Archbishop of Canterbury ‘should resign’ over Sharia row
February 8, 2008 Times Online UK
Hat Tip-Margo I.
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent, and Joanna Sugden
A senior Church of England clergyman called today for the resignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, over his remarks supporting Sharia in England.
The call, from a long-standing member of the Church’s governing body, the General Synod, demonstrated the strength of the backlash Dr Williams that faces from within his own Church — as well as from political and other faith leaders.
The senior Synod member, who insisted on remaining anonymous, told The Times: “A lot of people will now have lost confidence in him. I am just so shocked, and cannot believe a man of his intelligence could be so gullible. I can only assume that all the Muslims he meets are senior leaders of the community who tell him what a wonderful book the Koran is.
“There have been a lot of calls today for him to resign. I don’t suppose he will take any notice, but yes, he should resign.”
The Bishop of Southwark, the Right RevTom Butler, also challenged the Archbishop’s comments. “It will take a great deal more thought and work before I think it’s a good idea,” he said.
Although the means of forcing an archbishop out of office are so costly and arcane — short of his committing a criminal act, he could never be made to go — the row represents the most serious threat to the authority of his office since he became Archbishop five years ago.
It comes on top of the disintegration of the Anglican Communion in the dispute over homosexuality, with up to a quarter of the world’s 800-plus Anglican bishops intending to boycott the 2008 Lambeth Conference at Kent, and insiders are wondering if Dr Williams’s moral authority has now been damaged almost beyond repair.
Weblogs and other sites have been overwhelmed by comments from members of the public, Anglicans and non-Anglicans, the vast majority being highly critical of Dr Williams and his apparent appeasement of Islamism.
Senior government figures also spoke out against the Archbishop, as the row escalated and threatened to undermine his authority in the public arena as well as within his own Church. David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, said that formalising Sharia in the UK would be “catastrophic” for social cohesion.
One of Dr Williams’s arguments in favour of including some parts of Sharia under a parallel jurisdiction to secular law was to aid social cohesion. Mr Blunkett told the Today programme on Radio 4 : “I think this is very dangerous because the Archbishop used the term affiliations.
“We have affiliations to football clubs, to cricket teams, to all sorts of things that aren’t central to our citizenship and the acceptance of that in terms of a common society.
“We don’t have affiliations when it comes to the question of the law. And when it comes to equality under the law, we have to be rigorous in terms of making sure people do not find themselves excluded from it because of cultural or faith reasons.”
Formalising Sharia “would be wrong democratically and philosophically but it would be catastrophic in terms of social cohesion”, he said.
Virtually the only organisation to have come out on Dr Williams’s side of the debate was the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which said that the media response to the Archbishop’s speech could “only be described as a fanatical and emotional outpouring of exaggeration, misrepresentative statements, untruths and sometimes vitriolic hatred”.
Dr Williams said yesterday: “It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system.”
The latest controversy is the second time that Dr Williams’s views on Islam have provoked dispute. In an interview last year with Emel, a Muslim lifestyle magazine, he accused the US of wielding its power in a way worse than Britain at the peak of the Empire, compared Muslims in Britain to the Good Samaritans, and praised the Muslim ritual of praying five times a day. He also said terrorists “can have serious moral goals” and argued that the 9/11 terrorists should not be called evil.
A senior member of General Synod, who asked not to be named, said that he had had high hopes of Dr Williams when he was enthroned five years ago but had now lost confidence in his archiepiscopacy. He thought that he should resign and said that many others were also saying the same thing privately.
Many who heard his lecture last night at the Royal Courts of Justice in London were also critical, although others pleaded for understanding of an Archbishop attempting to instigate debate on an area of international importance.
Ian Edge, who organised the event , is director of the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies and a lawyer specialising in Islamic law. He said: “You can get married in your own religious community in the Church of England, but you can’t as a Muslim so it seems rather discriminatory. But you wouldn’t necessarily want to recognise Islamic divorce, but it may be that once you have admitted one religious right you would have to open it up to the whole spectrum.”
Alan Craig, the councillor campaigning against the building of a mega-mosque near the 2012 Olympic site in East London, said “I’m very, very wary of allowing Sharia courts in parallel. “There are real human rights issues under Sharia — women are not equal with men. If he is accepting that Sharia could be ingrafted in British law, it can only be ingrafted if it complies with British law in which case there’s no point in ingrafting it.”
Dr Doreen Hinchcliffe, Islamic family law expert and visiting lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, said: “His assessment of the situation was great to hear. What he said is working out in terms of Muslims going to counsels to get advice. They have to accept that they live in England, but they shouldn’t be discriminated against. It was very astute of him to pick up inheritance for widows —the share for a widow, one eighth, is so small”
Robin Griffith-Jones, the Master of Temple Church, said: “His argument in favour of transformative action will cause controversy but it starts the conversation and reacts against that state of grudging questioning”

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