The long, slow death of the Church of England

It is astonishing that a man so erudite and experienced as the Archbishop of Canterbury would commit such a remarkable faux pas as to make his recent comments on Sharia law.  He must surely have anticipated the furore it would cause.  To the extent that Muslim scholars and clerics have supported his stance, he has probably done great damage to inter-faith relations. But of course Muslims, Jews, Christians, indeed any of us, are already entitled to make private agreements and to seek advice or arbitration, so if that is all the Archbishop means, then he is saying very little indeed.
To be fair (briefly) to the Archbishop, his detailed text suggests that he is merely proposing to allow Muslims to seek advice, by consent, from the Imam or the Sharia Court on issues like divorce and financial disputes.  By itself, this might be no less acceptable than the position of Jews in Britain, who may seek a civil divorce in the Courts but will then look to the Rabbinical court for a religious divorce.  But even that raises particular problems in a Muslim context.  Given the status of women in Islamic society, given the stories of forced marriages and bride burnings, how do we cope with the idea of mutual consent?  If an Islamic couple seek advice from the Imam over divorce, and “voluntarily” consent to follow that advice, what reassurance can we have that the woman is not subject to duress?  A proper process in the British Courts would not eliminate that problem, but it would certainly help.
But the Archbishop appears to have said that it is “inevitable” that elements of Sharia law will have to be included in British law.  If that means what it appears to mean, he is suggesting that British law, affecting all of us not just Muslims, should be amended to include Sharia elements.  Some are now saying that he has not asked for a second, parallel legal system in Britain.  No.  He has asked for the incorporation of Sharia into British law, which is worse. It seems to me that our Archbishop is tacitly accepting the long, slow death of the Church of England, and of the whole Christian tradition in Britain, and is inviting a younger and more vigorous faith to take up residence in the house which we are vacating.
His suggestion is simply scandalous.  The essence of a free and democratic society is that we should all be equal before the law.  And the law must be decided in a democratic forum representing all the people.  Williams suggests that some kind of dual system is necessary to ensure integration.  On the contrary, it is a recipe for division and for the ghettoisation of minorities.  It is a recipe for the fragmentation of our society and our country, and for misunderstanding and resentment.  The very idea that citizens can pick and choose as to which legal system they will abide by would be intolerable and inoperable, and would lead ultimately to the end of democracy and the rule of law as we know it, and very likely to civil strife as well.
I believe that most Muslims in Britain know this, and will be very concerned at such dangerous proposals — not least because the shock and anger rightly directed at the Archbishop may well spill over to visible minorities.  There are also, we know, some Muslims — I believe only a few — who feel passionately that the West is decadent and sinful, and that it is their duty to overthrow democracy and replace British law with Sharia.  It is a hard thing to say, but I believe it is right to say it: those who take that view should think very carefully about why they are here at all, and should consider moving to a Sharia jurisdiction where they may be more comfortable.  I have no wish to overturn their way of life, and I expect the same consideration from them in return.

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5 Responses to The long, slow death of the Church of England

  1. One has to wonder whether the leader of the Church of England actually believes in England. The time has to come for us to stop apologising for the British Empire and start believing that we are still essentially the same people of the same mighty little nation that stood firm gainst the forces of tyranny and maybe one day will do so again!

  2. Sally Roberts says:

    I think it is very important to reiterate the difference between the Jewish Beth Din – which as you have correctly stated only gives judgments on religious matters (including religious divorce) and has no bearing on the civil legislative system and the sharia courts which (according to the Daily Mail) are apparently operating in a clandestine manner in certain backstreet cafes and acting as criminal courts which operate without recourse to the Police or British criminal justice system! This is a scandal which needs to be closely examined by the Authorities.

  3. Rod Sellers says:

    Rowan Williams is a disaster as a Leader. He may be a great thinker but he is not a great communicator – a leader MUST be a communicator.

    The following extract from one of John Howard the Australian former PM sums up the frustration of many of us.

    “’Most Australians believe in God. This is not some Christian, right wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture.’ We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why. All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.”

  4. John Ray says:

    Rowan Williams should be ashamed of himself for even considering some sort of Sharia Law in this country.

    As the head of the Church of England he should be putting more effort into bringing Christians together in what is a very divided Church. Not looking at ways to appease the Muslims.

    A great intellect he may be, but one that is very much out of touch with what the vast majority of people think in this country.

    It’s about time we had someone to stand up for our rights, and to stop apologising for things that have happened in the past!

  5. Malcolm Edward says:

    Although I am sure he is well meaning, Rowan Williams has shown how muddled he is and for his own and everyone’s sake he should retire.
    His intellect is bizarre and his awareness of his own position is evidently nil. Of the beliefs and certainties needed in an Archbishop of the Church of England he displays little. Appointed by Blair.

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