The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ call for the adoption of some aspects of Shari’ah law in the UK has raised a storm of controversy invoking sharp condemnation by many including his own Church. The leader of the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion who is considered a giant theologian provoked many by telling BBC Radio 4 that he believed the adoption of some Shari’ah law in the UK seemed “unavoidable”. He also said that “Muslims should not have to choose between the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty.”
The anger and hate that the Archbishop’s suggestions have generated amidst calls for his resignation reveal the deep hatred and mistrust the British have regarding Shari’ah and Islam. Although Archbishop Williams is said to be overwhelmed by the “hostility of the response,” he has defended his comments on Shari’ah law saying “he certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law.” But condemnation has been sharp and swift.
UKIP MEP Gerard Batten said: “I think he’s shown he is totally unfit for the role he undertakes. He’s not fit to be Archbishop of Canterbury, he doesn’t seem to know what his own business is, and he’s not fit to sit in the House of Lords. I think he should go.” Alison Ruoff, a Synod member from London opined, “He’s a very able, a brilliant scholar as a man but in terms of being a leader of the Christian community I think he’s actually at the moment a disaster.”
Internet websites discussing this issue are filled with comments like: “If any of the British laws is not acceptable to them they should go back to where they came from as they are not welcome. British laws are for British people,” “I wonder sometimes what planet I’m on when an Archbishop would suggest such a thing. Did he forget where he lives? England, not tribal country...,” “I think Islam is becoming a problem now and steps should be made to stop it in its tracks,” “The Shari’ah Law is not British so why have it. Every country has its own rules and laws and you should abide by them. If you don’t like them then go live elsewhere. The last thing you want to do is create another nation within a nation.”
SHARI’AH LAW AND THE BRITISH LEGAL SYSTEM
While the reaction to introducing Shari’ah law is bordering on hysteria, it is conveniently forgotten that the English law states that any third party can be agreed by two sides to arbitrate in a dispute, as long as the arbitration pertains to civil disputes. British Jews, particularly the orthodox, frequently turn to their own religious courts, the Beth Din, to resolve civil disputes, covering issues as diverse as business and divorce and this practice has been going on for centuries without any opposition from any quarter whatsoever. Hence there clearly is a well established precedent to have Shari’ah courts in matters related to divorce, inheritance alongside the English legal system, provided we judge all communities with the same yardstick.
PROVISION FOR NON-MUSLIMS IN ISLAMIC SHARI’AH
In Islam, the primary right of Non-Muslims is to be protected and safeguarded against any foreign aggression, and Muslims are duty-bound to protect them in the event such a transgression falls against them.
Protection of money and property and honour of Non-Muslims is guaranteed by the Islamic State
The Right to Freedom of Belief: Islam does not force Non-Muslims to embrace Islam, and recognizes their freedom to choose their own faith. This freedom is stressed in the following Qur’anic verses: “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error” (2:256). History does not deny this fact about Islam, nor do Westerners. Islam, throughout history, has safeguarded and protected houses of worship for non-Muslims and sanctified their religious rituals. When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) signed the peace treaty to the people of Najran, he asserted to them that they should receive protection of Allah and His Prophet on their property, faith, and choices. Similarly, `Umar the second Caliph’s letter to the people of Iliya in Palestine, upon the Muslim conquest, promised them the liberty to choose the faith they deemed appropriate; in addition there are analogous accounts attributed to Khalid ibn Al-Waleed, the great Muslim commander.
BEAUTY OF ISLAMIC SHARI’AH
Muslims believe that the Shari’ah is divinely ordained. There may be some minor differences because of the variance in interpretation and consensus, but the basic principles remain the same. The British, when they ruled India, enforced common penal laws for all but had the foresight to give each community the liberty to practise their own personal laws related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, post-divorce maintenance, etc. Unfortunately, talk of Shari’ah law immediately conjures up images of floggings and beheadings in the minds of the innocent public because of the relentless hate-Islam campaigns run by the mainstream media. The beauty, the reality of the benefits and blessings of Islamic Shari’ah have not yet reached the people but mere adoption of its personal laws in its true spirit will definitely lead to a happier and stable society. It’s high time for the British to shed their Shari’ah-phobia.