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Shariah Law in the English Legal System: Different Perspectives

Rev Dr Marcus BraybrookeOn March 11th 2008 there was very stimulating discussion dealing with the practice of Shariah law within the UK legal system raised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan William. Speakers included Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke (click for speech), Rabbi Simon J. Franses, Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid and William Haines.

Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke emphasised that most people of faith believe that God's laws have primacy over civil laws. He posed the question whether our faiths measure up to the universal values that are grounded in our belief in God and that are to be found with more of less clarity in all our faith traditions. 

These universal values were considered in the 1993 Parliament of World Religion's four irrevocable directives and in the book Stepping Stones to a Global Ethic. These Directives include a commitment to a culture of non-violence and to respect for human life, commitment to a culture of solidarity for a just economic order, commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness, commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women. Interfaith activity involves a call for better interfaith relations and for internal reform. The interfaith movement needs to examine our own faiths' practices to ensure that we live up to our professed standards. Those involved in fundamentalist violence, bigotry or persecution of other faiths usually do not have an experience of the living God. We must commend the shared moral values that we hold together that derive from our belief in God. Rather than battling for special exceptions for our own faith we should seek together to find democratic means to ensure that the laws of the land reflect the universal values that we hold in our respective faiths. For a more complete report of Rev Braybrooke's speech please click here.

Rabbi Simon J. Franses:
Jewish people have a tradition to obey the law of the land they live in since the time of the Prophet Jeremiah. The Jewish court, the Beth Din, is a religious court between two parties who desire its judgement in their case. The courts judgements can be ignored and the case can revert to the civil court. The Jewish community has received the right to have its marriages recognised by civil authorities and to marry outside a synagogue. Rabbi Franses praised the democracy in the UK that has provided an equality under the law that a theocracy could never provide. Under such a democracy it is possible for us to unite beyond race, religion and cultural backgrounds. For a more complete report of Rabbi Simon J. Franses' speech please click here.

 
Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid JP had been involved in the discussion raised by the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech on the 8th of March in which he said that Shariah law in the UK  is unavoidable. I don't think our poor Archbishop thought by mentioning Shariah law he would be accused of trying to bring the penal code of Shariah law into the UK. Imam Sajid explained that Shariah law is only used partially in three Muslim nations even though there are 59 countries where there is a Muslim majority. Shariah law is the human interpretation of a sacred text and as such the subject of great debate between Islamic thinkers. He described the occasions in which Shariah law has been recognised and accepted within the British legal system to the advantage of the UK society. He explained that Islam teaches from its inception that all are equal under the law. He also emphasised that Islamic nations are never theocratic. For Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid's speech please click here. For more on Shariah law provided by Imam Sajid please click here.


William Haines said that while he was not surprised by the response to the Archbishop's comments on Sharia law, he was shocked by the suggestion that there was no place whatsoever for religion in English law and that the archbishop had no business to be speaking on such matters. England could be described as a liberal theocracy. The Queen who is Head of State, is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the established church. This interpenetration of church and state occurs at every level of English society, all the way down to the level of the parish council. Personally I think these aspects of our spiritual and political culture should be revived and renewed. I think that alongside the Anglican bishops should sit the Archbishop of Westminster with a couple of his colleagues, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland,   President of the Methodist Conference, the Chief Rabbi, along with a suitably chosen Muslim, Hindu and Sikh.
 
Prevalent Enlightenment secular values are an expression of what could be described as a secular religion with its own morality commonly called political correctness expressed in the language of human rights. This increasingly intrusive secularisation of public life means that English Christians despite representing 75% of the population find the Christian content of the law has been squeezed out. In fact Christians appear to be disenfranchised compared to other religions.
 
In contrast ordinary Jews and Muslims can go to a religious court and have their affairs judged according to religious law. As far as I am aware there aren't any comparable Christian courts that are available for regular members of Christian churches. So it is time to renew the religious basis of our society and stop the imposition of secular moral values on religious communities. For William Haines' speech please click here.