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Archbishop: Shariah law in U.K. 'unavoidable'

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, said Thursday the introduction of some aspects of Islamic shariah law in Britain was "unavoidable."
Image: Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, addresses reporters in New Orleans in September 2007.Judi Bottoni / AP file
/ Source: Reuters

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, said Thursday the introduction of some aspects of Islamic shariah law in Britain was "unavoidable."

Other religions enjoyed tolerance of their laws in Britain, he said, and he called for a “constructive accommodation” with Muslim practice in areas such as marital disputes.

Asked in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview if the adoption of shariah law was necessary for community cohesion, Williams said: “It seems unavoidable.”

Williams also said, “Certain conditions of shariah are already recognized in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system.”

The issue of integrating Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims has been widely debated since July 2005 when four British Islamists carried out suicide bombings on London’s transport network, killing 52 people.

Covers business, marriage, crime
Shariah is the body of Islamic religious law based on the Koran, the words and actions of the Prophet Mohammed and his companions, and rulings of Islamic scholars. It covers issues including worship, commercial dealings, marriage and penal laws.

It is implemented in varying degrees in Muslim countries. Williams said he was not endorsing the harsh punishments issued in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where murderers and drug traffickers are beheaded.

“Nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that has sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states, the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women,” he said.

Any use of shariah in Britain should not take precedence over “the rights that are guaranteed to ... citizens in general.”

Muslims should have a choice in legal disputes over marriage and financial matters, Williams said.

“There are ways of looking at marital dispute, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them. In some cultural and religious settings they would seem more appropriate.”

‘Fragmented society’
A Church of England bishop sought police assistance this month after receiving death threats over an article which claimed Islamist radicals had turned some parts of the country into hostile “no-go areas” for non-Muslims.

The Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, said calls had been made to his home, threatening him and his family.

“We have got a fragmented society at the moment,” Williams said. “Many Muslims would say that they feel bits of British society are no-go areas for them.”