Sharia comments debate details of Williams’s idea

February 18, 2008

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 11 Feb. 2008/Luke MacGregorComments on Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s speech about sharia are starting to explore some of the ideas in more detail. Opinions are still mostly against the idea, but there are some defenders and there are more balanced arguments than the first wave of reactions. Here are some of the latest items we found interesting:

First of all, documentation — Ruth Gledhill came up with Williams’s Q&A after the speech, including the full text and the video. Note he insists he is talking about “supplementary jurisdiction” and not “parallel systems.” argues in Shariah ‘Courts’ and Freedom of Contract that the issue is simply one of arbitration, something already allowed under the law: “The fact that the parties are choosing to settle their commercial or social disagreements by reference to the Qu’ran is therefore of no more consequence to society than if they decided to settle the same dispute by tossing a coin, asking a neighbour to decide, or any of the other myriad of ways in which human beings settle disagreements peacefully.” on One man’s sharia: “Now that the debate has become public, all concerned parties need to seek some clarity. What can be done through the courts that cannot today be done simply by mutual agreement? Proponents of sharia arbitration have not been detailed enough in their proposals to provide a suitable answer to this. If two parties want to agree to an Islamic solution that does not conflict with state law, then that is already happening in the form of arbitration. If the issue is enforcement, however, then by definition it is not mutually agreeable and the issue is about imposing a sharia interpretation that at least one party does not accept. It is this point that scares many non-Muslims and Muslims alike.”

UPDATE: Ekklesia has an interesting item called Muslims puzzled over Sharia row, but Evangelicals and inter-faith group urge debate which says: “Muslim lawyers say they are puzzled that Archbishop Rowan Williams raised the Sharia issue before they have had a chance to tackle some key concerns.” On the other hand, evangelicals are keen to start talking because they see this as a way to bring up their own concerns about secular laws. “We want to use this as a spring-board to find a way forward for those in our, and other, faith communities who feel disenfranchised on matters of conscience by the changing meaning of what it is to be British,” said the Rev Joel Edwards, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance.

The Washington Post‘s On Faith blog has an interesting series of American reactions to Williams’s proposal, most of them not enthusiastic. reports on how Muslims are seeking advice from Orthodox Jews on how their Beth Din courts operate.

Mona EltahawyMona Eltahawy slams what she calls Delusions in Canterbury and says the archbishop’s tolerance towards sharia “is a tolerance that condones only the most conservative options for Muslims. It is at best a form of the racism of lower expectations – the cheapest bargaining chip of liberal guilt… As a Muslim woman – born in Egypt, raised in Saudi Arabia – I can only laugh at the archbishop’s naïveté. In Egypt, as in many Muslim countries, the legal system has been completely modernized, with the exception of one area that remains caught in the web of edicts issued by Muslim scholars who lived centuries ago — family law. Shariah is used only to govern the lives of women and children.”

Ali Eteraz continues to examine the implications of using sharia law in a Western context. Two latest posts are When US Courts Apply Islamic Law and Concurrent jurisdiction would be used to coerce average believers.

The Tablet, 16 Feb. 2008The London Catholic weekly the Tablet has a nice cover showing Williams among the lions in the Colosseum in ancient Rome. It also has two interesting articles:

Theo Hobson says in Quiet Voice of modernity’s enemy that “...liberal Protestantism is basic to our national identity, although people don’t tend to think of it as ‘liberal Protestantism’ but as ‘our Christian heritage’ and ‘our liberal tradition’. This is what Williams seems not to grasp, or chooses not to.”

The editorial Crisis of Identity makes the point that “… the process of secularisation is eating away at society. Too often, people of faith feel they no longer fit.

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