The Anglican Church’s highest ranked priest Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby slammed sharia law, Islam’s legal code, in his new book. He warned the British government never to recognize sharia as part of the legal system, calling it incompatible with Britain’s laws.
Welby argued that sharia is a competing values system which is at odds with Britain’s legal and moral traditions that are based on Christian ideas.
“There has been, and remains, a demand for the introduction of those aspects of sharia law that affect family and inheritance,” Lord Welby said. “The problem is re-imagining Britain through values applied in action can only work where the narrative of the country is coherent and embracing.
“Sharia, which has a powerful and ancient cultural narrative of its own, deeply embedded in a system of faith and understanding of God, and thus especially powerful in forming identity, cannot become part of another narrative. Accepting it in part implies accepting its values around the nature of the human person, attitudes to outsiders, the revelation of God, and a basis for life in law, rather than grace, the formative word of Christian culture.
“They face enormous pressures and need one legal basis of oversight and one philosophical foundation of understanding. For these reasons, I am especially sympathetic towards those Islamic groups that do not seek the application of sharia law into the family and inheritance law of this country.”
In particular, the Lord Welby commented on the push for polygamy by Islamist groups, in contrast to British laws enshrining marital monogamy.
Earlier this month the British government rejected findings recommending regulating sharia tribunals which currently operate in the UK performing Islamic marriages and providing other services for the Muslim community. The government declined to regulate the tribunals on the grounds that to do so would be to recognize sharia as an alternative legal system within the UK.
Lord Welby’s position on sharia is a marked shift from that of his predecessor, Lord Williams. The former archbishop of Canterbury said it was “unavoidable” that Britain would incorporate some aspects of sharia law. He called for “constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law.”
Sharia is taken by many Muslims to mean a spiritual path of drawing closer to God and encompasses many rules surrounding prayer, permitted food and ritual. Some areas relating to criminal justice are incompatible with human rights, since they mandate the death penalty for adultery, blasphemy and homosexuality, along with other harsh punishments.
Sharia family law is at odds with Western positions on women’s rights. Women inherit half of what a man inherits and a man is allowed to take up to four wives. Divorce and custody laws are also biased in favor of the man.
Islamic feminist reformers are working on solutions to problems in sharia that are compatible to Islam.