Archbishop of Canterbury was Right
The recent and controversial call by Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of the Church of England and spiritual leader of 80 million Anglicans, for incorporation of Sharia law into British law will not be the last utterance in favor of Islamic law. Nor should it be. The addition of Sharia law to "the law of the land", in this case British law, complements, rather than undermines, existing legal frameworks. The Archbishop was right. It is time for Britain to integrate aspects of Islamic law.
Sharia law is unequivocally clear that Muslims who live as minorities in non-Muslim majority communities are required to abide by the law of the land. That doesn't prevent British Muslims from practicing aspects of Sharia that don't conflict with British law, or from seeking changes in British law. The Archbishop's assertion was forward thinking, recognizing that increasingly diverse Britain will be better off, not worse, with coordinated legal frameworks that guarantee more, not fewer, adherents to its legal system. There are three reasons to believe this will be the case.
First, the increased integration of Sharia law would merely sanction and improve upon what is already occurring: western Muslims practicing Sharia law without violating western law. British Muslims, for example, freely practice Sharia law pertaining to worship: praying five times daily, giving to charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and traveling to Mecca to perform the Haj, or pilgrimage.
Second, the integration of Sharia law would provide some modicum of equilibrium among Jewish law, Christian law and Islamic law. British law, as the Archbishop well knows, is derived from a Judeo-Christian ethic and provides the Church of England with special status. Ushering in aspects of Sharia law would acknowledge Britain's new inhabitants, of increasingly Muslim variety, and assemble an aggregated legal framework that represents all three Abrahamic traditions, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. By doing so, Britain would ensure that Muslims stay engaged, not isolated or estranged, and assume active ownership in civic participatory duties and responsibilities.
Third, Sharia principles are already providing benefits to British society, for example in the economic sector. Interest-based loans are prohibited in Islamic law, and so, as a result, many major banks, including Citibank, HSBC and others, have developed Sharia-friendly policies. The result is better business for Western banks and more investment by resource-rich emirates from Gulf States. The same, in theory, could apply to the socio-political sector. The set of laws sought by some British Muslims would only improve upon existing practice by requiring Muslim fathers to provide child support for children in cases of divorce, for example, and by ensuring that spouses and children are not disinherited from estates.
These are just some of the reasons that Archbishop Rowan's remarks make sense. But in case some of the skepticism that has greeted the remarks is due to a lack of familiarity with Sharia law itself (and perhaps the incorrect belief that it threatens civil and human rights, particularly women's rights), I will close with a brief tutorial.
Sharia law shares the Judeo-Christian ethic, namely the top two commandments of loving God and loving your neighbor, upon which, says Jesus, hangs all the law and the prophets. Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, a preeminent Muslim legal scholar, is very clear about the parameters of Sharia law: "Every rule which transcends justice to tyranny, mercy to its opposite, the good to the evil, and wisdom to triviality does not belong to the Sharia". Thus, any aberration of this is false implementation. As any legal practitioner knows, misapplication of the law, even when well intentioned, can happen in myriad ways. And when we misapply the law, we breed injustice.
Just as Western law is now being stretched thin and distorted to justify torture in the war on terrorism, so too can Sharia law be stretched and distorted to justify tyranny and injustice. Better then to bring in the believers so that one can monitor and help manage their systems of jurisprudence than ignore and isolate their guiding principles. That is what Archbishop Williams was suggesting. And wisely so; Britain is no longer simply guided by a Western law born of Judeo-Christian ethics. Its makeup is now much more diverse, and so to must be its moral measurements.
Posted by: Steve | May 28, 2008 1:33 PM
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