Tuesday, 12 February 2008

'Rowan and Islam' for 'dummies'

Rowan Williams’s speech calls us to ask four important questions:

    Is there a problem fitting ‘faith communities’ into the legal framework of modern societies?
    Can our society arrive at an accommodation with Shari’ah law?
    Is this the right way to incorporate the Muslim community into our own society?
    Is this an appropriate Christian response?

The answers I would suggest are as follows:

On the first point, yes, there are fundamental questions to be asked about the evolution of post-Christian Europe and the place of faith communities (including our own) within the legal framework.

On the second point, no, the proposed accommodation with Shari’ah is not possible. First, the Shari’ah it allows is the Shari’ah an Anglican Bishop would allow in England. There is undoubtedly a ‘liberal Muslim’ approach to ‘Shari’ah lite’, but there are many Muslims to whom it will be anathema. Secondly, Shari’ah is not something you can ‘allow’ in its own terms. Sayed Qutb’s position is, I think, more authentically ‘Islamic’: we accept Shari’ah not because we judge its laws to be good, but because ‘one should accept the Shari’ah without any question and reject all other laws in any shape or form. This is Islam.’

On the third point, the proposal is a concession — indeed a condescension — to Muslim sensitivities, and will be recognised as such, but it will not lead to greater integration of the Muslim community into our culture. Instead, it will be the thin end of a wedge: today family law (which is at least an advance on yesterday, with no recognition of Shari’ah), but tomorrow there will be other areas for inclusion. It will actually lead to greater separation, not integration.

On the fourth point, Jesus was a ‘Shari’ah-breaker’. Why, then, offer more Shari’ah as the practical approach to Muslims? The Christian response is surely this: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel, which you need as well as every other person on earth.”

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