Sakset/Fra hofta

Rowan Williams forgjenger som erkebiskop av Canterbury, Lord Carey, tar i en artikkel skarp avstand fra forslaget om å innføre sharia-domstoler i Storbritannia. Muslimer utgjør idag 3 prosent av befolkningen, og likevel vies de så stor oppmerksomhet. Lord Carey tør ikke tenke på hvordan parallelle domstoler skulle påvirke sosiale relasjoner.

Det er en helt annen tone i Lord Careys artikkel, enn Rowan Williams tanker. Carey var erkebiskop fra 1991 – 2001. Han leder i dag West-Islam Community of the World Economic Forum.

Even in Muslim-majority countries the introduction of sharia law has not been without its pain for minority groups.

In Pakistan, that country’s blasphemy law has been used to persecute Christians. In Nigeria, where sharia has been introduced in certain northern states, community tension, church burning and widespread violence have been the result. I remember a young Roman Catholic priest, Father Linus, telling me how despite the insistence of the governor of Zamfara state that sharia would have no effect on the Christian community, the opposite had been the case. Christians no longer had any freedom, he said. They could not broadcast on radio or television, they could not build churches and women felt under pressure to assume the veil.

The watchword for any dialogue, worth its name, between Muslim and Christian communities must insist on reciprocity – that rights guaranteed to all in the West should be granted to minorities in Muslim lands. We have yet to see real steps toward that form of equality.

The second main objection to accommodation with sharia is the fact that while there are considerable numbers wanting to avail themselves of Islamic codes, many ordinary Muslims want to embrace the West and adapt their faith and customs to Britain.

Tariq Ramadan, a very significant moderate reformer, points to the fact that western law can already be seen by Muslims as compliant to more progressive notions of sharia. The late Zaki Badawi of Regent’s Park Mosque always pointed out that the religious tradition had very little to say about living as a Muslim minority. This was a matter of urgent attention, he said, for Muslim scholars. It is by no means certain that the answers eventually reached will point to sharia law at all. Muslim communities post-9/11 are still engaged in a strenuous dialogue among progressives, moderates, traditionalists and extremists. We should not seek to foreclose that debate.

The third main objection is that accommodation would lead to further demands. That is absolutely inevitable, since questions to do with the separation of «church and state» are largely new to Islam. While Christianity and Judaism recognise the truth in «rendering unto Caesar», it is resisted by mainstream Muslim countries. Sharia law trumps civil law every time.

So, significantly, this would open up the problem of competition between British and sharia law if the time ever came that they operated side-by-side. Many Muslim interpreters of sharia believe that it supersedes secular law and assume that its «God-given» status would lead to its replacing civil law. Reports that sharia has been used to settle some criminal matters is already a considerable concern.

Finally, you would not think from media reports that Muslims constitute less than three per cent of the population. Most Muslims are heartily sick of being in the spotlight, but an ambitious programme of incorporating sharia tribunals into civil law seems a little like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut – and what it would do for social cohesion doesn’t bear thinking about.

Are we promoting harmony or Muslim ghettos?