Dhimmitude is the condition of second class citizenship that Christians and other minorities experience when living under countries with Islamic rule. This near slavery-like condition has been amply described and documented by many. Two volumes by Bat Ye’or should be consulted here: The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985), and, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001.)
It is not a condition any Christian should wish upon another. Yet that appears to be exactly what the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury has just done. Dr Rowan Williams has just announced that he expects at least some elements of sharia law to be adopted in the UK. He said the UK had to “face up to the fact” that some citizens do not relate to the British legal system, and argued that officially sanctioning Sharia law – in the areas of marriage and divorce, for example – would improve community relations.
There are many problems with the idea of allowing sharia law to co-exist in a democratic nation. It seems rather incredible that the Archbishop is either unaware of these major problems, or does not consider them to be much of an obstacle. Let me examine just a few of the major shortcomings here.
First, a nation cannot be ruled by two sets of law. Either we accept the law as found in a Western nation, or we adopt sharia law wholesale, but the two cannot peacefully coexist. In good measure this is because many aspects of Islamic law are decidedly opposed to and in competition with Western democratic law.
Indeed, the radical Muslims know this. Anjem Choudary, a former senior figure in the radical group al-Muhajiroun, said this: “Some element of family law or social and economic law will not work, it has to be adopted wholesale. Sharia has been promised by the Prophet Mohammed and it will come either by embracing Islam because it is the fastest growing religion in the country or by an Islamic country conquering Britain or by elements embracing Islam and imposing it.”
And why go down this path in the first place. It seems that no moderate Islamic group has been making such demands for sharia law. As Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said, “As far as I am aware no serious body of Muslim opinion supports the idea of special treatment, or exemption from the law of the land based on some vague ‘conscientious objection’. Raising this idea in this way will give fuel to anti-Muslim extremism and dismay everyone who is working towards a more integrated society. However, his implication that British courts should treat people differently based on their faith is divisive and dangerous. It risks removing the protection afforded by law, for example, to children in custody cases or women in divorce proceedings. This is the opposite of what modern multiculturalism should mean.”
Second, this simply drives a nation further apart. It certainly does not bring people together. Social and racial harmony comes by ethnic communities integrating into mainstream society, not by becoming even more isolated and distanced. All citizens of a nation must be subject to the law of the land. To start granting special exemptions for religious or ethnic bodies is to tear apart the rule of law and social cohesion. Instead of integration we end up with segregation.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, put it this way: “Equality before the law is part of the glue that binds our society together. We cannot have a situation where there is one law for one person and different laws for another. There is a huge difference between respecting peoples’ right to follow their own beliefs and allowing them to excuse themselves from the rule of law.”
Third, we really do not want to see Sharia law implemented. What version of sharia law will be enacted? The Saudi Arabian version? Will polygamy be legalised (with men allowed to have four wives)? Will amputation as punishment be legalised (with the hands of thieves hacked off)? Much of sharia law is simply incompatible with Western democratic law and humanitarian principles.
And just who will benefit by such laws? Even some Muslim leaders have admitted that sharia law is far from helpful to many. Sheikh Michael Mumisa, an Islamic scholar and theologian at Cambridge University said: “I believe that the introduction of personal status laws, such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, within the UK will undermine the rights of Muslim women, the poor and anyone who doesn’t really understand Islamic laws. The people who interpret these laws are male scholars and I know from experience that they always disadvantage women. Moreover, some senior Muslim clerics in the UK want more than just the personal status laws and would prefer that the penal laws were introduced as well.”
Fourth, this is simply more appeasement and capitulation to radical Islam. Instead of caving in to the demands of militant Islam, we should be standing up for the freedoms we enjoy. Democracy and the rule of law are not to be whittled away in the name of placating and appeasing anti-democratic Muslims.
As Mark Pritchard, the Tory MP for the Wrekin in Shropshire put it: “It is naive and shocking. The Archbishop should be standing up for our Judeo-Christian principles that underpin British criminal law that have been hard fought for. He should be concentrating on winning souls into the Church of England rather than getting involved in politics.”
Fifth, in the West, separation of church and state (in the proper understanding of the phrase) is a given. Islam does not believe in such distinctions. Islamic law applies to all of life: the political as well as the personal and/or religious. To implement sharia law is effectively to break down this fundamental principle of Western society.
Jesus himself established this principle by saying we must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. This has been the cornerstone of the modern concept of keeping the secular and sacred realms more or less distinct. True, Christians have not always observed this principle, but it has been the mainstay of democratic governance, and it is light-years apart from the Islamic conception which sees no division between sacred and secular whatsoever. In Islam, everyone submits to the rule of Allah, be it in the private realm, the social realm, the political realm, or the religious realm. It is all one in Islam.
And what about the Judeo-Christian values and beliefs which have so much formed the basis of modern Western democracies? Are we to abandon all that in the interests of placating the Islamists? Stephen Green, the national director of Christian Voice: “This is a Christian country with Christian laws. If Muslims want to live under Sharia law then they are free to emigrate to a country where Sharia law is already in operation. Any accommodation with Sharia law does nothing to help social cohesion. Christian law has been eroded by secularism and this country was founded on Christian values.”
In sum, the calls by the Archbishop to at least consider having some aspects of sharia law implemented in the UK are appallingly foolish. They are both undemocratic and unchristian. The Archbishop is effectively renouncing the Christian heritage of the UK, and calling for its replacement by Islam. Interfaith dialogue is one thing, but putting up the white flag of surrender is quite another. Dr Williams really needs to determine if he is representing the Christian faith, or the faith of Islam. And he needs to decide whether he thinks a democracy is preferable to an Islamic theocracy.