In defence of Archbishop Rowan Williams

10:30 am - February 11th 2008

by Dave Cole    

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is in trouble over his comments on the incorporation of Sharia law into UK law.

It is my opinion that Dr Williams’ suggestions deserve reasoned consideration; that they do not require a change in the nature of the law; and that much of the opposition to them, implicitly, requires a very grave change in the law from defining what is illegal to defining what is legal.

I think it’s important to work out exactly what the most reverend Primate is saying. It has generally been reported as ’sharia law is unavoidable’ along with cries of Londonistan and dhimmitude.

According to this transcript of an interview between the Archbishop and Jonathan Landau, what Dr Williams believes is that

“the application of Sharia in certain circumstances if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples’ religion seems unavoidable”

What I intend to do in this post is briefly to sum up Dr Williams’ argument before giving my reasons for supporting it. I will then seek to show not only that the arguments used to oppose his comments are based on misconceptions, accidental or otherwise, of his opinions and that they, in fact, to a great deal to damage community relations in the UK. Finally, I will reflect on the implications of Dr Williams’ comments and the reaction they have provoked.

1. Dr Williams’ argument.
I am basing this section on the aforementioned transcript and the text of his lecture that can be found here.

Arms of the See of Canterbury, courtesy of WikipediaDr Williams can probably cast his eye towards Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, declining attendances and growing secularism and realise that, one day, the Church of England will be disestablished. He is, in essence, preparing the groundwork for the Church of England to retain some of its privilege and position when that occurs. Within that framework, I think that sharia is being used a shorthand for the principle of providing a statutory framework for the implementation of religious law, within bounds set by civil law, where all parties concerned consent.

The first things that Dr Williams says are; that sharia is misunderstood; that there is no single conception of sharia; and that he does not advocate the extreme interpretations of sharia that exist.

“far from being a monolithic system of detailed enactments, sharia designates primarily – to quote [Tariq] Ramadan again – ‘the expression of the universal principles of Islam {and} the framework and the thinking that makes for their actualization in human history’”


“what most people think they know of sharia is that it is repressive towards women and wedded to archaic and brutal physical punishments”

He is also at pains to point out that acceptance of sharia law categorically does not mean rejection of civil law. Indeed, the examples he gives are:

in modern times, the clearest articulation of this was in the foundation of the Pakistani state under Jinnah; but other examples (Morocco, Jordan) could be cited of societies where there is a concept of citizenship that is not identical with belonging to the umma

The implication of this is that someone can choose to submit themselves to religious law but (from the point of view of the Weberian state) has no choice but to submit themselves to civil law.

Williams goes onto identify three, specific implications of the concept. They are, in short, greater attachment to law based on personal belief than state-membership; effective persecution of the most vulnerable members of society being facilitated; and the lack of necessity of exercising legal rights to any or their full degree.

Williams openly accepts that some people claim religion as a defence for all sorts of odd actions:

A recent example might be the reported refusal of a Muslim woman employed by Marks and Spencer to handle a book of Bible stories.

His answer, simply, is to say that this is a cultural trait, not a religious trait. By the terms of Williams argument, this is a non-issue. While there is a debate as to what extent some things are cultural or religious and while there are primitivist interpretations of Islam , the general principle is that people cannot claim religion to explain their actions or lack of actions without reason behind it.

The second implication is that supplementary legal opinion-givers could be used to compel weaker people to accept their judgements. This is essentially a question about social pressure. Williams’ solution is prior consent. For what its worth, I find that unsatisfactory. I would prefer prior consent to the system and consent before each individual binding judgement; it is not a problem if it is in an advisory capacity.

The third point, here, is key. Under English law, I am entitled to file for divorce from any spouse I may have. That does not mean that I have to file for divorce at any given time, or at all. If I file for divorce, a (properly constructed) pre-nuptial agreement or parting on good terms may make things all pretty easy to decide. If not, arbitration can be used without the intervention of the state. All Williams suggests is that Islamic jurisprudence should be considered as a possible source of reasonable arbitration.

Unfortunately, Williams, in a somewhat academic fashion, comes round to his point by a circuitous route. He is essentially saying not just that people should be able to choose, where the choice is freely made, an arbiter in certain legal processes but that an Islamic arbiter could have an official recognition that makes it the source of arbitration of choice, increasing the extent to which its judgements are exposed to critical assessment.

At all times, civil law would retain its absolute, unqualified primacy; any body giving opinions under sharia would not be able to go beyond what is prescribed by law.

2. The weakness of the opposition
The opposition to Dr Williams’ comments comes, to my mind, in three forms. They are wilful misinterpretation, Christian traditionalism and republican culturalism.
To deal with the wilful misinterpretation, I turn to the great organ of the state, The Sun, which asks:

SHOULD the Archbishop of Canterbury be sacked for his comments on Sharia law?

The Archbishop of Canterbury serves at the pleasure of the Queen; I would have thought that The Sun would not want to encroach on HM’s remit.
Earlier, The Sun says

FOR many, Sharia law will forever be linked to the grainy images smuggled out of Saudi Arabia or Iran of people being beheaded or even stoned to death.

It is Rowan Williams’ belief (and it is one I share) that there is no one, singular, authoritative sharia. To conflate the extremes of Wahhabism with Dr Williams’ proposals is intellectually cheap and, to be honest, morally bankrupt.

Melanie Phillips’ has a slightly different misinterpretation. To be fair, I think that it is less deliberate; Phillips, while I disagree with her profoundly, is intellectually honest. Quoth the raven:

Either way, his proposal would also mean that Britain would simply abandon its female Muslim citizens whose parlous position in respect of forced marriages, honour killings and all the other horrors that follow from their second-class religious status would be institutionalised by giving sharia law official recognition. Dr Williams says such women should still retain the right of appeal to the English courts if their human rights were breached under sharia. What absurdity is this? It is the cultural assumptions which flow from sharia which lead to the oppression of Muslim women. How is the right of appeal to human rights law going to help women who are beaten and killed by men who do it in the name of religion? In order to protect our female Muslim citizens, we need to remove from them the yoke of sharia law, not institutionalise it with the seal of official approval.

Dr Williams does not merely say that there would be a right of appeal, but that there would have to be prior consent. Equally, there is a feminist current within sharia that Williams, I think, seeks to encourage. Certainly, I know a couple of observant, Muslim women who cannot be characterised as other than feminist in the Western tradition. They happen to bolt on to this the wearing of a veil based on a practical suggestion from the Koran – that men ogle women.

The next current of opposition is Christian traditionalism, for I which will turn to Danny Finkelstein.

As I argued in my column yesterday, this is a Christian country, even if (unbelievably) the Archbishop himself wishes it were not so. Everyone is entitled to worship any religion or none but this under British law and with due respect for the way that British traditions hold in public space.

Fortunately these traditions include remarkable tolerance for others, a welcome and interest in the practice of others and great generosity of spirit. But such values are not abstract one, conjured out of nowhere. They are rooted in this country’s history and practice as a Christian nation.

Which is, frankly, bizarre. It was Christianity that led to the expulsion of the Jews, for starters. It is Christianity that led to blasphemy being a crime that is still on the statute book. It is a subset of Christians who are trying to keep it there and keep it used. It was Christianity that led to persecution of Catholics because they were the wrong sort of Christian. It is true that Christianity also motivated (say) William Wilberforce or countless other doers of good works. To say that there is such a thing as monolithic Christianity in the UK is, frankly, ignoring several hundred years of inconvenient truths; indeed, there is a decent argument to be made that the strength of the Liberal Democrats in the far South West of England is due in no small part to arguments between Church and Chapel.
Finkelstein says:

“There are any number of places in the world where people can live under Sharia law. This isn’t one of them.
Nor should it be.”

In other words, he is saying that people cannot have a moral code different to the minimum enforced by the State so long as it does not go beyond the bounds laid out by the State.
This Christian traditionalism goes as far as to invent for itself a mythology. Ruth Gledhill’s article in the Times is accompanied by some pictures. Do please take a look at them; they represent one aspect of Islam out of many and I will say no more than that I do not believe that they help the debate.

Gledhill says that:

The Church of England was born out of an express desire to rid Britain of a foreign, ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Article 37 of the 39 says: ‘The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.’ Queen Elizabeth I early in her reign decreed that the Crown had restored to it ‘the ancient jurisdiction over the state ecclesiastical and spiritual, abolishing all foreign power repugnant to the same’.

Which is an almighty assumption. The Church of England was not born out of any one desire, but a combination of the spiritual and political desires of certain, militant clergymen with the financial wherewithal to visit parishes across the country, the King’s coveting of the monasteries’ wealth and the desire of Elizabeth I, in choosing the Via Media, to keep the country together. Equally, Henry VIII was not motivated solely by spiritual concerns but very temporal concerns, including, for instance, cosying up to the German Lutheran states in case of actions by the Holy Roman Empire in the form of Charles V.

Article Thirty-Seven of the Thirty-Nine articles does indeed refer to the Bishop of Rome. Sadly, Gledhill doesn’t quote the full article, which runs:

“The Queen’s Majesty hath the chief power in this realm of England and other her dominions, unto whom the chief government of all estates of this realm, whether they be ecclesiastical or civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not nor ought to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction“Where we attribute to the Queen’s Majesty the chief government, by which titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended, we give not to our princes the ministering either of God’s word or of sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify: but that only prerogative which we see to have been given always to all godly princes in Holy Scriptures by God himself, that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be ecclesiastical or temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers. The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.

“The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death for heinous and grievous offences.

“It is lawful for Christian men at the commandment of the Magistrate to wear weapons and serve in the wars.”

It is not my belief that the Queen is ordained by God, as article XXXVII suggests; equally, it is as much about saying that the singular Catholic authority had no power, as it claimed, in either the temporal or spiritual affairs of England. Firstly, that is a fiat. Secondly, it was written in 1563 and as such may not be completely adequate for today’s world. Thirdly, they have never been universally accepted; indeed, the Archbishop of Armagh said, as long ago as 1643, that

Some of them are the very same thing that are contained in the Creed; some others of them are practical truths, which come not within the proper list of points or articles to be believed; lastly, some of them are pious opinions or inferior truths, which are proposed by the Church of England to all her sons, as not to be opposed; not as essentials of Faith necessary to be believed by all Christians ‘necessitate medii’, under pain of damnation.

The argument I have most often heard for maintaining the position of the Bishops in the House of Lords is that they can do the detailed thinking on moral issues for a predominantly Christian country. The debate on the issue has been reduced to hectoring and invalid heuristic by not just the gutter press but by papers like The Times, the newspaper of record, with a heavy dose of wilful ignorance of and outright hostility to Islam because it is the fashion of the day.

We then have what I term republican culturalism. That is to say, the promotion of an official state culture with what are, essentially, republican goals on the French model. The most succinct example I have found of that so far is on Donal Blaney’s blog:

The maxim “when in Rome, do as the Romans” springs to mind. If muslims want to live under sharia law or a caliphate they are of course free to do so – outside Britain. Our country is based on the rule of law and equality before the law. If these extremists who so hate Britain want to leave, maybe we ought to offer to pay their airfares. For if we truly want social cohesion, the adoption of sharia law is the worst thing we can do.

I reject, in the very strongest possible terms, the maxim that Blaney cites for two reasons. There are many things about our polity that I dislike and I do what I can to change them; I consider it to be an obligation on a citizen. Sadly, most people do not, and I would not like people to let their beliefs slide and not try to enter into debate around them; that is moral cowardice. Secondly, the Muslims in question are British. They are, at any rate, at least as British as George III was. Although he said, in his first speech to Parliament, that

born and bred in this country I glory in the name of Briton

he was the son of immigrants, the first Hanoverian to be actually born in England and was also a Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire and latterly King of Hanover. I reject the territorial assertion of nationality; it is a much more complex, nuanced matter.

It may well be that some people who confess the Islamic faith wish to do live under a caliphate. I do not; however, I believe that they have a right to argue for Britain to become a caliphate. I believe that if they want to use the provisions of English law in new, innovative and legal ways, they should be congratulated on their ingenuity, wished the best and made it clear that I won’t stop saying that I disagree with their choices.

These are not people who hate Britain; they can, quite easily, go to other countries. However, the many advantages of living in Britain mean that they would rather stay here. All that Dr Williams has suggested is that we might, within the existing spirit of the laws, make some accommodations. I will return to this theme in my closing remarks.

3. Effects on social cohesion
As I have said, I believe that some people have deliberately misconstrued Dr Williams’ words. The effect is to suggest to the readers of, inter alia, The Sun that there is a realistic possibility of Saudi-style sharia becoming the primary source of law in the United Kingdom and that the Primate of All England supports the idea. That raises a hostility that becomes misdirected from its misbegotten birth.

What Dr Williams has suggested is that the strict delineation that some seek between ‘Western’ or ‘Christian’ sources of law and ‘Eastern’ or ‘Islamic’ sources of law is not in any way helpful as it leads to unnecessary tensions between culture, religion and citizenship. His argument is that these can be ameliorated by, as occurs with the battei din, accommodations within the existing legal framework. This goes on an informal basis, but formalising it could improve the situation by increasing transparency, visibility and accountability.

Let me turn to the comments of one of my favourite bloggers, Iain Dale:

I don’t want any form of Sharia Law in this country at all. Ever. That is not being Islamaphobic. It’s my opinion and it’s one shared by 99 per cent of the British people, as well as, I suspect, by the majority of British Muslims.. Sharia Law has nothing in common with British values and parts of it could fairly be desribed as downright evil. Anyone who believes that women and men are equal in the eyes of society and the law could not countenance it.

Let us replace sharia law with Jewish law, and see how that sounds. The battei din exist and get on with life without the approval or otherwise of Mr Dale. Even Nye Bevan, who declared in no uncertain terms his views on Tories:

No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party

did not seek to ban Tory rule. I would have hoped that Iain – as someone broadly within the liberal tradition – would have recognised that I can live my life as I see fit and, so long as I remain within the law, his opinions matter not a hoot. What is being proposed by Dr Williams is the same.

It suggests to me that a great deal of the problems around Islam in the UK at the moment is due to the rampant paranoia expressed by some commentators, aided and abetted by a general anti-religionism (and no, I don’t mean anti-clericism) of the Dawkins variety.

I turn to the effects of Dr Williams’ proposal by looking at one particular aspect, mutah. I do not present myself as expert, so let me explain that I understand mutah to be a concept within the Shia interpretation of Islam that provides for temporary marriages which, for the duration of the marriage, lay certain obligations on both parties analogous to a ‘full’ marriage and whereby any offspring cannot be disowned by either party after the expiration of the body of the arrangement. It is, in fact, a contract, as is marriage. Making an allowance for a contract of this nature would (it can be contended)

4. Implications
If I have a contract with someone and we wish to renegotiate that contract, there is no obligation for that renegotiation to have any recourse to the state. English law says what is illegal, not what is legal; there is no prescription of the ‘good’ life. Therefore, I can conduct myself, within the law, in any manner I see fit. If someone has a problem with that, they are welcome to polemicise and to remonstrate, as am I. From this principle, we have arbitration. In (say) a labour dispute, parties can accept the binding judgement of a third party as to what is ‘fair’. If we change that, we are fundamentally changing the nature of liberty in the UK.

I find it deeply worrying; people who set themselves up as defenders of liberty are, in fact, falling on half-understood interpretations of religious texts from some centuries past in what is, in effect, the result of the fear of the unknown.

These are sensitive issues; sobriety is needed. The reaction of many sections of the press – to put words into the Archbishop’s mouth that are quite different from what he said – inflames tensions in the name of money. God and mammon, indeed. The assertion of Christianity, tradition, history and cultural norms I find repugnant as it is an appeal to the dead and not to reason. Equally, the assertions are based on misinterpretations, which makes me think that they are phobic of Islam; they have an unreasonable, pathological fear. There are, for instance, sections of Islam that would shut themselves off from all who don’t agree with their interpretation of the world. Making any generalisation about contemporary Islamic practice on the basis of such a group is like comparing the Church of England to the Exclusive Brethren. I would add that the official Christian tradition in England is, at least since the first Elizabeth, that of the Via Media. It is a tradition of accommodation and delaying unnecessary conflict in the hope that it dissipates.

I state the point again, because it is important. The right to arbitration exists already; formalising it could actually improve some of the problems with extremists in British Islam at the moment.

If people want to go to arbitration, they can choose whichever arbiters they like, whether I’m happy about it or not. Equally, to suggest that looking at alternate sources of law is totally unreasonable – particularly when the call comes from a religious figure who presumably wants some sort of Christian law – and not even worthy of debate is a little strange; after all, we have a mix of sources of law in the UK already, statute and precedent.

I suppose you could say if Mohammed will not come to the magistrate, the magistrate will have to come to Mohammed.

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Reader comments

Thank you for condescending to bestow the benefit of your wisdom upon us. What a de haut en bas putdown for us dim deluded dhimmis! The reason for the massively hostile reaction to the Archbishop’s misguided speech is obvious. There is an Arab proverb: “If the camel once gets his nose into the tent his whole body will soon enter”.

So your entire response is ‘slippery slope’? Reinstate the Test Acts immediately!

I apologise if I was condescending; that certainly wasn’t my intent. I do think, though, that much of the reporting is based on a misinterpretation of what he said and meant. Equally, I think the idea may have merit within in a liberal framework.


“If people want to go to arbitration, they can choose whichever arbiters they like, whether I’m happy about it or not. ”

Are you being deliberately obtuse?
The risk of coercion is alas far too high to be certain that any kind of free choice has been made.
They can of course go (or be forced to go) to shariah “courts” – but they should not be given any recognition in law.

This will run and run.
The more people find out what is going on *now* – never mind what might happen – the bigger the argument will get.
So-called “Somali courts” adjudicating over stabbings?
Benefits paid to polygamists?

“I suppose you could say if Mohammed will not come to the magistrate, the magistrate will have to come to Mohammed.”
And if the Flying Spaghetti Monster will not come to the magistrate?
Where is this to end exactly?

“I find it deeply worrying; people who set themselves up as defenders of liberty are, in fact, falling on half-understood interpretations of religious texts from some centuries past in what is, in effect, the result of the fear of the unknown.”

And I find it deeply worrying that so-called “Liberals” are happy to ignore the plight of women in these circumstances in favour of some misguided mishmash of feelgood multicultiness.

4. douglas clark

Dave Cole

Whilst you and the ABC might see common cause, I do think that what he said, and meant , was pretty obvious. It was that scriptural law, whether Christian, Islamic or Jewish should have precedence above the law we now have.

Well he, and you, can go and take a knot to yourselves.

In my very honest opinion, you are missing the point.


No, I am not deliberately being obtuse.

As I said, I feel that Williams is possibly optimistic in asking for consent before each individual case. I would want all parties to consent to the principle and to each individual case.

If your case is that the problem is people being forced into these agreements, Dr Williams’ suggestion ameliorates the problem. The social pressure exists regardless of sanctioning by the state. The courts exist at the moment, de facto if not de jure, but there is no regulation or transparency. Allowing them to operate within the state means that you could (say) mandate legal training and so on.

Moving on to your two other objections, I would not , and I do not believe Dr Williams would, want courts other than the traditional to deal with crimes. Period.

As to polygamists; I don’t think that the existence of a contract (whether it’s called marriage or anything else) should attract a financial bonus from the state. Dawkins’ line to monotheists is something like ‘I agree with you about polytheists; I just go one god further’. I feel the same about spouses.

The point I was trying to make with my (slightly throwaway) last line was that I don’t want to see the state imposing an officially sanctioned culture.


Douglas Clark,

I agree with you; as I said, I suspect that an ulterior motive here is preparation for disestablishment and acceptance of difference within a generally secular, atheist state and populace.

At no point have I or Dr Williams said that Islamic, Jewish or other non-Anglican law should have precedence over existing law; indeed, I have been at pains to point that out. Rather, tweaks could be made that kick the stool out from extremists who say that living as a ‘good Muslim’ is incompatible with living in Britain.

The situation with the C of E is slightly different. It has some privileges of a quasilegal nature because of its Establishment. I favour disestablishment.


“As I said, I feel that Williams is possibly optimistic in asking for consent before each individual case. I would want all parties to consent to the principle and to each individual case.”

How would this be enforced and by whom?
“Possibly optimistic” – a slight understatement I think!

Can you not see that if this proceeds at all the pressure on women will be along the lines of: “see, they want you to use *our* courts not *their* courts”.


You think it’s a slight understatement… I don’t think that British Muslims have notions of justice that are particularly outside the range of conceptions of justice held by non-Muslim Britons, so I think qualifying optimistic with ‘possibly’ is entirely valid.

As to enforcement, I don’t have all the answers. ACAS is an NDPB with an oversight panel. The precise mechanism could be worked out; however, the best guarantor would be public oversight.

I do not agree with the ours/yours dichotomy at all. Indeed, the entire point of the exercise is to say that the dichotomy is needless.


9. douglas clark

Dave Cole

You are an excellent, and fair, debator, so you are. Whatever I said earlier, I withdraw.

“I don’t think that British Muslims have notions of justice that are particularly outside the range of conceptions of justice held by non-Muslim Britons.”

Make your mind up.
If you’re right there’s no need for shariah courts then, is there?

A woman’s testimony is worth half a man’s…that’s outside my range.
Is it outside yours?


The point I’m making is that there is no one, single, uniform conception of justice in the UK. There is a range; some people may want to operate within a given portion of that range.

The ‘woman’s testimony is worth half a man’s’ point – yes, it is outside my range. I suspect it is outside the range of most Muslims as well. However, the type of legal activities taking place under the proposals would not be criminal and therefore would not require witnesses and would not require testimonies.


Douglas Clark @ 1228 – Thankyou! (I think… hope you’re not being sarcastic…)

“However, the type of legal activities taking place under the proposals would not be criminal and therefore would not require witnesses and would not require testimonies.”


Divorce proceedings would not require testimonies??

Not necessarily. There are different interpretations of talaq within Islamic jurisprudence and some of them merely require (from either party) the desire to end the marriage.

The point I was trying to make was that there would be no jurisdiction over criminal cases. Equally, you could simply legislate to insist that the genders had equal importance.


Slippery slope? Definitely. Test Acts? Maybe. Disestablishment? Certainly. And afterwards, NO SPECIAL PRIVILEGES FOR ANY RELIGION!

You are tying yourself in knots.

To “regulate” shariah to accommodate our conceptions of justice would be to regulate it out of existence.

Go ahead and insist on gender equality within these “courts” – women judges too please – and see how far it gets you.
Those (men) who want shariah won’t accept your regulations.

Yasmin A-B puts it well:
“What Rowan Williams wishes upon us is an abomination and I write here as a modern Muslim woman. He lectures the nation on the benefits of sharia law – made by bearded men, for men – and wants the alternative legal system to be accommodated within our democracy in the spirit of inclusion and cohesion.

Pray tell me sir, how do separate and impenetrable courts and schools and extreme female segregation promote commonalities and deep bonds between citizens of these small isles?

What he did on Thursday was to convince other Britons, white, black and brown, that Muslims want not equality but exceptionalism and their own domains. Enlightened British Muslims quail. Friends like this churchman do us more harm than our many enemies. He passes round what he believes to be the benign libation of tolerance. It is laced with arsenic.

He would not want his own girls and women, I am sure, to “choose” to be governed by these laws he breezily endorses. And he is naive to the point of folly if he imagines it is possible to pick and choose the bits that are relatively nice to the girls or ones that seem to dictate honourable financial transactions.”

Naive to the point of folly she says of him.
I’m afraid she would say it of you too.

Erm… the Test Acts basically said that only members of the C of E were suitable for public employ. Making a concession towards a religion does not mean that religion takes over everything.

Writing in capitals doesn’t enhance your argument, so perhaps you’d like to engage with mine.

It is my contention that one of the principles behind English law as opposed to the Napoleonic tradition is that the law should say what should not be done rather than what should be done; I believe that this is a fundamentally good principle as it is not the role of the state to set out what the good life should be. On that basis, failing to make modest accommodations that have the potential to move people in a moderate direction and to weaken the arguments of extremists because they are attached to a religion are either utopian atheism or are, in effect, a shift of the law from delimitation to prescription.



David Cole,

Excellent summary.

One thing I resolutely disagree with is the thought that Melanie Philips is being honest, even in this regard.

The idea that oversight will improve matters is absolutely correct, it allows a broader debate to take place. I can imagine a peculiarly British Sharia emerging, perfected and exported.

Regardless of the paranoia and wilful misrepresentations this is an opportunity for progressive strands to make their mark in the religious domain. Its happened before and it will happen again. The framework for this has always been there. I call it re-discovery.

They can of course go (or be forced to go) to shariah “courts” – but they should not be given any recognition in law.

This is a silly statement because it already happens! Our law already allows us to set up third parties as arbitrators and we then have to abide by the decision made. I can’t believe people are still arguing over that point.

The same day the tabloids are screaming about allowing shariah into the UK, they ruyn stories about ‘shariah courts’ arbitrating on a stabbing. That discussion is moot but people still can’t seem to get their head around it.

“The idea that oversight will improve matters is absolutely correct, it allows a broader debate to take place. I can imagine a peculiarly British Sharia emerging, perfected and exported.”

I can imagine pigs flying.

Since when have the religious welcomed the “oversight” of the secular?

Thank you for this long, and thoughtful, article.

Initially upon hearing ABC’s comments I must admit to a something of an over-reaction. i think he didn’t help himself by speaking in such dense language. It was not immediately clear (and to be honest, it still isn’t entirrely clear) whatprecisely he was calling for.

Having given it more thought, I think this whole thing turns on whether you think it is reasonable in practice for these Shariah courts to act as a point of reference for fully consenting adults, and for these adults to feel fully and freely able to go further if they don’t like what the Shariah court decides. In theory, I can see how this is possible, but in practice I have very grave doubts this is how it would work. I would say that you are being more than just “possibly optimistic” in expecting everyone ot play nicely and for all parties to be happy and fully consenting etc.

You argue that giving official recognition ot these courts could help reduce the problem of coercion. I fear the opposite effect. It could be perceived by the vulnerable/coerced as a seal of official approval for what they see as an unfair process.

Then there are many practical implications to think through. Not least is who will decide which interpretation of Shriah applies, who will preside over the courts, and how will they be regulated?

I think it’s good that this debate is being had, but I disagree with yourtself and Dr Williams on your conclusions, ultimately because I cannot see concent even approaching free in practice.

“Our law already allows us to set up third parties as arbitrators and we then have to abide by the decision made. I can’t believe people are still arguing over that point.”

No-ones arguing about that.
It’s the nature of the arbitration which is objectionable.

So many typos in that post. Sorry…

publicansdecoy – “You argue that giving official recognition ot these courts could help reduce the problem of coercion. I fear the opposite effect. It could be perceived by the vulnerable/coerced as a seal of official approval for what they see as an unfair process.”

Precisely so.


I don’t know how you can read that speech – with endless references to a need for change and new incorporations of religion into law – and see an argument for the status quo. I know that’s the position they’re tacitly backpedalling to but it’s just completely disingenous if you read the thing.

Also, you – and the Archbishop – constantly reference what kind of jurisdiction and interpretation of Sharia you’d support without considering what happens next. What if the interpretation of Sharia is the dominant one in the Islamic world – i.e. the non-liberal interpretation. What do you do? Tell them that’s not the right Sharia – as a non-Muslim – once you’ve accepted it is a legitimate source of laws. See how well that goes.

I’ve discussed elsewhere your, along with the Archbishop, failure to consider the position you’re placing individuals in with these proposals. You’re also not considering the position it places us in a few years down the line. This isn’t just a naive slippery slope argument. It’s the result of embedding a legal system based on revealed wisdom in English law.

‘Since when have the religious welcomed the “oversight” of the secular?’

Not by the ‘secular’, but those of goodwill which may or may not include the secular.

I’m sure the shariah “judges” would be delighted if it did not include the secular.
And would reject it if it did.

Goodwill has nothing to do with it.

28. douglas clark

Dave Cole,

I thought I said this already, but it seems to have disappeared into the ether. If I was being sarcastic, you’d know it for sure. In fact, I respect your point of view, although I do not entirely agree with it.

Thanks again, Dave, but I probably knew what the Test Acts said before you were born. As for the rest of your ‘argument’, it is a non sequitur; the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise.

As Mr Justice Megarry said, ” Whereas in England all is permitted that is not expressly prohibited, it has been said that in Germany all is prohibited unless expressly permitted and in France all is permitted that is expressly prohibited. In the European Common Market no-one knows what is permitted and it all costs more.”

I am sorry, but I shall take a lot of convincing that the basic tenets of Islam are compatible with liberal democracy. Your and the Archbishop’s thesis that accommodating Muslim aspirations will make them more amenable to what non-Muslims would deem civilised behaviour strikes me as codswallop. I think that, as liberals, we are between a rock and a hard place on this one, and need to face up to the unpalatable fact that you cannot mix oil and water.

Dave Cole is tying himself in knots.
Leaving aside the “no need for testimony in civil cases” blooper, he seems to believe that shariah can be regulated into something compatible with UK law, the Human Rights Act, etc., while at the same time somehow remaining authentic enough to satisfy devout believers.
As Yasmin says – dangerously naive.

31. Margin4 Error

“where all parties concerned consent.”

The article emphasises this point in the seventh paragraph.

But surely where all parties concerned concent there is no need for enforcement. And if there is no need for enforcement why is there then a need for law?

all that aside…

Why is it when the moneygrabbing scum that run the Church of England sell off social housing trusts given to them to run in perpetuity by charitable men and women no one cares – but when one of them says something about muslims there is uproar?

How can our society have gone so far that social housing built for the poor and entrusted to the CofE can be sold off by the church to enrich the church, thus robbing poor people to housing built for rent to them, without the level of condemnation as some wishy washy words on integration draw?

32. Margin4 Error


in case it isn’t clear – people can choose to live by and arrange their affairs in accordance with sharia law.

What they can’t do is enforce that sharia law on others, who by nature must have some objection to living by it or why would enforcement be required?

At that point we have laws for all to resolve the conflict.

Margin – happy to condemn if you post the links!

“What they can’t do is enforce that sharia law on others”

Well, there is evidence to suggest that women can be and are being coerced, is there not?

35. Margin4 Error

This barely made the news – despite the contracts allowing the private owners to jack up the rents or sell as private home once the existing tennants were gone – thus depriving future generations of social housing built for them.

as for sharia law being enforced – only the state has the legal power of coersion.

36. Margin4 Error

Dave Cole

While misinterpretation may play some part – do you not also think that this is at least a part of a recently ignored celebrity seeking a bit of publicity by saying something controversial about muslims?

He could after all have avoided using such clear poor wording if debate was his only aim.

Thanks for the link.

“only the state has the legal power of coersion”

Maybe – but patriarchal families and communities have the not-so-legal power of coercion!

38. Margin4 Error

indeed – and English law protects them from that. Hence why there can’t in practical terms be an additional source of law.

To quote Dr Williams: “if we want to […] take seriously peoples’ religion”

Clearly Dr Williams wants to take religion seriously. But should we as a society do so? I would argue that all belief systems should be treated on their merits, and that religions should be accorded no special priviledges above other beliefs.

So if someone claims that there’s this supernatural being in the sky who made the universe and we’ve all got ot do what he wants, the correct response should be to ask (i) what is the evidence that God exists? and (ii) what is the evidence that God actually wants people to behave in a particular way? And we shouldn’t take that belief seriously until the evidence in favour is at least as strong as — for example — that for cigarettes causing cancer, or anthropogenic global warming.

40. douglas clark

Philip Hunt,

No, we clearly should not.. This is frankly a plea to the Middle Ages, which is where the ABC and his new found chums ought to be relegated. I think it’s called the Conference League or something like that.

A few points:

Since when have the religious welcomed the “oversight” of the secular?

Doesn’t matter if they welcome it or not. The fact is ABC is actually calling for more regulation for the existing Sharia’h courts without being explicit about it.

You argue that giving official recognition ot these courts could help reduce the problem of coercion. I fear the opposite effect. It could be perceived by the vulnerable/coerced as a seal of official approval for what they see as an unfair process.

Publicansdecoy: This such courts already exist and are taken seriously by those who use them, pushing our heads into the sand and saying legitimising them will make life more difficult isn’t logical. After all, we have to bring out into the open when Muslim women are discriminated against by these courts. Wouldn’t you rather the state seriously explore how secular law and religious (civil) law can work together than pretending that there aren’t parallel systems already?

While misinterpretation may play some part – do you not also think that this is at least a part of a recently ignored celebrity seeking a bit of publicity by saying something controversial about muslims?

ABC’s speech is explicitly about discussing the potential conflicts that take place given our law allows religious arbitration and the danger that poses to vulnerable elements of society. He wants to bring out a difficult issue by talking about Shariah and wanted to explore how society may deal with it. What the hell is wrong with that? He’s not the one blowing it out of proportion, it’s the bloody press.

Clearly Dr Williams wants to take religion seriously. But should we as a society do so? I would argue that all belief systems should be treated on their merits, and that religions should be accorded no special priviledges above other beliefs.

This is very simplistic. We already have religious arbitration for those who want it. Orthodox Jews have had a system in place for decades, if not centuries IN THE UK. You don’t have to take religion seriously and I don’t think ABC is talking to atheists or secularists. He’s talking to people who do take their religion seriously and wants to explore the contradictions when women are discriminated against.

For that, he is being attacked. The anti-intellectualism stench is just breathtaking.

“Anti-intellectualism stench”? Where’s the intellectual clarity in the Archbishop’s speech or the comments of his defenders? No – he wasn’t talking to secularists, which is all the more reason for them to make their voices heard. What secularism is about is the separation of religion from law and politics, and a level playing field for all, believers and non-believers alike. What the Archbishop and his co-religionists – Roman Catholic and Muslim – are about is to entrench and enlarge their already over-privileged position in society. I should have thought this would have been obvious to liberals, whose traditional attitude to ecclesiastical privilege is to resist it.

As for the state protecting Muslim women from coercion in sharia courts or domestic life, don’t be naive. The police aren’t doing a very good job of it at the moment: see this report from yesterday’s ‘Independent’:

I’m sorry if I gave the impression we should ignore such ‘courts’, that wasn’t my intention at all. I’d rather see support offered to those who do use them who may feel they’ve been pushed into it, but are too scared to do anything about it. I don’t feel comfortable about legitimising them. Would The Islamic Sharia Council in Britain have much to do with any officially sanctioned courts:

I’d be very surprised if they didn’t try.

“After all, we have to bring out into the open when Muslim women are discriminated against by these courts. ”

Yes – by (as far as possible) undermining them, educating women as to their full legal rights and bringing all Muslims into the normal UK legal system.
(All Jews too while we’re about it.)
If “legitimising” them undermined them, well all well and good.
But I’m not at all sure that it would.
If they started to object to aspects of oversight – I don’t know, say fair treatment of women – they could after all just go backstreet again.

Cole’s argument is incoherent. He seems to be saying that by our oversight we can turn them from shariah courts into something more palatable. How can that work?

As Yasmin says: “He would not want his own girls and women, I am sure, to “choose” to be governed by these laws he breezily endorses. And he is naive to the point of folly if he imagines it is possible to pick and choose the bits that are relatively nice to the girls or ones that seem to dictate honourable financial transactions.”

Naive to the point of folly.

“Anti-intellectualism stench.”
If the argument – however cleverly phrased – is wrong, then it’s wrong.

And while some might believe that Williams is so open-minded that his brains have fallen out, that is not the view of all the Anglican blogs.

Had you heard of Radical Orthodoxy??

“It is a deeply conservative agenda and perhaps it is no suprise this comes from the lips of +Rowan who is a far more complex an intellect than that of a ‘liberal’. Do not forget that a number of his former university pupils are involved in the theology of Radical Orthodoxy which denies the possibility of an autonomous secular ground on which ‘liberalism’ can ground itself and that all culture, society, and thought must be under the sway of the ‘theological’. (How closely this can been seen to fit something like ‘sharia’) Whilst one cannot damn +Rowan for what some of his pupils write nevertheless perhaps we can see evidence of what he might have been teaching them in +Rowan’s lecture at the Courts of Justice.”

(third comment)

Refresh @ 19 –

I tend to agree. My disagreement with Richard Dawkins is not on substance but on tactics. If you attack someone because of their membership of a group, it tends to reinforce their membership of that group.

Sunny @ 20 –

One of the distinctly worrying tendencies in the debate on this issue has been the abhorrence of people living a ‘sharia-compliant’ lifestyle. The fact that people are operating within English law but packaging their form of doing so as ‘Islamic’ seems to be a real problem for some people.

Cjcjc @ 21

That is an assertion, not an argument.

Publicansdecoy @ 22

I’m glad you enjoyed it; I hope that the length didn’t get in the way of the enjoyment!

If I understand you correctly, your objection is not the principle but ‘the nature of Islam in Britain at the moment’. This contrasts interestingly with Sunny’s objections to groups like the MCB in that they are self-selecting. The same could happen. It is entirely possible that many British Muslims would take one look at the courts and ignore them. However, I think that this requires a particular bent to the operation of those courts that the message sent out – that English law has no objection to Islam or sharia per se, but that it will object (very strongly) to those areas that it finds objectionable – might actually be quite useful. It does a good deal to remove the chant that living an Islamic lifestyle is incompatible with living in contemporary Britain.

Cjcjc @ 23

Actually, you did at comment 3 (twice), comment 7 and comment 17. As to the nature of the arbitration, I will come back to that lower down.

Matt @ 26

As I have said, I don’t think it’s a backpedal. One point is accepting that the Islamic version of the Battei Din exist. As you have said and I accept, the greater numbers of Muslims than Jews in the UK makes any potential problem greater. That, I would counter, means a greater need for oversight and regulation. The next part of it is accepting ideas like the mutah form of marriage. You have repeated your ‘Beth Din Backpedal’ point ad nauseam without addressing that there are positive changes that have been proposed and that I, for one, continue to propose.

No, I would say that we don’t see any necessary conflict between sharia and English law and that we are happy to take sharia ideas and let people who want to avail themselves of those ideas do so. However, we’re not going to do things that are considered ‘wrong’. We will, though, be slightly less Islamophobic (in the sense of fearing anything to do with Islam).

My counterpoint is the one about republicanism. It’s a real shame that no-one has addressed that, instead of focussing on the minutiae of the debate.

You must see the irony, Matt, in complaining about ’embedding a legal system based on revealed wisdom in English law’ when the original, controversial speech was made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who sits in the House of Lords by right, in Temple Church. I would contend that there is no problem for a polity to have multiple sources of law. International law has the customary and the declaratory; UK law has the English/Welsh tradition and the Scottish tradition; English law has statute and precedent; the EU has, broadly, common law, civil law and Roman law; every legal system has a tension between legal positivism and natural law.

Douglas Clark @ 29 –

Thankyou very much!

Anticant @ 30 –

If you knew what the Test Acts were before I was born, why did you consider their reintroduction, given that they were horribly discriminatory, at 15. In that same reply, you said ‘no special privileges for any religion’ despite the fact that the Test Acts effectively gave special privileges to the C of E.

This compatibility issue is the one at the heart of the matter than no-one seems to me to be engaging. I don’t accept that my argument is ‘codswallop’ but, even if it is, the principle of a liberal state – one that broadly lets people do what they want – shouldn’t have any objection to adjustments within existing moral norms that allow a given subset of people to live in a given way if they so choose.

I reject wholeheartedly the suggestion that Muslims are oil and non-Muslims are water if for no other reason than it fails to capture the variety within each of those groups.

Cjcjc @ 31 –

I accept the mistake about civil cases that you mention. Yes, I believe that there are Muslims who, their religious faith notwithstanding or even as a cause, are liberals. I also believe that there are Christians who frankly are not liberals. I mean liberal here in the European rather than American sense.

I have to pick you up on the word devout. Devout means that you really believe it, not that you believe something extreme.

Margin4 Error @ 32 –

That is within the existing arbitration framework. What I am proposing is to formalise that arrangement and (Matt Sinclair, read this bit before you say anything about backpedalling) to make changes that use sharia as a source of law or ideas for changing the law, such as the mutah marriage.

Margin4 Error @ 33 –

The point is that the existing set-up makes it quite hard to live a sharia-compliant life. A good example is the Islamic prohibition on interest. Making it easier from a regulatory point of view to buy a house in a sharia-compliant way is a good thing in and of itself and it reduces the ability of people to say that you cannot be a good Muslim in Britain and must therefore attack Britain.

Margin4 Error @ 37 –


Philip Hunt @ 40 –

Your argument – that we should treat all belief systems on their merits with no special privileges – is sound. Let us say that a large group of people – let’s call them ‘Atheists for Temporary Marriage’ wanted something like the mutah (I know I keep mentioning it, but it’s a good example). Would that be acceptable? I suspect the answer would be yes; it is a contract that they want to be able to sign. The fact that the desire for it comes from a religion shouldn’t make any difference. So, no special privileges, but no demerits ‘just for being religious’ either. I tend to be a bit utilitarian, so the source of an idea I find somewhat irrelevant. Moreover, there’s good evidence that attacking someone because of their group identity is a good way to strengthen that group identity.

Sunny @ 42 –


Anticant @ 43 –

I refer you to the above points! For the record, I opposed giving Roman Catholic organisations exemptions on homosexual adoption. I would have no objection to the base principle of using Roman Catholic ideas (how about ‘no death penalty’?).

Cjcjc @ 45 –

If my argument is so obviously incoherent and I am tied in knots, it would seem that the thesis is holed below the waterline and there is no need to debate it any more. You have clearly stated your position on a couple of the issues I raised; how about some of the others?

“bringing all Muslims into the normal UK legal system”

They already are. Everyone in the UK is. Unless you’re saying that the UK is a failed state or doesn’t have a monopoly on legitimate violence.

“If “legitimising” them undermined them, well all well and good.”

You want to undermine Islam in the UK? Interesting.

The key here is in the quote from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

“He would not want his own girls and women, I am sure, to “choose” to be governed by these laws he breezily endorses“

Perhaps not. There are many things I would not recommend people to do; that doesn’t mean that they should be banned from doing it. I would not consider them ‘my’ girls or ‘my’ women, but free agents.

Cjcjc @ 46 –

That is guilt by association; a logical fallacy.

You are the most polite, thorough and conscientious blogger I have ever come across by the way!

“You want to undermine Islam in the UK? Interesting.”

The ECHR has declared that shariah is not consistent with human rights.
I am very happy to undermine an inhumane system of “justice”.

“I would not consider them ‘my’ girls or ‘my’ women, but free agents.”

Sorry to repeat myself – and sorry to requote Yasmin.
But if you believe that the girls and women who “submit” to shariah courts are “free agents” then you are, as she says, naive to the point of folly.

“That is guilt by association; a logical fallacy.”

I wasn’t saying that he was or wasn’t a “Radical Orthodoxist” (would that be the right term?) – just pointing to some interesting comments which suggested that he wasn’t approaching this topic from the “liberal” point of view at all.
And even if he was – which is open to debate – the consequences are (to repeat) just the opposite.

Dave: “Bring back the Test Acts?” I used to say that frequently in the days when the Roman Catholics were the most illiberal religious group on the horizon. Maybe irony isn’t your strong point?

I totally agree that compatibility is at the heart of the matter. I did not say that Muslims are oil and non-Muslims are water. I know so me very nice human beings who are Muslims, and do not feel in the least antagonistic to them as people. What I said was that Islam and democracy are incompatible. Read the Koran and convince me otherwise, if you can.

Most non-religious, or conventionally religious, people seem to have little insight into religious conviction. It is to the credit of Muslims that they take their religion seriously, or they would not be Muslims. That is why the notion of them ever blending happily into a tolerant [or, as they would put it, decadent] society where everyone is free to believe what they like and do as they like is pie on the sky. That, in my opinion, is the dilemma which we liberals face in regard to Islam, and so far too few of us are addressing it with the seriousness it deserves.

So maybe the Archbishop performed an involuntary service in sparking off a national debate which has been simmering under the surface for some time.

49. douglas clark


You and I have been around the houses on this topic before. I still do not think there is anything ‘special’ about Muslims. I think they will blend in to our society, sooner or later, just as every other ‘special’ group has in the past. You draw a line in the sand, I do not.

Sunny Hundal @ 42 seems to sum up a genuinely liberal perspective on the arguement. Although I’d still rather see these ‘courts’ as arbtration rather than having the slightest legal authority.

Douglas, how soon is ‘sooner or later’? Muslims have been an increasing presence in the UK for around 40 years now, and show little signs of “blending”, unlike other historic immigrant communities.

Optimism is all very well, but you cannot [or should not] disregard the evidence or dismiss it all as media hype. If you read not only the MSM but the blogs, there is copious evidence that a real problem exists in many parts of the country, and that it is not lessening as new generations grow up.

To be honest, I am fearful for the future unless more realistic policies towards positive integration are adopted..

51. douglas clark


Thanks for the reply. I have a real difficulty in discussing this topic as I am neither a Muslim or a woman. It does, however seem to me that graduate educated Muslim women, are unlikely to accept a frankly subordinate role much longer. So far, most of the voices we have heard from the Muslim community have been male. And the few female voices have either played the patriarchal party line or have been ridiculed. I think that that will crack. Quite soon.

It is all a little reminiscent of the days before ‘The Female Eunoch’ was published. Lots of outrage, no focus.

On a separate note, cross religious marriages are becoming a bit more prevelant than they used to be. It isn’t all doom and gloom.

An academic but not a teacher of the law nor a representative of those who oppose a one world church-with a little bit of something to please everybody.
Love the lord your God /YWH and your neighbour as yourself can be seen as his highest calling -this does not mean re-writing the old testament is required or compromise with every demographically large and emotionally radical sect of society.
Its like saying that partial nudity is Ok because in some cultures it is a culturally accepted norm. Islam does not, has not and will not change the false God values
it represents.Having done all else stand.
This man needs prayer and forgiveness and a closer walk with GOD/YWH.

Douglas – does it not worry you that the younger generation of Muslims seems on average less (not more) amenable to “blending” (as anticant puts it) than their parents?

54. Margin4 Error


it isn’t hard to live a sharia compliant life in the UK. Islamic bank accounts have become increasingly normal with no intervention of the law. People can choose not to drink. Women can wear what they want. And so on.


There is a bit of a lie about Jewish law being addopted within English law. There is Jewish arbitration for things like divorce. And Jewish couples can seek divorce through their religious institutions. BUT this carries no weight and they remain married in English Law.

They still have to undergo legal divorce the same as anyone else.


this is a thoughtful and considered response and, like you, having actually read what he said in both places, i have come to the conclusion that he isn’t actually asking for anything particularly controversial. however, he has been immeasurably stupid not to take better care to state more explicitly what he’s *not* saying, considering what the likely response would have been and indeed turned out to be. i mean, shouldn’t he be a bit more media-savvy than this?

the jewish situation is indeed a) uncontroversial and b) well-established. i don’t see how asking for similar recognition for muslim procedures wouldn’t be in order. the question, i feel, is largely around the poor consistency and quality control with regard to sharia courts in the UK. i think it’s for the muslim communities (note the plural) to put their own house in order and then lobby for any required changes (i just don’t see what further ones they might need) rather than for the ABC to stick his oar in, which just comes across as a bit of a failure of nerve. i’d have a lot more respect if he tried to do something for his own constituency, because it just comes across as if this is really about trying to bolster an unpopular cause (e.g. sunday trading, christian adoption agencies) by trying to co-opt the popular muslim lobby. it’s backfired spectacularly if it is.



56. Margin4 Error


The “jewish situation” doesn’t exist.

People are lying and pretending that Jews are getting special treatment that muslims don’t get.

There is no Jewish institution in this country that, if a Jew seeks the protection of English Law, can overide English Law. It just doesn’t exist. Its a lie.

Only the state has the power of physical coersion.

As such only english Law (in England) has the power to enforce any Law. This remains true even under the EU which can only punish a country for failing to enforce its laws. It can’t punish citizens for not abiding by its laws.

So its like a couple who split up and need to work out what to do with the kids.

Contact and residence can be decided by a court. But it can also be decided by a conversation between the parents. And because it can be decided that way, it is fair that both take whatever advice they wish. And if they are muslim or Jewish then an Iman or a Rabi is a reasonable source of advice.

Muslims can even agree to arrange their businesses with eachother on the basis of sharia law. As individuals they have that right. And if when a disagreement comes up they decide to abide by that arbitration by a cleric – then that is up to them.

The law only exists to act where coersion is needed. if an amiable agreement can be reached without it then it is not needed. And in that light it allows us to reach amiable agreements all the time, and protects us from people who try to illegitimately force their rules upon us.

#55 cjcjc
It is to be expected in a liberal society that the integration of new entrants from less-liberal states will follow a cyclical pattern, as each new generation develops their understanding of individual responsibility and the desirable consequences of setting limits to state-sanctioned intervention.

So if you think that increasingly radicalised religious belief within parts of the current generation is worrying, it should also be recognised as a reaction against and to compensate for earlier failures.
Still, faith in liberty and history should enable us to show some restraint that there will in turn be a reaction against any radicalisation in a continuing self-moderating cycle as (and provided that) personal experience and engagement increases and the realisation grows that failure cannot be compensated for, only prevented in the future.

Dave, I set out my problems with the plan, even post backpedal, here:

I’m not avoiding the issue.

Publicansdecoy: I’d rather see support offered to those who do use them who may feel they’ve been pushed into it, but are too scared to do anything about it. I don’t feel comfortable about legitimising them. Would The Islamic Sharia Council in Britain have much to do with any officially sanctioned courts:

I agree that they should be offered more support. This is what the ABC is saying too. He wants to bring them under more scrutiny (which is the logical conclusion of what he says) by exploring situations when civil law contradicts these legal arbitrations. Isn’t this what we want? How exactly would anyone offer more protection without a more detailed examination of how the courts work and how they can be brought in line with our laws?

#52 “I have a real difficulty in discussing this topic as I am neither a Muslim or a woman.”

You’re lucky not to be both!

Douglas Murray is not acclaimed to be knowledgeable in religious Sciences
but demonstrates an obsession to challenge scholars and steer debates to less meaningful trajectories.

Murray is seen interrupting other participants rudely and repeatedly especially on the BBC where he is too often a frequent guest. Is it to hide the fact that he has little exposure to Muslim societies and even lesser knowledge of Arabic? Murray repeatedly referred to verse 2:282 in the Qur’an claiming that it equates the testimony of two women to that of one man (which is the so-called verse of debt).

Even a modest exposure to the history of the Arabs will suggest that this verse contains a significant amount of material that later jurists categorized variously as recommended or merely instructional (irshad) and without legal import. However, a very few jurists opined that the recording of debts, witnessing, and all other matters dealt with in the verse may be categorized as obligatory.

62. douglas clark

cjcjc @ 55,

I think that what we have seen over the last six years or so has indeed been increased alienation, which probably cuts both ways. The Muslims most adversely effected by that were the obvious police target group of young(ish) and male. I am still hopeful that we can get beyond this period in our history without us all going to hell on a handcart.

Margin4 Error:

no, you’re right, it’s not really a situation per se, i’m just saying that there is an accommodation, albeit a rather small and specific one, namely that judges will now take into account whether the beth din process has been completed before granting decree absolute where advised that this could be an issue. the situation that people are trying to avoid is where people are divorced according to the civil law (and can resolve financial and custodial situations) but not according to religious law, which can lead to the wife becoming vulnerable to extortion from the husband.

like you say, jewish law cannot “override english law” in any formal sense. however, in matters where the english law is unqualified to rule (such as questions of religious status, e.g. whether you’re still married or free to remarry) there is no way to avoid it if either party feels bound to abide by the rulings of the beth din. the same must necessarily obtain in the case of shariah courts, albeit the chance of a problem is orders of magnitude greater due to the lack of quality control.

you say that “only the state has the power of formal coercion” and this is true to a degree. informal coercion, unfortunately, is very much a fact of life in both cases, i wouldn’t want to speculate if it is similar, but would suggest not as the beth din is very sensible of its responsibilities to women these days and goes out of its way to ensure compliance from the man, which is very far from the case in shariah courts. i can’t imagine a religious court system which doesn’t have the power to at least exert pressure, if only by the denial of communal services, sanction or, in extreme cases, excommunication. the problems have arisen where one party decides they don’t give a flying feck what the BD thinks and withdraws cooperation. this is where the civil courts must become necessary, which is why the decree absolute loophole needed closing to prevent inequitable treatment. but, like you say, i wouldn’t suggest it was anything but a small tweak. i think we’re all agreed that vexatious appeal to subjective religious scruple is a far larger issue.

i personally would see it as extremely positive if the sharia courts could be prevailed upon to get organised, consistent and comply with the law of the land, as the batei din did over a century ago. the trouble is, as ABC in fact correctly points out, that shariah is not nearly as well integrated and codified as the jewish equivalent, halakhah.



64. Margin4 Error


The thing about beth din is that it is based entirely on concent. So if it decided (for example) that a couple could not divorce – it would be entirely up to the couple to agree with that decision or not. If either did not then that party could go to English Law and be legally divorced.

And the same is true of catholics. Catholics can divorce under English Law while remaining married under the eyes of god and the roman catholic church. But because it is then up to the individuals involved as to whether they remain married and abide by that view of god’s law, there need be no enforcement.

So of course there is nothing stopping islamic groups (or hindu groups, or pagan groups for that matter) setting up their equivelent. And English Law need change nothing for that to happen and would overide it just as it does with beth din and the catholic church where neeeded.

As for private coersion – this is effectively illegal and any wronged party can seek the protection of the english courts from any form of it.

We should also remember that islam is efectively protestant rather than catholic in nature – as it has no formal organised institution. So a person who disagrees with a cleric can simply practice islam under a different cleric.

With that in mind the institution would have little capacity to excomunicate or take equivelent measures. And again, even were it able to, this would carry weight only where the individual chose to give such a ruling legitimacy.

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  2. » blog » Blog Archive » Dhimmitude

    […] mention this in light of the debate around my post on Liberal Conspiracy and, more broadly, the furore around Dr Rowan Williams’ comments on sharia. My favourites […]

  3. David Landon Cole

    Just found an article I wrote a while ago on @libcon about Rowan Williams that I think isn't half bad

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