British Muslim leaders cautiously welcomed on Friday, February 8, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams's call for adoption of some Shari`ah aspects in Britain to deal with civil issues of marriage and divorce.
"We welcome his position for applying some Shari`ah aspects in Britain," Dr Daud Abullah, Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), told IslamOnline.net on Friday, February 8, over the phone from London.
"We believe that if this system is adopted, it will help remove some abuses and complaints facing British Muslims."
Williams, the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, said Thursday that the adoption of some parts of Shari`ah alongside Britain's legal system "seems unavoidable."
He said Shari`ah should be introduced as an officially sanctioned legal alternative when it comes to civil issues concerning Muslims such as marriage and financial matters.
"These comments further underline the attempts by both our great faiths to build respect and tolerance," said Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, an education welfare body.
"Shari`ah law for civil matters is something which has been introduced in some western countries with much success.
"I believe that Muslims would take huge comfort from the Government allowing civil matters being resolved according to their faith," he told the Guardian on Friday.
Leaders across the political spectrum criticized Williams's call for "constructive accommodation." He was also lambasted by the press.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown's official spokesman has already distanced the premier from the remarks, stressing that "British law should apply in this country, based on British values."
The MCB leader said that the Archbishop's comments have been misunderstood.
"Whenever Shari`ah is mentioned, it usually comes to the mind with the false image of cutting hands and penalties," Abdullah told IOL.
"It is not about the penal system. It is much more about civil system concerning marriage, divorce and inheritance."
Abdullah said that British laws fall short of tackling Muslim issues of marriage, divorce, maintenance and inheritance
"If a woman marries and she is divorced or her husband dies, she will not be able to get her dowry," he said.
Under English law, people may devise their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process.
Shari`ah courts and the Jewish Beth Din, which already exist in the UK, come into this category.
"Self-styled Shari`ah courts have been in existence since 20 years to resolve marriage disputes. These courts will be recognized under British law, If Shari`ah is applied," Abdullah said.
Some Muslim leaders fear that the Archbishop's comments will play into the hands of right-wingers to fuel Islamophobia.
"I welcome debate on this issue but my personal feeling is that the vast majority of Muslims do not want to see a parallel or separate system for Muslims in our society," Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a prominent Leicester imam, told the Times.
A 2006 Guardian/ICM survey showed that 61 percent of the Muslim minority — estimated at some two million — wanted to see their social life guided by Shari`ah "so long as the penalties did not contravene British law."
The respondents said they wanted time off at places of work for prayers and to resolve their social problems as divorce, child custody and inheritance in accordance with Shari`ah, but are equally committed to greater participation in British life.
Source: Islam Online (English)
See also: UK: Adoption of Sharia law 'unavoidable', UK: Advocating a sharia system