Da erkebiskopen av Canterbury, Rowan Williams, mente sharia-domstoler var uunngåelige, spilte han rett i hendene på islamister som mer enn noe ønsker sharia for å skaffe seg makt. Er ikke erkebispen klar over at sharia betyr makt over kvinnene, og at de i utgangspunktet er dømt til å tape? spør journalist og forfatter Mona Elthawy.

I de fleste arabiske land er lovene modernisert. Kun på ett område er de beholdt som de var: i familiepolitikken. Dvs. det som angår kvinner, familie og barn. Likevel later erkebispen som om han er progressiv når han foreslår sharia for å komme muslimer i møte. Vet han ikke hva sharia betyr, spør Elthawy.

Hvorfor er det slik at liberale i Europa så lett viser forståelse for og tar de konservative muslimske miljøene på alvor? Det å stille lavere krav til muslimer er som en rasisme av laveste fellesnevner, sier hun.

When it comes to Islamic law, or Shariah, words certainly do come easy if you’re a man. You can marry four wives, receive double the inheritance a woman gets and you can end your marriage simply by saying «I divorce you» three times. So why not pontificate?

Words are especially cheap if you’re the Archbishop of Canterbury, who ignited a storm last week by saying that the adoption of some parts of Shariah alongside Britain’s legal system «seems unavoidable» in certain circumstances.

Remember please that the Most Reverend Rowan Williams is the symbolic head of the global Anglican community, the U.S. branch of which installed an openly gay bishop in 2003. But the archbishop clearly does not believe in wishing unto others as you would unto your own. He extends no such progressive ideals to Muslims. Most interpretations of Shariah consider homosexuality an abomination.

He probably thinks his «tolerance» for Shariah is progressive in light of the Islamophobia that mars parts of Europe today. But it is a tolerance that condones only the most conservative options for Muslims. It is at best a form of the racism of lower expectations – the cheapest bargaining chip of liberal guilt.

Witness the archbishop’s insistence that he wasn’t advocating the «inhumanity» of Shariah à la Saudi Arabia or Iran, where adulterers are stoned and thieves have hands amputated. No, he told us, he was just referring to the use of Shariah to resolve marital disputes.

But that is precisely where the «inhumanity» of Shariah lies for women. As a Muslim woman – born in Egypt, raised in Saudi Arabia – I can only laugh at the archbishop’s naïveté. In Egypt, as in many Muslim countries, the legal system has been completely modernized, with the exception of one area that remains caught in the web of edicts issued by Muslim scholars who lived centuries ago – family law. Shariah is used only to govern the lives of women and children.

There are already some Shariah councils operating in Britain for Muslims who agree to abide by their rulings, but these are unofficial bodies not recognized by British law. It’s not difficult to imagine women being pressured to «agree to abide» by such rulings. And it’s just as easy to understand why a man would choose them over the secular legal system, which would not be as tilted in his favor.

It’s not just unofficial Shariah Councils, but Orthodox Jewish courts – and similar councils for British Sikhs. Women from those communities tell similar stories of how difficult it is to be granted divorces by their respective religious leaders. Why does the British legal system allow religious groups to create parallel systems to it?

For the less naïve view of just how «humane» Shariah is to women, I refer the archbishop to the recent study, «Crimes of the Community: Honor-Based Violence in the U.K.,» by James Brandon and Salam Hafez. It makes for difficult reading. Women and activists mince no words in showing the hurdles for women with children who want to get divorced, and tell the researchers that women are being forced to stay in violent marriages as a result of skewed decisions by the Shariah Council.

When the archbishop so generously extended Muslims the right to use Shariah, I wonder whose version of Shariah he meant? The Angel Gabriel did not reveal Shariah to the Prophet Mohammed. Much Islamic law was codified many centuries after the prophet died, by male jurists who came up with laws that met the needs of their time. There are various Sunni and Shiite Muslim schools of thought, but there is no consensus on one version of Shariah.

In a climate of growing anti-Muslim rhetoric, some Muslims find it difficult to stand up to radical Islamist posturing on Shariah. Such hesitation is often based on a reluctance to openly criticize fellow Muslims and ignorance as to exactly what Shariah means. Archbishops feeling generous to Muslims certainly don’t help.

We must resist selling out women’s rights and pandering to fundamentalist religionists. That was exactly the point that Bassam Tibi, a Syrian-born German political scientist, made at a conference on Shariah I attended in Copenhagen in 2005. While lamenting European governments’ habit of turning to the most conservative in the Muslim community to speak on its behalf, he vowed, «In the name of multiculturalism I will not accept cultural rights as a cover for Shariah.»

«I believe in Shariah as morality not as state law,» Tibi said. «I am not willing to shut up about human rights abuses by Islamists just because of the right wing. They are my enemy too. . . . Islamophobia is the weapon of Islamists to silence critics.»

Delusions in Canterbury

By Mona Eltahawy
Thursday, February 14, 2008