.
Jewish Beth Din courts at Finchley in north London arbitrate disputes
in which both parties are Jewish. They provide binding civil arbitration. They
do not try to replace the state's civil courts. David Frei of Beth Din said:
"If one side does not accept the authority of the Beth Din, concerning
divorce or any dispute, we cannot act. And in the case of divorce, the
parties must still obtain a civil divorce alongside the religious one."
The Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton, East London opened in 1982. They
have given advice on topics ranging from financial inheritances to women wearing
wigs. However, the vast majority of cases deal with divorce. Many of those
involve are trapped in what are called "limping marriages:" A Muslim man has
left one wife and married another without giving his first wife a divorce. This
prevents her from remarrying, because Muslim law allows women only one husband,
even while allowing men up to four wives. Muslim courts normally attempt to
reconcile the parties first. If this is unsuccessful, they will generally issue
a religious divorce.
One woman's story of how she used the UK Sharai court to obtain a divorce
after a fraudulent marriage is online. She obtained a religious divorce at no
cost to herself in three weeks. 8
Rowan William's comments:
Concern over Sharia Law in the UK surged on 2008-FEB-04 when the Rowan
Williams was interviewed on
the BBC Radio 4 World at One program. He is the current the Archbishop of
Canterbury -- the spiritual leader of the Church of England and the rest of the
worldwide Anglican Communion. He suggested that the adoption of
certain aspects of Sharia Law in the UK "seems unavoidable."
The BBC reported:
"Dr Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help
maintain social cohesion. For example, Muslims could choose to have marital
disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court. He says Muslims
should not have to choose between 'the stark alternatives of cultural
loyalty or state loyalty'."
"He stresses that 'nobody in their right mind would want to see in this
country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the
practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the
attitudes to women as well'. But Dr Williams said an approach to law which
simply said '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'."
"Dr Williams added: '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. ...
That principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important
pillar of our social identity as a western democracy. But I think it is a
misunderstanding to suppose that means people don't have other affiliations,
other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that
the law needs to take some account of that. ... The whole idea that there
are perfectly proper ways the law of the land pays respect to custom and
community, that's already there," he said. 2
Reaction to William's comments:
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the prime minister
understands the difficulties that the Archbishop is facing and praised his
"dedication to public and community service." However, Brown feels that
religious law should remain subservient to UK law. 3
Conservative members of the Church of England asked that the Williams
apologize for his remarks. There are allegations that 150 traditionalist members
were prepared to sign an open letter in which they distanced themselves from his
suggestions. According to Robert Pigott, a religious correspondent to the BBC,
the traditionalists believe that Dr Williams should be promoting the supremacy
of UK law which they believe is based on the Bible. Dr Chris Sugden, canon and
executive secretary of the conservative group Anglican Mainstream said:
"Well we're saying that he's made a mistake - that he has caused great
difficulties for our colleagues especially in Nigeria, especially in other
countries where there's significant Muslim pressure for Sharia to come in.
... We hope that he will have the integrity to say 'I made a mistake in what
I said', and 'I'm sorry to those for whom it has caused great distress'."
The Reverend Rod Thomas, chairman of a
conservative Anglican group called "Reform" said:
"He has let down the Church and in particular I
think he's left Christians in other countries that are trying to sound
cautionary notes about the spread of Sharia law in an extremely difficult
Two members of the Church of England Synod suggested that Williams resign:
Colonel Edward Armitstead, a member from the
diocese of Bath and Wells, said that Williams should resign and work in a
Alison Ruoff, a synod member from London, said
Williams was "very able, a brilliant scholar as a man" but in terms
of being a leader: "he's actually at the moment a disaster".
George Carey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from
1991 to 2002, said that acceptance of some Sharia laws would be "disastrous" for
Britain. He also said that Williams should not be forced to resign over this
issue. He said:
"He has in my opinion overstated the case for
accommodating Islamic legal codes. His conclusion that Britain will eventually have to
concede some place in law for aspects of Sharia is a view I cannot share. There can be no exceptions to the laws of our land which
have been so painfully honed by the struggle for democracy and human rights. His acceptance of some Muslim laws within British law
would be disastrous for the nation."
But he added that Williams is: "... a great leader in the Anglican
tradition and he has a very important role to play in the Church." 4
Rowan William's clarification:
He defended his beliefs concerning Sharia law i the UK during a speech to the
General Synod of the Church of England on 2008-FEB-11. He said that his
statements were widely misunderstood. He said in part:
"... I believe quite strongly that it is not inappropriate for a pastor
of the Church of England to address issues around the perceived concerns of
other religious communities and to try and bring them into better public
"We are not talking about parallel jurisdictions, and I tried to make
clear that there could be no 'blank checks' in this regard, in particular as
regards some of the sensitive questions about the status and liberties of
women. The law of the land still guarantees for all the basic components of
"So the question remains of whether certain additional choices could and
should be made available under the law of the United Kingdom for resolving
disputes and regulating transactions. It would be analogous to what is
already possible in terms of the legal recognition of certain kinds of
financial transactions under Islamic regulation (including special provision
around mortgage arrangements). And it would create a helpful interaction
between the courts and the practice of Muslim legal scholars in this
"If - and please note that word - this were thought to be a useful direction
in which to move, there would be plenty of work still to be done, with the
greatest care, on what would and would not be possible and appropriate areas
for such co-operation. I noted, for example, that traditional Muslim
attitudes to 'apostasy' posed a very serious
question (recognized by many Muslim scholars today) and that honest
discussion of this was imperative."
Haroon Siddiqui, "Sharia is gone but fear and
hostility remain," The Toronto Star, 2005-SEP-15, Page
A25. Online at: