Let’s establish some baseline principles, before I get to the matter in hand.
There is no such thing as ‘Sharia’ law – as a body of unambiguous, Quran-based legislation which provides a clear code by which we might live, arbitrate, judge and punish. ‘Sharia’ law is just the local law which has built up over time in various places, based on various interpretations, traditions, rulings, prejudices, good intentions, bigotry and spite. It varies from place to place and there is nothing particularly Islamic about it, other than that this term ‘Sharia’ (which is not in the Quran) has been adopted wherever the society is predominantly Muslim.
Now, a lot of Muslims don’t know this, especially the uneducated ones who come from the most barbaric places, but even some who should know better. They think that ‘Sharia’ is some uniform code of justice which is sourced from the Quran – but it isn’t. It varies from tribe to tribe, region to region, so it can’t be sacred and authentic – it is very much of this world and deeply tainted by local cultural beliefs and prejudices.
For example, many people believe that the Islamic punishment for adultery is stoning to death. If non-Muslims believe this, I don’t blame them – it’s what they see taking place in so-called Islamic countries: Iran, Afghanistan (under the Taliban), parts of Nigeria.
But so-called Muslims who believe this – and practise it – have absolutely no excuse. Nowhere in the Quran is stoning to death authorised as a punishment for anything. For the record, the Quranic punishment for adultery is 100 lashes. The Biblical punishment for adultery is stoning to death (also for being a drunkard, or gathering firewood on the Sabbath). In the 8th and 9th centuries, some bigoted men riding on the wave of the new Islam movement decided that the Quran was actually too liberal and too progressive and too lenient towards women (who are inherently wayward), and that even though Allah said clearly and unambiguously that the punishment for adultery was 100 lashes, what He really meant was stoning to death.
Any Muslim who maintains that stoning to death is a legitimate Islamic punishment should be required to show where this is written in the Quran and, if they can’t demonstrate it, they should be … um … stoned to death … I think, why not?
The Quran actually says something along the lines of: “Woe unto them who make things up, and then say: ‘This is from God’.’”
As I said, ‘Sharia’ law is just a body of traditional law which has built up in various places, and it differs from place to place. But, if ‘Sharia’ is the local law, then the ‘Common Law’ which we have in this country is, in effect, our ‘Sharia’. And the ‘law of the land’ is the law we should all live by. Some Muslims seem to think that anything which originates from a hot, dusty place is somehow authentically Islamic, and that which is formulated in a cold, damp place cannot be compatible with Islam. Well, it’s an old cliché, but if they prefer hot, dusty places, they are free to return there.
So, to make it absolutely clear, I certainly wouldn’t want inconsistent, barbaric traditional law from some primitive, hot, dusty place imposed on anyone in this country.
Now, this is where I change tack and defend the Archbishop.
He never said that which he has been accusing of saying, that which has generated all this hysteria. He never advocated that there should be parallel systems of law in this country, and that Muslims could opt out of the ‘law of the land’ and have their own system.
What he was referring to was the arbitration of disputes and the giving of advice in personal matters – where all parties involved are willing to follow the advice of a mutually agreed ‘authority’, without having to engage the legal machinery of the state.
Everyone already has this right.
If you have a dispute with someone, and you agree that you will have someone arbitrate the dispute, and everyone involved is happy with this process, then you are free to do so without engaging lawyers and courts. It only works if everyone agrees, and the proposed decision is not illegal – not against the ‘law of the land’. If just one party doesn’t agree, or they aren’t happy with the proposed resolution, then that individual can drag the legal system into the matter and everyone gets sucked in, whether they like it or not.
Similarly, you might have a moral dilemma, and you might seek the advice of your priest. Perhaps you have children from different marriages, and you want advice on how you should divide your estate – on what arrangement would be most ethical and fair. The State does not interfere in this advice, but it does recognise the Will which you subsequently make based upon the advice – as long as it’s not illegal.
The Jewish community already has a system of courts which arbitrate disputes and give advice in personal matters according to Jewish law. This is private arbitration and advice, and it’s voluntary. No Jewish person is obliged to follow this route, and the State can be engaged if necessary. But if, as a matter of personal conscience, they are willing to follow the judgements or advice handed out by such an authority, they are free to do so.
Anyone can go to a friend or mentor for advice, or have a third party arbitrate a dispute, without having to drag lawyers into it, if the other party agrees to this process.
So, if Muslims wants to go to a medieval mullah for advice on what God would do, they actually currently have that right.
The Archbishop was suggesting that Muslims might want to establish more formal ‘authorities’, like the Jewish ones, which arbitrate and give advice in such personal matters. But they would be purely voluntary and cannot supersede the ‘law of the land’.
A few idiot Muslims have gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick, and excitedly believe that the Archbishop was endorsing their perceived right to live under their primitive home country traditions, and completely opt out of the UK’s system of justice (whilst enjoying all the other rights and privileges of being here). I can understand they might think this, because they are not well educated and don’t understand English very well, and the parts of their brains controlling rationality have seized up through lack of activity.
But the media and others have no excuse.
The Archbishop never suggested that there should be parallel systems of justice, that ‘Sharia’ law – with all of its inconsistency and barbarity – should be introduced in Britain, and that Muslims could opt out of the ‘law of the land’. He was referring only to private arbitration of personal matters, on an entirely voluntary and consensual basis, and within the framework of the common law.
Much more worrying is how this issue – not a particularly complex one – has been so distorted in this media feeding frenzy.
The Archbishop has been completely stunned by the response to his comments. He underestimated how vicious and deceitful the media can be, and how quickly people can become hysterical and irrational if the right hot buttons are pushed.
‘ARCHBISHOP SUPPORTS SHARIA LAW IN BRITAIN' pushes all the hottest buttons.
Think about it. The Archbishop is not a stupid man. He was good at everything in school except sport. Really it was more like:
'ARCHBISHOP RECOGNISES PERSONAL ARBITRATION LIKE WE ALREADY HAVE.'
'MUSLIMS WANT OPTIONS THEY (AND EVERYONE ELSE) ALREADY HAVE.'
Woe unto them who make things up, and say: “This came from the Archbishop.”
They should be … um… stoned to death?