English law and the Shari’a
English law is rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition and, in particular, our notions of human freedoms derive from that tradition. In my view, it would be simply impossible to introduce a tradition, like Shari’a, into this Corpus without fundamentally affecting its integrity.
The Shari’a is not a generalised collection of dispositions. It is articulated in highly concrete codes called fiqh. It would have to be one or the other, or all, of these which would have to be recognised. All of these schools would be in tension with the English legal tradition on questions like monogamy, provisions for divorce, the rights of women, custody of children, laws of inheritance and of evidence. This is not to mention the relation of freedom of belief and of expression to provisions for blasphemy and apostasy.
We should learn from the debate on this question which recently took place in Canada. Here it was mainly Muslim women's groups that succeeded in preventing the application of Islamic law in matrimonial matters. The importance of a single law for all was strongly re-affirmed.
As with the Beth-din of the Jewish community, it is perfectly possible for religious communities to rule on personal, family and financial matters as long as this does not interfere with the workings of the law of the land. People can use such rulings to inform their conscience and to submit to them voluntarily. Conscientious objection, on religious grounds, should be recognised by the law of the land, as far as possible, but this is quite different from a parallel system of law operating alongside it.
We welcome progressive views on the development of Shari’a. These will enable Muslims to relate better to the contemporary world and will ease the situation of non-Muslims in many Muslim countries. They are not, however, an argument for disturbing the integrity of a legal tradition which is rooted in the quite different moral and spiritual vision deriving from the Bible.
7 February 2008
Cranmer looks forward to the day when such a statement might be signed +Michael Cantaur.