Anglican Head Backs Some Islamic Rules; Williams Sees Social-Order Help

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The archbishop of Canterbury called for applying Islamic Shariah law in Britain in certain instances, saying its use there "seems unavoidable" and may help maintain social order.

In an interview conducted Monday and broadcast yesterday by BBC Radio, Archbishop Rowan Williams, leader of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, said "there is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with some kinds of aspects of other religious law" in the United Kingdom.

After Christianity, Islam is Britain's most common religion, numbering 1.6 million or nearly 3 percent of the populace. Certain Christian clerics have spoken out against what they see as a capitulation to Islamic interests there, including Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester.

He received death threats for his remarks last month on how some British neighborhoods were "no-go areas" for non-Muslims.

The archbishop was more conciliatory, telling BBC that "certain provisions of Shariah are already recognized in our society and under our law, so it's not as if we are bringing in an alien ... system"

Shariah law is a complex legal system that follows the prescriptions of the Koran in terms of dietary rules, religious festivals and other customs. Its more controversial rulings allow a man to take up to four wives and to divorce her by merely uttering three words: "I divorce you." Women have no such recourse.

It also says, in the case of rape, a woman must produce four male witnesses to the act before her testimony will be accepted by an Islamic court. It also mandates the amputation of hands or feet for some crimes.

"I think we need to look at this with a clearer eye and not imagine either we know exactly what we mean by Shariah and not just associate it with what we read about Saudi Arabia or wherever," the archbishop said.

"There's a lot of internal debate within the Islamic community generally about the nature of Shariah and its extent; nobody in their right mind I think would want to see in this country a kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states: the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well. …