Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has set off a storm in Britain by saying that some aspects of sharia Islamic law would have to be integrated into the legal system there. There has been almost unanimous criticism of his proposals, including from some Muslim politicians. I’ve read through both his BBC interview and Temple Festival speech to see if there is another message that is being drowned out by the headlines and hullabaloo. There are signs of one, but there are so many questionable assumptions and assertions about Islam and sharia in there that these issues naturally dominate.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, has said the introduction of some aspects of sharia, Islamic law in Britain, was unavoidable. Other religions enjoyed tolerance of their laws in Britain, he told the BBC, and he called for a “constructive accommodation” with Muslim practice in areas such as marital disputes.
Preparations are under way for a planned visit to the Vatican by representatives of the “Common Word” Muslim appeal for a theological dialogue between Christianity and Islam. This group of Muslim scholars and leaders got to be known as the “138” because that was the number of initial signatories, but the total has grown to 221, so that label is a bit confusing now. Anyway, veteran vaticanista Sandro Magister informs us that five Muslim representatives were at the Vatican early this week to start preparing for the visit expected to take place in the next month or so. One interesting aspect is simply the geographical mix of people involved — they come from Turkey, Britain, Jordan, Libya and Italy.
Reports so far about the death penalty against journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh have said that President Hamid Karzai could pardon him if the sentence is upheld by the Afghan courts. Now, a presidential spokesman has said that the president must confirm or reject any death sentence before it is imposed. So if this case goes down to the wire, Karzai will have to decide one way or the other. That sounds positive for Kambakhsh, because Karzai (no matter what he thinks about the verdict) is presumably open to pressure from Western allies not to carry out the sentence.
Karen Armstrong, the best-selling British writer and lecturer on religion, has given a long interview to Reuters in Islamabad after addressing a conference in the Pakistani capital. A former Catholic nun who now describes herself as a “freelance monotheist,” she has written 21 books on the main world religions, religious fundamentalism in these faiths and religious leaders such as Mohammad and Buddha. Her latest book is The Bible: A Biography. The short version of what she said is in the Reuters story linked here. We don’t publish the Q&A text of our interviews on our news wire, but we can do it here on the blog.
France’s long-awaited programme of university training for Muslim prayer leaders and chaplains was launched this week — at the Catholic university in Paris. We wrote about this not too long ago when the project was announced. It was third time lucky for Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Muslim Council and rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, who had earlier tried in vain to get the Sorbonne and another section of the University of Paris interested in the project. The Institut Catholique de Paris finally stepped up to take on the project, which the French government has been encouraging for several years now as a way to ensure imams in France are properly educated. It thinks the fact that 3/4 of the 1,200 imams in France are not French citizens, 1/3 of them don’t speak French and almost all have little or no real religious training is a potential source of radical ideology.
Anyone looking at Turkish newspapers or television these days would be forgiven for thinking Turkey was in a deep political crisis over government plans to lift a decades-old ban on female students wearing the Muslim headscarf in universities. The two sides — the secular Turks who long held sway here and the newly empowered pious Turks — are debating the issue in the winner-take-all way Turks like to talk politics. The liberal daily Radikal found the tension rising so much that it ran a front page headline this week reading “Republic of Fear” with a reprint of Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” on the cover.
Among the idiosyncrasies of British life is the fact that this secularised open society has an established church and a law banning blasphemy against it. This anomaly was back in the headlines this week when a member of Parliament tried to abolish the blasphemy law with an amendment to a bill on crime and immigration. With the issue back on the table, another MP submitted a motion to disestablish the Church of England. By a coincidence some might see as a warning, it was listed as motion #666 — the number of the Beast in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, associated with Nero, the Antichrist and other opponents of Christianity.
Science and religion are sometimes portrayed as adversaries, especially by the “new atheists“, but the real picture has always been more complex. The latest breakthrough in stem cell research shows how quickly opposing sides can become allies. On Nov. 20, two research teams announced they had transformed ordinary skin cells into stem cells without destroying human embryos in the process. That meant that scientists could solve an ethical dilemma they had effectively created when they began using human embryos to produce stem cells.