Hasan Suroor

Williams known for ‘unorthodox’ musings

Muslim Council criticises remark

LONDON: In a rare show of unity against attempts to interfere with Britain’s secular laws, Muslim groups on Friday joined Ministers, MPs and civil rights groups to criticise Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams for suggesting that elements of Sharia should be incorporated into British law as a mark of religious and cultural “accommodation” with the country’s 1.6 million Muslims.

Dr. Williams, who is the most senior religious figure in the Church of England and has often courted controversy for his unorthodox “musings”, made the startling suggestion in a lecture triggering an angry reaction from across the political and religious divide, including his own Church.

Downing Street was quick to slam him with Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s spokesman emphasising the primacy of British laws which, he said, were based on shared British “values”.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith made clear that there was only “one law in the country and it’s the democratically determined law. That’s the law that I will uphold and that’s the law that’s at the heart actually of the values that we share across all communities in this country,” she said.

Muslim MPs and peers were equally outspoken with even the Muslim Council of Britain, normally associated with conservative opinion, rejecting the idea saying that the “vast majority” Muslims did not want Sharia laws.

Conservative peer and shadow cohesion minister Sayeeda Warsi said: “Dr. Williams seems to be suggesting that there should be two systems of law, running alongside each other, almost parallel, and for people to be offered the choice of opting into one or the other. That is unacceptable.”

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood called the Archbishop’s suggestion “misguided” pointing out that Muslims did not want to be “singled out” for special treatment.

Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, expressed concern that such remarks would fuel “anti-Muslim” sentiment and “dismay everyone working towards a more integrated society.”

Dr. Williams said he believed that adoption of some aspects of Sharia (such as in matters of divorce and inheritance) in British laws was “unavoidable”. Britain, he argued, must “face up to the fact” that some citizens did not relate to the country’s secular legal system.

There has been no public demand from the Muslim community for introduction of Sharia laws.