Thursday, February 14, 2008

For what it's worth

Now the dust is settling, my own take on RW's points about sharia law:

1. It again comes down to what sort of society we are. ++ Rowan is among those in the church who has accepted the end of Christendom in the UK, and that we now have to live in a new secular pluralist reality. Other bishops, like Michael Nazir-Ali, argue for Christendom laws and customs to stay in place. Some of the debate within the church is between two different views of what point in history we have reached, and whether it's possible to do a Canute in reverse and stop the tide going out.

2. I almost completely agree with those who say that people who come to this country to live should be prepared to abide by its laws and legal system. No legal system is perfect, but there is a danger of creating ghettoes and untouchable areas if you have separate jurisdictions.

3. Muslims beware. If you really want sharia marriage law to come into the state system, talk to any Anglican who has had to deal with planning law. The Anglican church has it's own system for planning permission, called the faculty system, which allows all planning decisions around churches to be dealt with internally. It is possibly the biggest source of gripes within the CofE after those horrible green cups you still find in some churches. There are several historical interest groups, all more bothered about preserving stuff from previous centuries than in the worship and mission of the church, and a pervading sense that we have to run a tight ship in order to stop the state taking planning permission back again. This makes the faculty process long, tortuous, and frequently unsatisfactory. The faculty system in our diocese has representatives from the Victorian society, but no mission specialists, in the main advisory group. That says pretty much all you need to know about how it works!

It very much depends how it would work, whether it's an attempt to regulate internal islamic 'justice' by the state, or just an attempt to legalise it. The former might benefit those in the Muslim community who are currently victims of their own 'legal system'.

4. Rowan Williams comments would have been much better said by someone else. The trouble is that he's leader of the worldwide Anglican communion. His words therefore reflect on Anglicans in Pakistan, Nigeria and Uganda, whose churches are being firebombed by gangs of Muslims, whose leaders and their families are being attacked and murdered. Patrick Sookhedeo of the Barnabas Fund is pretty trenchant:

Furthermore for the many Anglicans and other Christians living in contexts
where shari`a is being applied and causing untold misery and suffering, for
example in parts of Nigeria and parts of Sudan, the Archbishop of Canterbury`s
suggestions are not just unwise, but insensitive to the point of callousness.

In many parts of the Muslim world, England is (mistakenly) seen as a 'Christian' country, so for the leader of global Anglicanism to suggest that Muslim law could possibly replace 'Christian' laws looks like a massive admission of defeat by Christians. The Ugandan church's decision today to disassociate from the Lambeth conference may, in part, be a damage limitation exercise. There is a cost to the mission and ministry of the church in Uganda of being associated with a global church which looks like it's lost confidence in the Christian faith. We haven't lost that confidence, it's just that a debate about culture, law and society within the UK looks very different when you're looking from Uganda. That's why, if this needed to be said (and the issue certainly needed to be raised, though maybe not this way), it would have been better said by a local, English bishop rather than AB of C. Symbolism is so important.


  1. Mmm.

    1. Even if it is a 'christian' society, which it clearly isn't, that has nothing to do with how minorities arrange themselves.

    2. We already have different jurisdictions for different things, for example the British Boxing Board of Control regulates legalised GBH.

    3. As far as I know, the Faculty system is an internal Anglican structure. Really has nothing to do with this debate. More to the point is the fact that Muslims cannot even currently be married (according to the state) in a Mosque, and if you are an asylum seeker, you can ONLY be married in an Anglican church. Which is plainly unjust.

    4. I do not rate Sookhedeo. Christians are attacked in those places whatever is said. One could easily argue the other way that they see the discussion as being positive because Muslims are being offered a greater standing in society. There are dangers in Sharia. Muslim scholars to mediate during marriage disputes is not one of them. Really, we need to get a grip here.

    Really, it has nothing about confidence. If others want to make out it is, then bully for them. I strongly suspect in places like Uganda there are non-judicial tribal forms of justice in place in any case, so they are not in a position to tell us how to arrange our legal system.

  2. 1. In Christendom the place of religion (i.e. the church) was a given. This is what Nazir-Ali is trying to protect. In a secular society the position of religion, and whether you privilege one over others, is up for grabs. This is the debate Williams is involved in. Whether you agree with him or not, he's trying to work out in public (and perhaps it shouldn't be quite so public) what the place of Christian and other faiths is in the society we have now, rather than the one we had 100 years ago.

    2. I guess the faculty system is an example of different jurisdictions too, but the BBBC is something which has developed within British culture, not brought in by a new ethnic and cultural group. Also, it's still under UK law - which is my point 3. It's regulated. Football is another example of legalised GBH, and there have been questions there about when and where criminal charges are appropriate for bad tackles.

    3. The faculty system is an Anglican structure, but it means we don't have to go through the state planning authorities for alterations to church buildings. It is a separate jurisdiction for Anglicans. The point is that it hasn't ended up in a free for all. In fact, quite the opposite. If this is the way in which sharia courts might be integrated into the legal system, then Muslims shouldn't assume that they'll just be able to carry on functioning as they do.

    4. Sookhedeo isn't the only one who talks about how things are percieved in the Islamic world. Obviously the Ugandans decided long before today that they weren't coming to Lambeth, but there is a propaganda battle in these countries and some Muslims are quick to seize on comments and behaviour by Christian leaders in the West which can be used to undermine Christianity in their own country.

  3. Given that so few Anglicans in Muslim countries, I somehow doubt there is much notice taken of what was said.

  4. A bishop is a bishop. I had a Coptic friend from Egypt, who recounted how every time the Bishop of Durham questioned the resurrection in public in the UK, Egytptian Muslims would use it to taunt the church.

  5. Well I go to Egypt and the Middle East quite a lot and interact with Muslims. I've never heard any of them talking about British Christian leaders, and in Egypt few are even aware there is an Anglican church in Cairo. Mind you, few Anglicans seem to be aware there is an Anglican church in Cairo... For Egyptians, as far as I can work out, Christian = Coptic.

    Anyway. I wanted to just say something about this jurisdiction thing. In your post, you implied that separate jurisdictions could cause ghettos. So, I pointed out that there are already separate jurisdictions. And you said AH-HA, yes but those are our separate institutions rather than those nasty Islamic ones. Which sounds like something from Animal Farm - two-legs-good-four-legs-bad.

    Nobody, least of all the ABC, is arguing for a system outwith the legal system of the UK. Informal court judgements can still be challenged in the High Court, as can be seen with the Beth Din and in my example, Boxing. These things exist not for the comfort of the majority who are not interested in Boxing and are not adherents of Fundamentalist Judaism, but for those people who volunteer to be under the jurisdiction. In most cases, these sub-judicial courts are tolerated because they do a useful service and because otherwise the activities would feel the very heavy weight of the law.

    In the same way, Sharia is a reality for many Muslim people. Is it not better for these systems to be considered and overseen by the state system in the cold light of day?

    I really cannot see the problem with the discussion, and frankly I find the attitude of shoot-the-messenger antipathetic to the gospel.