Is Sharia Law "Inevitable"?

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Sharia Council of Britain presiding over marital cases.

Sharia Council of Britain presiding over marital cases. Source: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Source: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images

We've heard debate over Sharia, or, Islamic law before, but the head of the Church of England, Archbishop Rowan Williams roused a bit of controversy with one word: "inevitable." As in some combination of Sharia and British law is likely unavoidable. He's gone on to clarify his remarks several times, and back off that assertion. But, more people are now talking about what Sharia Islamic law means, and how it works. In some countries, Sharia law is incredibly strict, and is sometimes used to justify brutal physical punishments. Can you have a religious-based legal system like Sharia law within the broader legal system? Surprisingly, the US already does in many cases. Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and other faith-based tribunals operate legally in several states. We'll find out how they operate, and their limits, and the controversy around them.

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Great Britain like most of western Europe is losing its own religious heritage when they adopt acceptance of Sharia law or any law from another country. Whatever happened with a country being proud of their own religious heartache which in Great Britain is Christian? Whatever happened to when in Rome do as the Romans do? And don't go to the middle east and demand that they adopt western Christian based laws.

Sent by MotherLodeBeth | 3:23 PM | 2-18-2008

Sharia law makes me think of the Catholic Inquisition. They were happy to torture and murder whoever stepped in their way. Forget all the advances people have made to bring education, facts and neutrality into legal issues. I think people who are determined to be under Sharia Law should move to countries that operate under this Law. I'm an immigrant and I left behind a country precisely because I didn't want to be under that kind of 'justice.'

Sent by Carrie Portland, Oregon | 3:31 PM | 2-18-2008

I firmly believe that national law and international law should be based on secular principles. Traditionally, English law has inherited the traditions of indigenous British islanders, the Angles, Geats, Danes, and Norman common law systems, Roman law, and Christian law. This is a rich tradition that is not restricted to one religion, and some English traditions -- such as the establishment of the writ of habeas corpus and the philosophy of the "commons" available to support all citizens equally -- operate and have operated for the benefit of English people, regardless of religion.

Will Sharia law influence English law, as other religious law has done in the past? There is a good possibility that it will; however, any proposed law should be initiated and ratified in the established, secular system, and enforced by the state, not by any religious authority. If a law cannot be applied equally to every citizen, then that law is not just.

Sent by Rachel N H | 11:40 AM | 2-20-2008

In response to Rachel, I just thought I'd point out that Sharia law has already influenced English common law, more so than any of the other influences you've mentioned.

For anyone who shares the misconception of Sharia law being a static codified set of strict laws incompatible with English common law, I recommend they read Professor John Makdisi's "The Islamic Origins of the Common Law", which makes it clear that Islamic law and English common law have more in common with each other than they do with European civil law.

According to Makdisi, many of the fundamental principles and institutions of English common law were derived from similar principles and institutions in Islamic law. He argues that these Islamic legal concepts were introduced to England by the Normans, who had conquered and inherited the Islamic legal administration in Sicily.

However, the medieval Sharia law which influenced English common law (and the Sharia law which Rowan Williams was actually referring to) is not quite the same as the "Sharia law" practiced in Iran or Saudi Arabia. The difference is that the Saudi and Iranian laws have been codified into a static set of laws, while medieval Islamic law was never codified until the 19th century. Before that, Sharia was a flexible legal system that was always constantly being updated and adapted by jurists through the methodology of legal precedent and reasoning by analogy, in a similar manner to English common law.

The only elements of Sharia law that were fixed were the Qur'an and Sunnah, which were equivalent to the US Consitutition, and were subject to various methods of interpretation similar to the methods used today to interpret the US Consitutition. Besides that, Islamic law was in many ways a flexible and secular man-made "lawyer's law".

In its essence, Sharia is simply a self-improving methodology similar to the common law, which is what gave it enough flexibility to adapt to different cultures (and their laws). On the other hand, attempts by countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia to codify Sharia (in its oudated medieval form) into a static set of strict laws have largely failed.

After reading Rowan Williams' lecture on Sharia, I think his views on Sharia are similar to what I've described. I think what he was trying to suggest though is that if Sharia were to be recognized within English law (like with Jewish law), then it would be possible to regulate the Sharia courts (which are already running throughout the country) and keep them under control. Either way, I don't give a toss whether or not Sharia is recognized under English law, but it's just silly how the media misinterpreted the Archbishop's comments and how some clerics are even calling for his resignation, without even reading his actual lecture.

Sent by Jagger | 6:55 PM | 2-26-2008

People of the western democracies had better wake up. Political correctness will be the downfall of all of these great countries. Not only if giving in to muslims but on many fronts. Citizens need to take back their courts and get rid of this idiocy.

Sent by Anne | 11:01 AM | 9-17-2008