The Archbishop of Canterbury sparked controversy with his recent remarks on Sharia law. Despite much being written on the subject the debate has largely been ill informed. The Archbishop was not saying that our country should adopt the severe penal code some Muslim countries believe is necessary under Sharia. Yet much of our press chose to write lurid scare stories of floggings, beheadings, stonings and amputations. The Archbishop might have been advocating the introduction of a Saudi style penal system in the UK to read some of it! In fact he seemed to be putting forward the idea that our secular legal system could accommodate Sharia councils which deal with family and other disputes.
The Beth Din, which mainly deals with disputes amongst Orthodox Jews, is already recognised within our legal system. Two individuals can agree to have their dispute handled by the Beth Din rather than the normal courts. It is a kind of arbitration. UK courts generally enforce Beth Din awards that are contested although they can be overruled.
To advocate a similar system for Muslims is a different argument from the one presented in the media. Some think even this (relatively small) variation is wrong, however. Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic studies at Oxford University has said: –
“These kinds of statements just feed the fears of fellow citizens and I really think we, as Muslims, need to abide by the common law. And within these latitudes there are possibilities for us to be faithful to Islamic principles.”
Others might take a different view. Let’s have a reasoned debate on this topic.