02/09/2008, 00.00
Send to a friend

Sharia and English law: a weakened Europe abandons humanism

by Samir Khalil Samir, sj
Debate has been raised by the proposal of Rowan Williams, the Anglican primate, to insert parts of sharia into British legislation. To integrate Muslims into Europe, the practice of hospitality is better. Europeans appear to be abandoning the same humanist ideals that attract many, Muslims and non-Muslims.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The primate of the Church of England, archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has decided to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights in an unusual way: he has suggested that some aspects of sharia be inserted into British law, for the sake of fostering the integration of Muslims.  It seems to me that these suggestions demonstrate once again the weakening of European Christian identity and the abandonment of true humanism.

A strange interview with the BBC

Two days ago, on Thursday, February 7th, referring to Muslims, Williams told BBC Radio 4: "We must face the fact that some of our citizens do not fully recognise themselves in the British legal system . . . I believe that it would be dangerous to maintain that there exists a single law for all, and that anything  else demanding fidelity and respect is entirely irrelevant in judicial proceedings".  At the same time, he added, "No one of sane mind would want to see in this country the inhumanity that is sometimes associated with the practice of law in some Islamic countries, like extreme punishments or the attitude toward women.  And in no case would this take precedence over the rights that one has as a citizen.  But to say that there is one law for all is a bit dangerous".

In short, an English citizen of the Muslim religion who does not recognise himself completely in the British legal system has full right to follow another legal system, the one established at the beginning of the seventh century in Arabia.  However, since he is "of sane mind", he does not want to see in Great Britain some of the aspects of this legal system that a British Muslim citizen has the full right to wish to see applied, because in no case would this system take precedence over one's rights as a citizen.

In conclusion, presuming "that there is one law for all is a bit dangerous".

The interview with Williams seems to be a response to the Anglican bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, a Pakistani by birth, who at the end of January had written in the Sunday Telegraph: “Islamic extremism has transformed some communities into places where non-Muslims cannot enter", and severely criticised the British multicultural model.  Following this article, he received death threats, demanding that he stop criticising Islam.  And the Muslim Council of the British interreligious committee had written to the archbishop of Canterbury about the statements of the Anglo-Pakistani bishop.

On February 1st, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali wrote on his website: “the best way to welcome and integrate new immigrants is the Christian vision of hospitality, not the secular politics of multiculturalism, which has disastrous consequences".  And he added: "If we do not diagnose the cause of the illness that is infecting all of us, we will never find a remedy".

British law or sharia?

It may be that the reader has not grasped the logic of the primate of the Church of England: this relativises the British legal system and the name of tolerance toward all opinions, even at the price of tolerating intolerance!

Given this situation, it becomes impossible to speak of "the inhumanity that sometimes is associated with the practice of law in some Islamic countries, like extreme punishments or the attitude toward women".  Who decides if a practice is human or inhuman? How can one assert that a law [established by God, according to the Muslims] can be inhuman? This would be blasphemy!

In the face of these startling affirmations, The Times, in an editorial on Friday, February 8th, comments: "What makes this country a liberal and peaceful democracy is that we live under the same law, that we are equal citizens before the law.  This is a Christian country, even if (incredibly!) the archbishop wishes that it were not so.  Everyone is authorised to adopt the religion in which he believes, or no religion, but he remains under the British law and traditions.  These, fortunately, include great tolerance toward others, welcoming, generosity of spirit . . . these values are not abstract, they are rooted in the history and practice of this country as a Christian nation.  There is a whole list of countries in the world in which the people can live according to sharia. This is not one of them.  Nor should it become one".

For the Daily Telegraph, "The archbishop of Canterbury . . . has taken advantage of a speech at the Royal Courts of Justice to propose that the law of sharia be applied in particular circumstances".

And the London Daily adds: "In public opinion, sharia is associated with brutal punishments, like the amputation of the hand for theft or stoning for adultery and apostasy.  Moreover, it is seen as repressive toward women".

Perhaps the primate of the Church of England thought of this when he spoke of the inhumanity of some practices.

"Divine"sharia is better than Western laws

But our pro-sharia radicals respond that these laws, in addition to being dictated by God himself, are more effective than Western laws for suppressing crime: theft, adultery, apostasy, etc.

How can polygamy be blocked, when God has authorised it for up to four wives at the same time? Currently, Sayed Pervez Kambakhsh, a 23 year-old journalism student, has been judged as guilty of blasphemy by a tribunal in Mazar-i-Sharif, in the north of Afghanistan, for having written an article on the rights of women, referring to the Qur’an and bringing into question the practice of polygamy.  But his family maintains that the article was not his, but was downloaded from the internet.

And how can a husband’s repudiation of his wife (to take another, for example) be blocked, if God has authorised this in certain circumstances? And who could prevent the husband from beating, in a moderate way, the wife who disobeys him, if the Qur'an authorises him to do this? It is worth remembering the decision of the German judge in Frankfurt, who last year recognised the right of a German Muslim to beat his wife in the name of his religion.  In all of these cases, where is the legal equality between men and women?

A few days ago, the British government decided to increase public subsidies for husbands who have more than one wife.  Immediately after this, Hamza Piccardo, an ex-secretary of the UCOII, declared that this decision was correct.  But it does not extend to English citizens, because the country's laws do not provide for polygamy.

Reactions to the statements by the archbishop

The reactions to the interview with the archbishop of Canterbury came immediately.  The minister of culture, Andy Burnham, commented saying: "we cannot make two legislative systems work together.  It would be a recipe for chaos".  Another minister defined his proposal as "a recipe for chaos".  The Sun, the leading English tabloid newspaper, wrote: "in reality, this proposal is a dangerous threat to our country".

Certainly, the archbishop wanted to facilitate the integration of the approximately 2 million Muslims out of 60 million British citizens.  Since July of 2005, when four English Muslims carried out suicide attacks on the transport system of the capital, killing 52 people, integration has been at the centre of public debate in Great Britain.  But would this measure - the introduction of sharia - facilitate integration? Bishop Nazir-Ali maintains the contrary, and he knows what he's talking about, since he himself was born a Pakistani Muslim.  And the Labour party member of parlaiment Khalid Mahmood has no doubt about what position to take: "I, together with the great majority of English Muslims, oppose any move to introduce sharia here.  English law is the envy of the entire world".

The Muslim council of Great Britain, an organisation that is not always moderate, also opposes a double legislative system.

Muslims reject sharia in the name of European humanism

1. The primate's intention is certainly good: to help Muslims to integrate in England, while maintaining their traditions.  But it is also certainly mistaken.  Someone who comes to another country knows that he is coming into contact with another culture.  If he is not capable of living in the cultural environment, it is better that he seek another country.  One cannot ask the 60 million Britons to renounce their thousand year-old tradition because of 2 million.  And one cannot have two opposing laws in the same country.

2. The principle expounded by Williams seems to make good sense.  But good sense is often forgotten in matters of religion.  In the name of religious freedom, religious laws are placed above those of the constitution.  This seems deeply mistaken to me.  Above all when one understands that this pretence of divine law (whichever it might be) is not in effect in most countries of Muslim tradition.  In reality, Islamic sharia poses more problems than solutions, because it reflects ancient practices that do not correspond to the modern conception of human rights.

3. Human rights, properly understood (and also criticised), are the modern expression of the most noble values.  They are often the secularisation of the highest human ideal, that of the Gospel.  This is not a matter of preferring the law of the Gospel to that of the Qur'an; it is a matter of choosing the most humanistic law, to build together a human society that is respectful of the choices of each human person.  It is not in the name of the Gospel that human rights are adopted, but in the name of man.  True positive secularism cannot consider religious laws as such.

4. In this entire affair, the most surprising thing is that the proposal has been made by the highest religious authority in England . . . in favour of a law that he himself recognises as partly inhuman! Unfortunately, this is not the first time that one has seen Christian bishops defend Muslim norms that even the most openly Muslim people are themselves seeking to abandon.  Do we want to be more papist than the pope? I sometimes get the impression that the West, not having deep roots, is defending the practices of those who are considered as "weaker", or is defending "the foreigner" as foreigner.  This is a matter of defending values, or better, of defending man.

The aim of the Christian is not that of defending the Muslim or the Christian.  The aim is to defend man, independently of his religion.  If Christianity helps me to defend man, then it is welcome! If it is my atheism that helps me to defend man, then it is welcome! Religion has no need of being defended, but only man! It is this humanism that has drawn the attention of millions of Muslims and non-Muslims, and has made Europe a model society for many of us . . . until a few decades ago.  Today one has the impression that this humanism has been lost, and that one prefers the culture of the other simply because he is other, and perhaps because of distrust in one's own culture!

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
With Arab spring, Christians vulnerable to Muslim extremists, says Archbishop of Canterbury
Synod for the Amazon: Card Stella hails the ‘great beauty’ of celibacy in a priest’s life
24/10/2019 17:56
Multiculturalism promoting Islamic extremism, says Anglican bishop
Anglican leader urges Chinese Christians to "develop an inner freedom"
New Primate of England committed to Inter-religious dialogue


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”