Recently, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams stated that adopting certain aspects of Sharia in the UK “seems unavoidable”. Many bishops, as well as the British Prime Minister, have rejected Dr. Williams’ statements. Here are his errors. All quotes and paraphrased statements of the Archbishop come from the BBC unless otherwise specified.
Error 1: Adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion. On the contrary, having one law for all is what maintains social cohesion. Having a cohesive group means there are terms which define that group, which necessarily defines who or what is not allowed in that group. For everyone to follow the same law is one way a society defines itself. A case in point is the new polygamy ruling, which can allow a Muslim man to claim welfare benefits in Britain for multiple wives. This is sure to cause greater disharmony between the Muslim polygamists and the taxpayer.
Error 2: Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”. Why not? If loyalty to the Mafia conflicts with loyalty to the state, should we change our laws to make the Mafia legal? This is an error because, first of all, if a cultural practice conflicts with state loyalty in a glaring fashion, that practice should be excluded from the state. To say that all cultural norms must be accepted opens the door to legalized cannibalism, slavery, and burning widows on the funeral pyre of her husband. All of those behaviors are acceptable in some cultures, even today. Those practices are from non-Muslim cultures, but Muslim cultures practice such things as killing apostates, stoning adulteresses to death, and child brides. Any Muslims who are unwilling to follow the laws of a Western state should move somewhere that has laws more to their liking.
In addition, Sharia is not about individual choice. It’s about using the force of government to impose restrictions. In a free society, individuals can already choose loyalty to their culture to the extent that they are not infringing on others’ rights. For example, without Sharia, women can generally wear a headscarf, but Sharia can allow the elite to force all Muslim women (and, ultimately, non-Muslim women as well) to wear headscarfs. Dr. Williams’ understanding of Sharia seems, unfortunately, to be limited to the deceptive rendering of it by seemingly friendly Islamists like the truth-challenged Tariq Ramadan, whom Dr. Williams quotes.
What’s more, some Muslims have immigrated to the West in order to get away from Sharia. Others have grown up with Western freedoms and have no wish for Sharia to be imposed on them. Why would we choose to appease those who want to oppress the modern Muslim? Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, for example, says that “What Rowan Williams wishes upon us is an abomination.” Under Sharia, she could be punished for merely expressing that view.
Error 3: “Sensational reporting of opinion polls” are clouding the issue. I can only guess he’s referring to surveys such as the one done by Policy Exchange, which found that 36 per cent of Muslims in Britain between the ages of 16 and 24 believe apostates should be killed. This appears to be an example of willful ignorance on the part of the Archbishop. He gives no evidence that such polls are inaccurate, yet he thinks we should ignore their findings. If anything, I think it’s likely survey numbers underestimate such beliefs among Muslims, some of whom might not admit beliefs the pollsters would find reprehensible. It is known that people sometimes lie to tell pollsters what they want to hear, and Islam also has a doctrine of taqiyya, which sanctions deceiving non-Muslims to advance the cause of Islam.
Error 4: “[N]obody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that’s sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states.” [Note: In fairness, I cannot find any statement on the Archbishop’s transcript that equals or approximates this statement, although this general topic is discussed. So either the BBC has fabricated every word of this quote, or Dr. Williams’ published transcript does not match the actual words he spoke. With this qualifier, I’ll proceed on the basis that the BBC may have had grounds for this quote.] Here, Dr. Williams is assuming that there’s a kind, gentle Sharia and a mean, tyrannical Sharia, and that we can pick and choose the nice one. However, there is no evidence this is so. There is no major school of Sharia that says it’s fine to pick and choose the rules we like; every law in Sharia is considered to be Allah’s law. Legitimizing Sharia as a source of law opens the door for the whole thing.
In this statement, he also appears to be assuming that virtually all Muslims in the UK are “in their right mind”, as defined by his values. However, it is a fact that many Muslims lobby for rules that most Westerners would consider inhumane. For example, over a third of Muslim youth in the UK support Sharia’s death penalty for apostasy (leaving Islam). Does this mean they are all not in their right mind? If so, why would there be such a high proportion of crazy people amongst Muslims?
Either orthodox Islam is a form of mental illness, or there’s another explanation: Orthodox Islam includes fascist doctrines. Some people do prefer to live in a fascist system, or they believe they should for the sake of their religion, or they are conditioned to submit to it, but none of this is compatible with a Western sense of individual rights and freedoms.
Error 5: Having one law for everybody is “a bit of a risk.” He gives as examples the idea that Catholic adoption agencies should be free to discriminate against gay parents. However, the solution to this is to allow every adoption agency to set its own standards for what parents they will serve. If the anti-discrimination law is dispensable and can be set aside in the case of Catholics, the law should be dispensed with in its entirety, otherwise non-Catholic agencies are discriminated against. One set of laws can and should serve all.
Error 6: Our experience with Orthodox Jewish courts can be applied to Sharia courts. According to Charles Moore, Jewish law is “the law of a minority that accepts the authority of the majority, non-Jewish state.” There is nothing in Sharia that accepts this authority. On the contrary, Sharia explicitly demands Islamic supremacy over non-Muslims. Historically, Muslims have seized power over non-Muslims even when they were in the minority.
Error 7: Denying he said what he said. Dr. Williams has recently denied that he was calling for Sharia to be introduced. His website states: “[Dr. Williams] explained that his core aim was to: ‘to tease out some of the broader issues around the rights of religious groups within a secular state’ and was using sharia as an example.” However, a reading of the full transcript of his lecture shows that he did make the points excerpted by BBC, except for the mystery statement noted in Error 4. The Archbishop does also expound at some length on some of the risks of multiple legal systems, which is not reflected in BBC’s article, but at no point does he conclude that Sharia in Britain is out of the question.
Dr. Williams is probably a very nice man who genuinely wants to reach out to Muslims in Britain. He probably does not have a motive of bringing about an Islamist agenda. However, he also appears to be woefully uneducated or miseducated about Sharia. My sense is that, sadly, his charitable feelings toward Muslims have made him easy prey for Islamists who wish to bring Sharia to the West through deception.