Senior Church of England clergymen are criticizing the Archbishop of Canterbury for his remarks about accommodating Islamic Sharia law in Britain, The Evening Standard reports.
On Thursday night Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the highest-ranking cleric of the Church of England, gave a radio interview in which he suggested it was “unavoidable” that some form of Sharia law would be introduced in Britain. He said that Sharia and Parliamentary law should be given equal status in some areas so that people could choose which governs their lives.
"This may include aspects of marital law, the regulation of financial transactions, and authorized structures of mediation and conflict resolution," the Archbishop of Canterbury said, noting analogous Jewish courts already operate in Britain. He took care to distance his proposal from the “severe punishments” and “inhumanity” of the law in some Islamic states.
One reaction to the Archbishop’s lecture came from Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, who was put under police protection last month after receiving death threats for suggesting some areas of Britain are ‘no-go areas’ for non-Mulsims. Bishop Nazir-Ali said Sharia would be “in tension” with the rights of women, noting that Muslim women’s groups in Canada had blocked attempts to introduce Sharia law in marriage cases.
According to the Evening Standard, Bishop Nazir-Ali said that disputes on Shariah law "are not an argument for disturbing the integrity of a legal tradition which is rooted in the quite different moral and spiritual vision deriving from the Bible."
A spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown also reacted to Archbishop Williams’ radio interview.
"Our general position is that Sharia law cannot be used as a justification for committing breaches of English law, nor should the principles of Sharia law be included in a civil court for resolving contractual disputes.
"The Prime Minister believes British law should apply in this country, based on British values," the spokesman said.
Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the first major Labor Party leader to criticize multiculturalism, said the archbishop’s comments gave “succor to extremists,” calling the proposals “divisive and dangerous” ones that encouraged segregation.
Tory politician David Davies, who is also Anglican, said, "I am astounded. Dr. Williams is a nice enough man, very intellectual, but he has clearly lost the plot.
"He's one of the most influential Christian prelates in the world and he's supposed to be standing up for Christianity.
"What he's doing is abandoning his own religion.”
Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, responded positively to the archbishop of Canterbury.
“Sharia law for civil matters is something which has been introduced in some western countries with much success; I believe that Muslims would take huge comfort from the Government allowing civil matters being resolved according to their faith," he said, according to the Evening Standard.
However, Shafiq did criticize Archbishop Williams on another recent incident.
"We are however disappointed that the Archbishop of Canterbury was silent when Bishop Nazir-Ali was promoting intolerance and lying about no-go areas for Christians in the UK by Muslim extremists,” Shafiq said. He said the archbishop should speak out against Bishop Nazir-Ali, or Muslims would believe the archbishop had sympathy towards the Bishop of Rochester’s opinions.
One clergyman identified as a member of the Anglican Church’s Governing Synod anonymously told The Times his own critical view.
"I am just so shocked, and cannot believe a man of his intelligence could be so gullible," he said.
"I can only assume that all the Muslims he meets are senior leaders of the community who tell him what a wonderful book the Koran is.”
The clergyman thought the Archbishop of Canterbury should resign because of the remarks.
Bishop Tom Butler of Southwark said the Archbishop of Canterbury had chosen a poor time and venue for his proposal. “The Archbishop has a way with language but this was a very heavy lecture,” he said, according to the Evening Standard.
Bishop Butler said the proposal would need a “great deal more thought and work” to become a good idea.
The archbishop is said to be shocked and hurt by the hostility his comments have provoked, and on his website he said he "certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law".