Religious Courts and Civil Law Earlier this month, the head of the Church of England received wide criticism for suggesting that some version of shariah law should be introduced in Britain. Guests on the program examine what happens when religious courts and civil law intersect.
NPR logo

Religious Courts and Civil Law

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Religious Courts and Civil Law


Religious Courts and Civil Law

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Earlier this month, the head of the Church of England, Archbishop Rowan Williams, drew wide criticism, when he suggested in a BBC radio interview that one way to accommodate alienated Muslims in Britain would be to introduce some version of Shariah law.

For a lot of people, Shariah or Islamic law prompts images of stonings, beheadings and a system that subjugates women. And there are parts of the Islamic world where such practices are law.

But the Islamic world is a very big place with wide variations and different interpretations of Shariah, and cultural or religious courts are not new in Western countries.

Muslims sometimes turn to Shariah law tribunals to arbitrate disputes amongst themselves, as do some Jews. And there's an analogy to reservation tribunals on Native American lands.

Today, we explore the intersection of secular and religious law.

Later in the hour, a new documentary focuses on the Iraqi city of Haditha and the death of 15 civilians that some believe was cold-blooded murder by U.S. Marines, while others argue it was self-defense.

But first: religious law in secular societies. If you want to know more, or if you've used a religious tribunal for arbitration, we want to hear from you. Tell us your story.

Our number is 800-989-8255. E-mail is You can also join the conversation on our blog at

We begin with Mark Rice-Oxley. He's a stringer for the Christian Science Monitor. And he's been reporting on the reaction to the archbishop's comments. He joins us on the line from London.

Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. MARK RICE-OXLEY (Stringer, Christian Science Monitor): Good afternoon, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

English common law is, of course, the basis of law in this country, so the issues and emotions this controversy raises in Britain are of considerable interest here as well. So, what exactly did the archbishop of Canterbury proposed?

Mr. RICE-OXLEY: Well, it's very interesting. What he proposed in the first place was widely reported in the press. But not everyone actually listens to the fore hour of his speech to an audience of mostly legal experts.

But to sum up, I mean, he was talking about an accommodation with certain aspects of Shariah law. And, he was saying that actually it already exists to a certain extent in British society.

I mean, there are numerous cases - hundreds of divorces have already been - have already taken place under Shariah justice in Britain. It already arbitrates in matters of inheritance, in financial aspects too.

So, I think the archbishop was really pointing this out in saying that, you know, if we're going to reach out to the growing Muslim community in Britain, the shouldn't we come to some kind of accommodation with the system of justice, which already works seemingly fairly well in parts of Britain.

CONAN: Yet, the images, again, that were raised were - that thieves would be having their hands chopped off, and beheadings and that sort of thing.

Mr. RICE-OXLEY: Well, I think it's become very clear. I mean, he's taken a lot of criticism for what he said, but nobody - even on the Muslim side, and certainly on the Christian side - nobody, for a moment, was believing that he was advocating this kind of Shariah law.

And some of the Shariah clerics and experts in Britain have said, you know, there's no pressure or interest in introducing, you know, the Draconian elements of Shariah law that existed in three or four other countries worldwide.

This is talking, you know, very much about for the civil Shariah as opposed to criminal Shariah.

CONAN: And though some people do argue that in family law, divorces and such, that Shariah discriminates against women, and they can get a bad deal in Shariah arbitrations.

Mr. RICE-OXLEY: Absolutely. I mean, one of the interesting things here is that, you know, if you speak to British Muslims, they're not calling for Shariah law. They're - a lot of them aren't terribly interested in it.

And particularly, the women that I spoke to said, you know, it can be of anything worse, you know? They're happy to live in a country - a secular society, where the rule of law, where the common law is the rule of law.

And, you know, any kind of accommodation based in Shariah, which does - in certain forms, probably, Shariah, I think, is the so many different incarnations and interpretations of what it can be.

The version that's being applied in Britain is, by all accounts, quite a conservative version, and that would appear to many Muslim women to be, you know, you know very much beyond the pail.

CONAN: We want to get some listeners involved in this conversation. Again, if you've had experience with religious courts, either Jewish or Shariah Islamic courts, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Or if you want to know more, e-mail us:

Let's talk with Kim(ph). And Kim's calling us from Stanford in California.

KIM (Caller): Good morning.

CONAN: Good morning.

KIM: Actually, university - at the Asian American Public Policy Institute, we have mediated in quite a few cases of Muslim couples in the U.S. and also back in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And actually, I actually applaud the movement that was initiated by the archbishop in England. Because, you see what's strange about the U.S. is, you know, equally polarize opinions about everything, you know?

And Shariah has been portrayed in a very negative manner. And true, yes, the women's rights are very downplayed under Shariah law, but if - there is a good in various cultures across the world in how law is practiced.

And there's no harm in taking the good aspects of Shariah law. I think the British society is far more diverse than even American society is. That's why whenever I go to U.K. or to Canada, I find myself staring at black and white couples. And then, I realize that I'm staring because you don't see so many intermixed couples over here in the U.S.

So I think it's a move for the better, though, of course, they should not take Shariah law in its entirety because there are a lot of very negative aspects in it.

CONAN: Hmm. In the cases that you've arbitrated in this country, Kim, can - if somebody, if they're dissatisfied, say, wait a minute, let's go to civil court here.

KIM: Exactly. So what should happen - and I'm sure that's what it's been proposed in the U.K. is that Shariah law should not be allowed to overrule the local law, that is British law. In cases of dispute, their local law should nevertheless prevail.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

KIM: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call.

And Mark Rice-Oxley, is that the same kind of situation that exists currently in England, if a family law disputes or disputes in federal resolve by a Shariah tribunals, can somebody decide, wait a minute, let's just go to a secular court here.

Mr. RICE-OXLEY: Well, in theory, yes. I mean, in theory, Shariah law is a voluntary code, which is binding if both parties are agreeable to it. That's to say that if, you know, both the woman and the man wants a divorce and were married under Shariah law, and are both agreeable to seek a divorce under Shariah law, then they would go and the tribunal would make the voting, and the voting is binding.

The problem is, I think, that, again, it comes back to these elements, the patriarchal and the traditional versions of Islam that are prominent in British society under which, you know, a woman might feel intimidated or basically not able to, if she was unhappy in her marriage, to go to the courts, to go to male Shariah judges and seek a divorce.

I spoke to one woman who said to me that while she was working in a refuge for Muslim women, you know, there's one woman there who had very, you know, had a very violent, domestic experience.

When the woman I spoke to called up the central mosque for advice, she was told not the woman cannot seek a divorce. It has to be the man. That, obviously, is a part of Shariah justice that will be completely unacceptable in our British society.

CONAN: Mark Rice-Oxley, thanks very much for your time.

Mr. RICE-OXLEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Mark Rice-Oxley reports for the Christian Science Monitor. He's been reporting on the reaction to Archbishop Rowan Williams' comments, and joined us today on the line from London in England.

Joining us now is Usama Hasan. And he's an imam and adviser to the London Shariah Council. And he joins us from the studios of the BBC Western House in London.

Nice to have you with us today.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, no.

CONAN: And evidently, that's not Usama Hasan.

In the meantime, let's go to a caller. And this is Heine(ph). Heine's with us from East Hampton in New York.

HEINE (Caller): Well, yes, hi. Thank you for accepting my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

HEINE: Yes. My point is that this is a great example on how the portrayal of fear on behalf of country, especially that we faced terrorism and violence on behalf of the encounters with some Islamic radicals and extremists.

And this is a way to kind of ease on that pressure and yield towards the Islamic population. And it's all really connected to the fact that, you know, I don't even believe that the one who suggested it believes in its efficiency. But it all boils down to the fact that the West tries, in any way possible, to modify the acts of violence.

And this is one way to yield towards that, because I don't think no one in his right mind would even consider that this is going to produce anything positive.

CONAN: Well, you're referring to - in Britain, I guess the expression was Londonistan, and England, as home to a lot of exiled Islamic radicals.

HEINE: Exactly. And it's not only - it doesn't begin or end in England. And it's throughout Europe and all the countries that hosts so many Muslims and try to - obviously, they cannot reason and always wonder how come there are suicide bombers and how come people do this and that.

And this is one way of kind of indirectly projecting some privileges. But, of course, common sense suggests immediately that that's not effective at all and there are other reasons that are hidden behind it.

CONAN: Yet, there's no hint of a radical agenda here. This is the…

HEINE: Yes, but the thing is that it works - if you please the entire population, I works throughout. You don't have to be specific because of this and that, but this is one of the ways - because, again, common sense will suggest that allowing any practice of Shariah law in any aspects of it, it just doesn't make sense, you know? It absolutely doesn't make sense.

And it actually speaks for the stress that the English society is under, and also the hidden fear of what to come in the future.

CONAN: Well, in the same time, as we've mentioned, there are Jewish courts in this country and in England as well. Should - is that some bowing to radicals?

HEINE: Yeah. But you don't have Jews strapping themselves with explosives and causing trouble across the world. And that's the difference.

CONAN: Well, if it's good for one religion, it should be good for all religions, shouldn't it?

HEINE: But the thing is that, well, anyway, we don't have time to elaborate…

CONAN: It's interesting that after this issue came up in Ontario, recently, regarding Shariah law, that they then withdrew the writs of Catholic and Jewish courts in the province of Ontario, so it's consistent.

HEINE: Yeah. But the thing is you cannot isolate the implications of the entire reason behind Shariah law. You said there are other aspects of Shariah law. You can just say that this relates to only one aspect of Shariah law.

Shariah law, by nature, is heinous and is almost insane in some aspects of it. So…

CONAN: Well, I think you'd find a lot of people to argue with that, Heine. But anyway, thank you very much for the phone call.

We're talking about the intersection between rest - Western laws and religious laws, particularly, in this case, Shariah. If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255.

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're exploring the intersection of religious and secular law this hour, starting with Shariah or Islamic law. There's plenty of precedent for religious tribunals to operate alongside our secular legal systems.

In 2003, a Texas appeal court referred to a - a divorce case to a local Islamic court. And state courts routinely endorse judgments made by the Jewish court called Beth din.

And let's hear a little bit more about that. With us here in Studio 3A is Rabbi Barry Freundel. He is assistant professor of rabbinics at Baltimore Hebrew University and rabbi of Georgetown Synagogue in Washington, D.C.

Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Rabbi BARRY FREUNDEL (Assistant Professor of Rabbinics, Baltimore Hebrew University): Thank you very much.

CONAN: And I also understand, you just told me you teach at Georgetown Law School.

Rabbi FREUNDEL: That's correct.

CONAN: So what is the intersection between religious and secular law?

Rabbi FREUNDEL: It's very simple. It's interesting listening to some of your callers and some of things that were said. I don't know what they're proposing in England. I know how it works here. It's a binding arbitration panel. And you can have whoever you want from a binding arbitration panel.

And both litigants - and if it's a man and a woman in a divorce case - again, as both litigants, have to agree and have to sign a binding arbitration agreement in which what they're saying is we think that three rabbis are the way we want to go to make a decision.

And the advantages are, first of all, it will be - the decisions will be made from within their tradition. The costs are minimal compared to secular courts. The trial is over - the longest trial I know of was three days along, rather than months and months and months.

And, you know, you hope - as you hope with a secular court - that you'll get a fair and equitable judgment.

CONAN: Some people can change their minds. Can they bail on this process?

Rabbi FREUNDEL: Once you've signed, you've signed. But there is a protection that's built in because where do you get a religious court from? I mean, again, I can't speak to Shariah. I can talk to Halakha.

There are sitting courts in many cities. There is something called the Beth din of America, which sort of is a national leash. But let's say I don't want that. So, let's say I'm in a litigation with you.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Rabbi FREUNDEL: I'll propose one judge. You propose the second judge. And the two judges will propose a third. And the three will form the court. And I have my representative and the judge that I propose. You have the - your representative and the judge that you've proposed. And whoever this third person is, that was, again, proposed by your representative and my representative. So somebody is protecting your interest when the case goes to the trial.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And Anne(ph) is with us, Anne calling us from Kansas City in Missouri.

ANNE (Caller): Yes. I had a Jewish divorce in Kansas City by traveling representatives at the Beth din. But my understanding is that my - I also had to get a legal secular divorce. My Jewish divorce was to assure that I complied with all of the Orthodox Jewish requirements. But I couldn't have not gotten a secular divorce and remarried.

So, I'd like that to be explained a little by your speaker as to where - I mean, the civil law was still predominant.

CONAN: Rabbi Freundel?

Rabbi FREUNDEL: That's correct. The divorce part of the proceedings was simply in order to make sure that you are freed in a religious sense and able to be married in a religious sense.

Anybody who gets a religious divorce has to go to a secular court and get a civil divorce. Although if it's a recognized Beth din, or if there's a binding arbitration agreement, the civil courts will usually pass that through very quickly. I don't know what your experience is, but usually, you're talking one day, an hour or two at the civil courts on top of whatever amount of time you took there.

The other question I would have for you is did you allow the religious courts to handle - if they were trying custody issues or financial issues. That's your determination in your decision. So if you didn't do that, then you went through a whole trial in a civil court. But if you did, then you would have gone through the Beth din procedure. It would have been, as I said, at most, two or three days.

They would have decided those issues. And in 99-plus percent of the cases, the civil court just ratifies it.

CONAN: Was that your experience, Anne?

I think Anne has left us.

Rabbi FREUNDEL: Okay.

CONAN: So, anyway. Thank you. We thank her very much. And stay with us, Rabbi.

Rabbi FREUNDEL: Sure.

CONAN: We want to bring in now Usama Hessian, the imam and adviser to the London Shariah Council. He's with us from the studios of BBC Western House in London.

And we hope we've made the connection this time.

Mr. USAMA HASAN (Adviser, London Shariah Council): Yep. Good evening.

CONAN: Good evening.

Mr. HASAN: Good evening here.

CONAN: Thank you very much for being with us. And, again, we apologize…

Mr. HASAN: You're welcome.

CONAN: …for some earlier technical problems. And what is the role of Shariah in Britain? Is it similar to the Beth din that we were just hearing described here?

Mr. HASAN: Well, there are number of Shariah councils or courts across the country. And they are developing similar to the Beth din procedure. In fact, we have had meetings with the London Beth din to explore ways of working together and learning from the Jewish, if you like.

But, yes, it's very similar - marriage, divorce, inheritance, occasionally child custody, these kinds of issues. Many Muslims want people from within their tradition to decide these matters in their cases.

CONAN: And is there any fundamental conflict between British common law and Shariah law?

Mr. HASAN: I don't think so. No. In fact, if you look at the principles of both legal systems are very similar. You know, there has to be justice for all concerned. People innocent or proven guilty, people have to prove their case, et cetera.

There is this public misconception, especially when it comes to the Shariah penal code - people think of stoning or amputation. And that's why there'd been a massive outcry in this country against the archbishop of Canterbury.

But that's not what he was saying at all. All he was saying was very similar to what, I think, you've discussed in your program so far - voluntary arbitration agreement, which already exists under English law and actually help to take a lot of the burden off the civil courts for communities who have their own traditions.

And the archbishop of Canterbury was really hogging(ph) that it is right for the law to recognize that because Britain is not a totally secular society, though there is a strong religious affiliations and elements here. And I think it's right that elements of that are recognized for Muslims as they are for Christians and Jews, because elements of the Jewish Beth din procedure is recognized by the civil divorce proceedings.

CONAN: Let me ask you, Rabbi Freundel. Under any circumstances, if something is perceived as a violation of federal law or constitutional rights, would that trump a religious court?

Rabbi FREUNDEL: We don't have the kind of conflicts that you're describing. It has to operate within - a religious court can choose to operate within the law of a country. But, an arbitration court has the right to apply whatever standards it wants as long as it's not egregiously immoral or illegal.

And when that has happened, those are the few Beth din cases that have been overturned in this country, either where the court has done something absolutely egregious, or where they going beyond the extent of the arbitration agreement.

In other words, if we agree that this far the court has allowed to decide in them, then the court goes beyond that. They'll get into trouble for that and then they'll get overturned.

So it doesn't really come up as a practical matter because there is always that control where the civil courts can look at it if they need to.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Tom(ph) in Astoria in Oregon.

This proposal smacks of a politically correct version of separate but equal. The archbishop questions why there should be just one law for everyone, but that is precisely the foundation of our legal system. Everyone enjoys the rights and must abide by the responsibility of our civil laws.

Usama Hessian?

Mr. HASAN: Again, in Britain, we have a different legal system. We actually have differences between English law and Scottish law and Welsh law. So this simplistic idea, one law for everyone, is actually simply not true.

And secondly, we already have the Beth din procedures in Britain operating for a long time. And as I said, aspects of that are recognized within civil law in this country.

We have special exceptions for particular religious communities. For example, a Catholic adoption agency has recently were given the right to opt out of having to send children to homosexual couples, for example. And Muslim adoption agencies would probably take a similar position as the Jewish ones. We have the Sikh community, who are exempted from wearing motorcycle crash helmets and hard hats in building sites, et cetera.

So there really are precedent in this country for respecting elements, where -although most aspects of the law, of course, do apply equally to everybody. And as your other speaker said, the elements of family court is entirely voluntary and very much like an arbitration panel, et cetera.

And as the archbishop said quite rightly, I think, we have to recognize people's cultural and faith loyalties. I mean, the example often gave is about weddings. Many people in this country wouldn't be too excited about a civil registry office wedding, but most people probably want to get married in a church or a mosque or a synagogue or a temple or wherever.

And it's quite right that the law should recognize marriages held in those buildings, which is it is beginning to. You see, churches have been recognized for a long time, but mosques and other places of worship are being recognized as a valid register office as now.

And I think since marriage had been recognized like that, there is a strong case for elements of divorce proceedings also to follow suit. And especially, on the basics of Shariah and English civil law that divorce are the same. Again, if both sides want a separation, then they're entitled to it. There has to be a just financial settlement issued and the custody of children have to be looked at from the point of the view of the overall welfare of the children, et cetera.

CONAN: There have been questions raised - excuse me, we'll get to you back in a second, Rabbi - but there have been questions raised about the nature of consent, that some women in - a lot of women in - Muslim women in Britain live in fairly segregated societies, that they can feel pressured to accept an arbitration that they're not truly consenting to.

Mr. HASAN: No, I think the case is the opposite. Women who feel like that will generally go to the civil courts immediately and not even come to the religious councils. But the Shariah council with which I am associated has been running for 25 years. It was set up precisely to help Muslim women who are having difficulty getting a religious divorce, because as with many Jewish women in fact, there can be a problem where a husband refuses to give her a religious divorce. And so even if she gets a civil divorce, she is stuck. She can't religiously remarry.

And the Shariah council has helped literally thousands of women over the last 25 years to get their religious divorce so that they can go and remarry under religious law, Islamic law, with a clear conscience. And so actually have a lot of support from women.

CONAN: And Rabbi Freundel, there can be some pretty cloistered Jewish communities too.

Rabbi FREUNDEL: Yeah, there can. I mean - but a couple of points that I want to make. Let me start quickly with the last question. It's not stepping outside of equal justice under the law.

One of the laws of America is that you can have an arbitration panel. That applies to anybody. It applies to everybody. In sports, you have sports figures who'd go for arbitration on their contracts. That doesn't mean they stepped out of the legal system. They use something that is intrinsic to the law and is allowed.

And in terms of what was just said, yes, you can have a religious court that could be biased to one way or another. But they very quickly get a reputation that way and people won't go to those. Remember, you have to decide where you want to go.

You also have another thing, which is what's called "tohain."(ph) You can get a person who presents your case for you. And so, for women who were intimidated by the male structure of the court, she can go and get somebody to represent her.

I mean, in fact, in Israel, they've developed what are called "tohanot," females who represent - they really have a fine record of representing women in the West in terms of the religious requirement for divorce and husbands who refuse. That's correct. In front of a Beth Din, that refusal is much harder to do.

And what's been developed in America through the Rabbinical Council of America and then accepted by Yeshiva University, is a prenuptial agreement that creates financial penalties for someone who tries to do this. In nine years of using that prenuptial agreement, there has not been a single case of a recalcitrant husband who had that kind of a document. That document is enforceable in the arbitration panel called the Beth Din.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Isaac(ph), Isaac with us from Provo in Utah.

ISAAC (Caller): Hi. I just had a quick comment. I am a member of the Mormon Church, the LDS church. And in the LDS church we have the voluntary arbitration that can be done by religious leaders to arbitrate, everything from neighborhood disputes or anything.

And in my experience, I haven't participated in it personally, but I know a lot of people who have. And those who do seem to get along much better after the dispute is over. It seems to promote general peace in the community, both in the religious community and as citizens.

And I think it's a very valuable thing to promote this type of arbitration because it keeps people - it allows people to go to people they agree to do the arbitration, a mutual belief system that they have.

And I think it promotes the general welfare of the people. I mean, again, it's completely voluntary, so they can go to a civil court if they wish.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Isaac.

ISAAC: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

We're talking with Usama Hasan, the imam and adviser to the London Shariah Council, and with Barry Freundel, the assistant professor of rabbinics at Baltimore Hebrew University, a rabbi at Georgetown Synagogue here in Washington, D.C.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can go now to Ali(ph), Ali's with us from Corvallis in Oregon.

ALI (Caller): Hello, there.

CONAN: Hi, there.

ALI: How are you doing? Yeah, I just wanted to comment on the fact that, you know, with regards to Shariah law, since it's directly associated with Islam - and you regularly see the vilification of Islam on - in Western media with regards to a lot of the political things that are happening in the world.

You know, we don't regularly associate, you know, Christian terrorists as with Christianity. Whereas, you know, as your previous caller implicated, you know, the fact that there are so many terrorists, you know, strapping bombs to themselves implicates Shariah law - that Shariah law is a heinous moral code.

A lot of the stuff that's carried out in the name of Shariah law such as honor killings in Jordan or Syria, you know, have no basis in Islam or Islamic jurisprudence.

And, you know, as a Muslim, as a practicing Muslim, I have never heard from a single Islamic leader that a woman is not allowed to initiate a divorce, so it's news to me.

And furthermore, my understanding is that Shariah law is only applicable to those who subscribe to it, so it's only applicable to Muslims. It, in no way, is applicable to non-Muslims.

CONAN: That would be the case as well in Britain, of course. Usama Hasan, this would be strictly amongst Muslims, whether they're arguing or whether they're getting married.

ALI: Yeah, exactly, in marriage and in divorce…

CONAN: Excuse me, Ali, we put the question to our guest in London.

Mr. HASAN: Yes, of course. This is purely a voluntary thing. And we said, the Shariah councils, which do operate in this country, have no formal recognition in the law yet. They do operate in a purely voluntary basis.

And both sides have to agree to come to the Shariah council. Only then can the arbitration or the decision be binding. And I think the archbishop was just wishing to make that more formally structured to help communities. That you revive the idea of community court, if you like, to get democracy and justice back to a local level.

I think in this country, the British justice systems can seem very far away to the ordinary person in the street - its courts with people in robes and wigs and all this kind of things.

And coming back to what your caller said, as I wrote in my Cradle Column in the Times on Saturday, the legal principles of Islamic law are actually centuries ahead of Western law. I mean, Imam Hassani(ph) spoke that - said that the law is there to protect five fundamental matters, which are faith, life, property, wealth and honor or family.

And that was said six centuries before John Locke actually formulated something very similar in England.

So Islamic law is actually centuries ahead of Western law at one point, although it's fair to say it's probably declined in the last four or five centuries with the decline of the Muslim world and its civilization.

But, yes, certainly, it's for Muslims only.

CONAN: Ali, thanks for the call.

Rabbi FREUNDEL: I have a comment on that. Actually, rabbinic courts have been used in disputes between Jews and non-Jews in this country, when non-Jews have agreed to do so.

I think there's a "Law and Order" episode, in fact, where that's portrayed. But it's more the voluntary nature of it than it is the question of the - there's no religious test. If you really wanted to go to a rabbinic court, then they're willing sit for you. I suppose we can have two gentiles, two non-Jews.

CONAN: So that as long as it's agreeable - again, it's an arbitration available to everybody. And if you're in the diamond business, for example, in the city of New York, there's might be something that you might avail yourself on. So…

Mr. HASAN: Only to get justice, I think.

CONAN: Pardon me?

Mr. HASAN: It was only to get justice. That's what people are looking for. I think it's not really whether it's Jewish or Muslim or other judges. It's only to get justice.

CONAN: Well, Usama Hasan, very briefly, the archbishop - one of the controversial remarks he said was he thought that this Shariah was unavoidable. As we've heard, it exists, of course - he was just talking about something that exists now. How do you think this is going to play out?

Mr. HASAN: Well, I think he started a major debate. And once the hysteria, the first week of media and national reaction was pretty hysterical, in fact. It was all about, are we going to have stoning and then amputation in this country.

But the hysteria is going down, and we're having quite a mature debate now. But I think he was right to say, too inevitable in the sense that there are large number of young British Muslims who have a strong commitment to their own religious law.

And, also, sometimes, they're in segregated or ghettoized communities. So I think that's I remember him saying is inevitable that we have to respect how people want that kind of justice.

And I think he's talking about community justice also and not trying to impose an archaic legal system, you know, on everybody. Or get the buy-in if you like, get the buy-in from people within existing English law, which does have the capability to deflect in order to adapt to different situations.

CONAN: Our thanks to Usama Hasan, with us from London. And to Rabbi Barry Freundel, with us here in Washington, D.C.

When we come back, we're going to be talking about a new documentary about an incident in Haditha.

This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.