I have found a very interesting post in which Melanie Phillips has given her views on the controversial statement made by Rowan Williams. The statement,
“I think at the moment there’s a great deal of confusion about this. A lot of what’s been written, whether it was about the Catholic church’s adoption agencies last year, sometimes what’s written about Jewish or Muslim communities, a lot of what’s written suggests that the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody. Now that principle that there’s one law for everybody, is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy. But I think it’s a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties, which shape and dictate how they behave in society, and that the law needs to take some account of that. An approach to law which simply says there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said, I think that’s a bit of a danger.
That’s why there’s 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.“
brings about several points that are of importance specifically for the UK and Europe. However I believe that contentious issues such as Sharia law, Islamism and religious extremism will become relevant for the rest of the world very soon. Now Williams has tried to backtrack by saying he did not mean having a parallel law system but I really don’t see how he could not mean that. Melanie elaborates:
He explicitly said that he wanted British Muslims to be able to have the choice between two jurisdictions, between the English Common Law, the English legal system in civil law, and sharia law. He then went on to say, and I was at his lecture, I heard him answer questions straight afterwards in which he said, ‘I didn’t say I wanted a parallel system’. Now I don’t know whether the man has a semantic understanding that passes our understanding, but in my view, a supplementary jurisdiction existing side by side with the majority legal structure, in which people are given the choice of one or the other, is in my book, parallel structures. So I think this is absolute nonsense.
The next point that Williams brings up is the issue of other religions having their own system of law, he drew on the example of ultra-orthodox Jews having separate halacha (Jewish Law) rulings. I would just like to point that these are on a voluntary basis and Jews must no matter what country they are in, follow the law of the land which takes precedence of Jewish law, except in a few situations (a stupid example would be a country introducing a law saying all Jews must walk naked down the street). Melanie further elaborates:
Let’s take the Jewish Rabbinical courts first. Yes, they do exist, and it’s true, as you say, that sharia courts already exist. But they both exist very much under the law. Jewish Rabbinical courts exist absolutely explicitly under the English law. Their dealings are informal, the arbitration of disputes is informal, it takes place on a voluntary basis. When Jews in Britain are married or divorced, they have to be married or divorced according to English law. Jews recognise explicitly there can only be one law of the land which binds them. So all their rabbinical religious dealings are informal. Now the sharia courts want something more than that. Muslims want something more than that, and what Archbishop Williams was saying is something more than that. What he was suggesting was that sharia law should move from being a completely informal system, to being one in which people can choose which system of justice they’re under. In other words, it has equal jurisdiction, a supplementary jurisdiction was the word he used, with the English law. That gives it equal status. That would mean I think that a polygamous marriage under sharia law would be recognised by the English State. Where he’s absolutely correct is that we have had what I would call Islamisation by stealth. We’ve had a situation now for several years, in which the British State has turned a blind eye to the practice of polygamy among British Muslims. Worse still, it is giving welfare benefits to the multiple wives of British Muslims, thus de facto recognising polygamy. We also have, increasingly, sharia compliant mortgages, sharia financing, and a lot of other things in which the majority culture of Britain is being steadily Islamised. That is very different from allowing a minority religious faith to practice its faith, to form communities of faith and culture, which a liberal democratic society should do, we should certainly give religious minorities the space to do that. But that is very different from a religious minority expecting the majority law and polity of the country in which it’s living to change to accommodate it.
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