Williams: UK should adopt sharia law for muslims

Archbishop of Canterbury: Muslims should have choice on settling some issues under religious law.

archbishop williams 224 (photo credit: AP)
archbishop williams 224
(photo credit: AP)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, sparked controversy on Thursday when he said the introduction of Sharia 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 Sharia law or the British legal system. He said that the introduction of Sharia 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 Sharia 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 Sharia court," he gave as an example. "It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of Sharia 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 Sharia 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 groups. The archbishop said introducing Sharia 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 Sharia, as practiced in some repressive regimes. "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. Dr Williams said his proposal would only work if Sharia law was properly understood, rather than seen through the eyes of biased media reports that "cloud" the issue. He said people needed to look at Islamic law "with a clear eye and not imagine, either, that we know exactly what we mean by Sharia and just associate it with…Saudi Arabia, or whatever." The National Secular Society criticized Williams' comments and said it was another example of Britain "sleepwalking to segregation." "Our view is simple," they said. "You can't have a country where you have separate laws for separate faith groups. The same religious groups who are calling for integration are the same ones who want segregation."