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The Archbishop and the Sharia Storm

Last week Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, delivered a lecture entitled “Islam in English Law which has been followed by a storm of controversy. Yesterday I took some time to read the text of the lecture for myself.

My reflections? I suspect many of the commentators on the situation either have not bothered with the reading or, when they saw the word Sharia, pulled on their blindfolds, inhibiting their ability to grapple with the rest of the text. It is a demanding discussion to follow, using Sharia as a main example but also referring to the rules of Orthodox Judaism and, by implication, also being about the views of many other groups including a good number of those who are condemning the archbishop at the moment.

In the light of history, it is rather ironic that an archbishop should be calling for a flexible, thoughtful and developing view of jurisprudence while his opponents, many of whom imagine they would much rather stick with rational thought than dusty faith, sound like the old fashioned crowds who liked nothing more than a good burning at the stake when the weather was cold.

It is the case that there are plenty of instances of the practice of Sharia law that are merciless and often abused to the detriment of innocents. However, if you take the time to read the original address it is clear that Dr Williams was not calling for stoning adulterers and chopping the hands of thieves (see also a useful article from the CMS website).

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