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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Tempest in a teapot

Yesterday I got an email from my father that was a bit different than the daily dose of internet humor that usually comes from his direction.

Hi Jane,
Update me. Has the Archbishop lost it? Here in AZ the news has him wanting the English to change their government to the Koran?

Love you, Dad


Dear Dad,

The short answer is No-- so far as I can tell, the Archbishop has not lost his mind, though I can see where you'd think so, given the reporting. As far as I can determine, the tempest has arisen from critics taking ++Rowan's words out of context, misunderstanding what he said, and putting on a spin that was not intended.

Now, for the long answer...

It first helps to understand that Sharia (Muslim law) is not wholly equivalent to civil law, even in Islamic countries. In some ways, it moves beyond "law," as it extends into the whole of an observant Muslim's life, religious, social, private as well as public-- not unlike the way that Torah and Talmud will govern the life of a practicing Orthodox Jew. In other ways, it is less than "law," because a good portion of it would not be applied to a non-Muslim, even in an Islamic country which bases its government on Sharia. Likewise, I am told there are provisions which do not apply to a Muslim traveling outside an Islamic country. You can read more about it here, or here, or here.

So... Abp. Williams gave a lecture and an interview where he spoke about the increasing Muslim population in Britain, and about similarities and conflicts between current British civil law and the religious laws followed by practicing Muslims. In reading the transcripts, I do not see anywhere that he made proposals for shifting British law to Sharia in either the lecture or the interview; and he certainly did not call for the substitution for any portion of British civil law.

As to the lecture, the Anglican Communion News Service offers a summary that is as clear as anything I could write:
In his lecture, the Archbishop sought carefully to explore the limits of a unitary and secular legal system in the presence of an increasingly plural (including religiously plural) society and to see how such a unitary system might be able to accommodate religious claims. Behind this is the underlying principle that Christians cannot claim exceptions from a secular unitary system on religious grounds (for instance in situations where Christian doctors might not be compelled to perform abortions), if they are not willing to consider how a unitary system can accommodate other religious consciences. In doing so the Archbishop was not suggesting the introduction of parallel legal jurisdictions, but exploring ways in which reasonable accommodation might be made within existing arrangements for religious conscience.

In the interview, Abp. Williams did observe to the reporter that “as a matter of fact, certain provisions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law.” He also agreed when the reporter asked if “the application of Sharia in certain circumstances - if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples’ religion - seems unavoidable?"

In other words, it seems to me that he was exploring ways that British civil law already allows for some religious exceptions and special provisions (notably for Orthodox Jews), and suggesting there could be a legitimate expectation that similar provisions for Muslims might also be made-- with consideration of Sharia (especially learning where it already dovetails with current British law) as a starting place for understanding what might be appropriate.

This would not make the Qur'an the basis for the law of the land, not even close-- except perhaps in the eyes of some folks looking to stir things up.

Now... aren't you glad you asked?



Blogger Young fogey emeritus said...

Well put. As Joshua Snyder put it ‘I fail to be outraged’.

February 09, 2008 8:18 PM  

Blogger Kathryn said...

Thanks for taking the trouble from across the Pond to note what was actually said...if only our media here in UK could be as professional

February 10, 2008 12:55 AM  

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