UK: Archbishop of Canterbury: "Adopt sharia law in Britain"
"A government minister accused Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams of concocting "a recipe for disaster" for suggesting the introduction in Britain of some aspects of sharia was unavoidable.
"You cannot run two systems of law alongside each other. That would be a recipe for chaos," said Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, joining a chorus of condemnation for Williams.
Nick Clegg, leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, said "On this I think he is wrong" while former Interior Minister David Blunkett said formalising Islamic law "would be catastrophic in terms of social cohesion".
The Sun said on Friday: "It's easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat. In fact he's a dangerous threat to our nation."
The issue of integrating Britain's 1.8 million Muslims has been widely debated since July 2005, when four British Islamists carried out suicide bombings on London's transport system, killing 52 people.
Those attacks prompted questioning of a long-standing policy of avoiding a single British identity and promoting a multicultural society, which some argue has led to segregation of ethnic minorities.
Speaking to the BBC, Williams said other religions enjoyed tolerance of their laws in Britain and called for a "constructive accommodation" with Muslim practice in areas such as marital disputes.
His unexpected comments were welcomed by some Muslim groups, but the government said it was out of the question that the principles of sharia could be used in British civil courts.
"The prime minister is clear that in Britain, British laws based on British values will apply," a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Sharia is the body of Islamic religious law based on the Koran, the words and actions of the Prophet Mohammad and his companions, and rulings of Islamic scholars. It covers issues including worship, commercial dealings, marriage and penal laws.
Williams said he was not endorsing the harsh punishments meted out in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, where murderers and drug traffickers are publicly beheaded or hanged.
But that did not placate critics.
Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, called Williams' intervention "muddled and unhelpful".
"Raising this idea will give fuel to anti-Muslim extremism," he added.
And Labour MP Khalid Mahmood had no doubt about where he stood: "I, along with the vast majority of UK Muslims, oppose any such move to introduce sharia here. British law is the envy of the world.""
By: Paul Majendie
8 February 2008
"The Archbishop of Canterbury prompted controversy today when he said the introduction of sharia law for British Muslims was "unavoidable". Rowan Williams told BBC Radio 4's World at One that Muslims should be able to choose whether to have matters such as marital disputes dealt with under sharia law or the British legal system.
The spokesman of the prime minister, Gordon Brown, insisted British law must remain pre-eminent, but said concessions to sharia law could be made on a case-by-case basis.
He said: "In general terms, if there are specific instances that can be looked at on a case-by-case basis that is something we can look at.
"But the prime minister believes British law should apply in this country, based on British values."
The archbishop's comments were strongly criticised by the National Secular Society but welcomed by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which stressed it did not back the introduction of sharia criminal law.
Willams said giving sharia official status in the UK would help maintain social cohesion because some Muslims do not relate to the British legal system.
Its introduction would mean Muslims would no longer have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".
Williams said his proposal would only work if sharia law was properly understood, rather than seen through the eyes of biased media reports. The archbishop said he was not proposing the adoption of extreme interpretations of sharia law practiced in some repressive regimes. He said: "It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system. "We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances. There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law."
Williams went on: "It would be quite wrong to say that we could ever license a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general. "But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them. In some cultural and religious settings they would seem more appropriate."
A spokesman for the MCB said many UK Muslims already used sharia law in aspects of their day-to-day lives, such as banking and marriage, and the same principle of separate laws could "easily be accepted for other faiths groups".
He said introducing sharia law for marriages would combat the problem of forced marriage because Islam required the consent of both parties.
The National Secular Society said it was another example of Britain "sleepwalking to segregation". "Our view is simple. You can't have a country where you have separate laws for separate faith groups," it said. "The same religious groups who are calling for integration are the same one who want segregation."
Brown's spokesman said one example where legal concessions could be made were changes to the regulation around stamp duty to include sharia-compliant mortgages. These mortgages involve two transfers of property, so in theory stamp duty would be payable twice - but is in fact paid only once.
He said: "Our general position is that sharia law cannot be used as a justification for committing breaches of English law, nor should the principles of sharia law be included in a civil court for resolving contractual disputes. If there are specific instances like stamp duty, where changes can be made in a way that's consistent with British law and British values, in a way to accommodate the values of fundamental Muslims, that is something the government would look at."
By: David Batty and Fred Attewill
7 February 2008
Source: Guardian Unlimited
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