Rowan Williams – genius?

I honestly can’t decide if Rowan Williams – the Archbishop of Canterbury – is inspired or high on crack. Today’s papers are apoplectic that he suggested the introduction of Sharia law in the UK might help to reduce community discord. You can read more on this here, here and here.

I have to say, when I first heard about this on Radio 4 yesterday morning, I thought it was an elaborate joke. I mean, the Archbishop of Canterbury – from the Church of England – suggesting that Islamic law be adopted in the UK??

I’d like to think he brought this up in order to raise the level of debate on community relations and not to seriously suggest Sharia has any place in a western democracy. I’ve commented before on what I perceive as the inequality inherent in the (mis)application of this religious system elsewhere in the world, and indeed among some muslims here in the UK.

I don’t want to go over that again, save to reassert I don’t believe any religious law has a place in the civil legal system of any country, especially a democracy. This should apply to all religions, not just Islam. Nobody should have the right to expect anyone else to follow the rules of a religion that is not their own. For more and more people, organised religion is anathema, as is indeed the notion of an all-powerful and influential God. To place religious notions at the heart of a legal system is a nonsense.

What has pleased me the most about this episode – and why I think Williams brought this up in the first place – has been the reaction from the government an the general public, which has been quite negative and vocal. The last thing the UK needs is more restrictive laws, especially those based on a religious system largely foreign to the majority of Britons.

However, I still have one outstanding question for Gordon Brown and his chums. If you’re so against incorporating Islam into our legal system, why have you authorised the social benefits system to pay multiple allowances to men who have multiple wives? Despite the fact that polygamy is illegal here. Polygamy is legal under Islamic law, and those men thos have married more than one wife abroad, can then move here and claim benefits for each of them.

I don’t want to sound like a Daily Mail mentalist here – but isn’t this an example of the incorporation of Sharia into civil law? Several UK government departments had to coordinate over this arrangement – it wasn’t slipped in by the back door. What other religious accommodations can we expect, and to the benefit of which religions?

Freedom of belief (or non-belief) is a cornerstone of democracy. Mixing faith and rights is a short-cut to disaster.

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