The Archbishop of Canterbury recently created a stir in Great Britain by suggesting that some elements of Sharia law should be recognized in the British legal system. I had never heard of Rowan Williams until today. The first thing that I noticed is that I liked his accent. Actually, I covet it. I wish that I sounded as smart as he does.
Williams made some interesting points. I agree with his major premise that some elements should be recognized. For example, marriage ceremonies by imams, private dispute resolutions according to Islamic traditions, etc. This would only be allowed in non-criminal matters. All parties would have to agree to it, and the decisions and practices could in no way violate existing laws. Thus, a Muslim couldn’t insist on Sharia principles without consent of the other party and in full alignment with existing British law.
Anything beyond that, I believe would be harmful for British society and would make tensions worse between the various ethnic groups in that country. If Muslims don’t like those apples, they can move to Iran, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Of course, any accommodation to Sharia principles would have to be approved by parliament and upheld by the courts.
I can sure see how the thought of even a tiny bit of Sharia law would cause concern for the average Brit. Most people hear the term Sharia law and think of stoning, beheading and belittling women. The archbishop was not arguing for those things.
Sharia law might even seem like an oxymoron for some Westerners. I know that I think of Taliban rule and many fundamentalist Islamic practices as barbaric. Yet, there are some moderate aspects of their tradition that could fit into Western legal systems. In places where harmonization can be reached, we should attempt to find solutions so that we can all live together.
Of course, I would draw a line that preserves the rights of non-Muslims. While Muslims can practice their religion, it should never infringe on the rights of others not to practice it. For example, I would not allow the call to prayer to be broadcast in public except over a radio station or other non-intrusive methods.
Article on the Controversy
Interview with BBC