Dr. Rowan Williams
The article in the Times by Robin Griffiths-Jones and Ian Edge on Islamic Law and English law was a forerunner to the lecture of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams. (click here to download a transcript of the Lecture)
I was at the lecture given by Dr. Williams, which, contrary to my earlier post on this topic was at the Royal Courts of Justice. 
As a British Muslim, and one who has had some significant exposure to Islamic Law and Islamic Jurisprudence, as well as training as a Barrister in English Law, I found myself interestingly placed to receive the enlightening lecture and the interesting points made by the Archbishop.
Unfortunately, however, I feel that those who have called for the resignation of the Archbishop and also those that have read the transcript of the Lecture and yet assume that he called for the inclusion of the complete Shari‘ah within the English Legal System, have totally missed the purport of his Lecture.  

 

Moreover, I fear (a fear that is day-by-day being substantiated from cursory glances at the Telegraph and the Daily Mail) that most of the British public have not approached this debate through an intellectual lens.

Most of those I am referring to assume that the Archbishop is calling for the Islamic Criminal / Penal code to be introduced as a parallel system.This is an immature and impractical assumption. 

Rather, what the Archbishop was saying was that there should be an option for those Muslims who have CIVIL maters being heard in the English Court, to have their cases adjudged in view of the Islamic legal provisions regulating that matterm, for example, matters of divorce, intestacy matters, separation, property law matters and marriage, etc.

Furthermore, before we even get to that stage, the Archbishop has not called for the inclusion of Islamic Law within the English Legal System, rather, all he has alluded to is that there is an argument to be made that, in a secular society a certain section of the community which lives its lives distinctly by certain religious provisions should be entitled to such a service (otherwise democracy is not true to its objectives) – furthermore, he alludes to the foreseeable probability of this happening – note, though that he doesn’t say it necessarily should happen – but rather that there is the possibility that it will happen, and that therefore, the English Legal System, and the English people should open this for debate. 

Finally, in the Question and Answer session which was not reported, the Archbishop answered questions from the audience.  In these he mentioned specifically that although the English Legal System may have evolved from Christian principles, it is absolutely secular in character.  Yet it has been shaped after years of legal evolution which stemmed from Christianity, and similarly, therefore, there is no reason why Muslims should be offered no choice in the law which governs them.  To assert such a thing would further endanger the United Kingdom with regards to its Human Rights claims. 

Muslims in Britain have just as much right to debate the changes in the English Legal system as any other British citizen does.  Any British citizen that debates changes in the Legal system here does so biased as to their political opinions and personal biases – in the same way any British Muslim would be biased. My own views on this are uncertain at the moment – I am absoutely sure about certain things, however.  I am sure that the Islamic Law, the Shari’ah, is perfect and lays down, through the Qur’an and the practice of the Noble Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) perfect and universal principles that arm Islamic Jurists and Islamic Scholars with the irrevocable concepts on which to build the ideal society. 

However, I don’t believe that the Muslim community in britain has matured enough to be able to cater for Muslims in Britain.  The systems in which Islamic Law flourished, and in which Muslims and non-Muslims have not been experienced at least for a few centuries.  There may be examples upto the 16th and 17th Century, but there has been a stagnancy amongst Muslims to cooperate and develop their legal and community systems to an appropriate degree.

For example, there is the question as to whether if such a system existed whereby a Muslim had a choice between being adjudged by the Islamic or English Legal system, if that person chose to be heard under English Law, whether he would be protected from the backlash faced by the Muslim community in which he or she lived for choosing a system other than the Islamic Legal system.

Which is why I do not think the Islamic Community is mature enough to be able to deal with this at the present.  But, “on the debate…!”

Lastly, I would like to extend my thanks to Dr. Williams, as well as my support for his starting an intellectual and important debate.  I would also like to offer my apologies on behalf of all those who believe ‘he had no right to speak’ on this topic, or that ‘called for his resignation’.

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