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Top Anglican Seeks a Role for Islamic Law in Britain

LONDON — The archbishop of Canterbury called Thursday for Britain to adopt aspects of Islamic Shariah law alongside the existing legal system. His speech set off a storm of opposition among politicians, lawyers and others, including some Muslims.

The archbishop, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, said in his speech and a BBC radio interview that the introduction of Shariah in family law was “unavoidable.” But he said such “constructive accommodation” should not deprive Muslims of their right to take their cases to the existing court system.

The archbishop compared allowing Muslims to take carefully defined issues to their own religious courts to the established practice among Orthodox Jews here of referring religious disputes to rabbinical courts.

Roman Catholics might also benefit from what he called “plural jurisdiction” in matters affecting religious conscience, he said. He noted that the Church of England, formally headed by the monarch, also has its own ecclesiastical courts.

Shariah is drawn from the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. It prescribes religious and secular duties, along with punishments for their breach.

In countries where Islamic militants have gained power, like Afghanistan under the Taliban, harsh forms of Shariah law have been imposed. These have included stoning to death for adultery and the chopping off of hands for theft, along with severe restraints on women’s rights and provisions subjugating them to the will of men.

But much of Shariah law deals with issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance, and many Muslims in Britain, a small but often isolated minority of 1.5 million in this nation of 60 million, have for many years taken disputes in these areas to Shariah councils in neighborhood mosques.

“Nobody in their right mind,” the archbishop told the BBC, “would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states — the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well.”

But equally, he said, “I don’t think we should instantly spring to the conclusion that the whole of that world of jurisprudence and practice is somehow monstrously incompatible with human rights simply because it doesn’t immediately fit with how we understand it.”.....Article conts (-)

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