Archbishop of Canterbury: UK should adopt sharia for Muslims

Head of the Church of England says Muslims wouldn't be forced to choose between "stark alternatives."

archbishop williams 224 (photo credit: AP)
archbishop williams 224
(photo credit: AP)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, sparked controversy on Thursday when he said the introduction of Shari'a (Islamic law) for British Muslims was "unavoidable." Speaking on BBC Radio, Dr. Rowan Williams said that Muslims should be able to choose whether to have matters such as marital disputes dealt with under Shari'a law or the British legal system. He said that the introduction of Shari'a law would mean that British Muslims would no longer have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty." The Anglican leader advocated giving it official status in the UK on the grounds that it would help maintain social cohesion, as some Muslims do not relate to the British legal system. "Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Shari'a court," he said, for example. "It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of Shari'a are already recognized in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system," he said. A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain confirmed that many British Muslims already use Shari'a in their day-to-day lives, such as banking and marriage, and added that the same principle of separate laws could easily be accepted for other faiths. The archbishop said introducing Shari'a law for marriages would combat the problem of forced marriage because Islam required the consent of both parties. "We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognized by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances," he said. "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." The archbishop said he was not proposing the adoption of extreme interpretations of Shari'a, as practiced in some repressive regimes. "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." The National Secular Society criticized his comments and said it was another example of Britain "sleepwalking to segregation... You can't have a country where you have separate laws for separate faith groups." Williams said his proposal would only work if Shari'a law was properly understood, rather than seen through the eyes of biased media reports that "cloud" the issue. The archbishop is joint president of the Council of Christians and Jews in the UK.