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Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) – February 8, 2008
London (dpa) – A call by the Archbishop of Canterbury to introduce elements of Islamic sharia law in Britain continued to come in for furious criticism Friday, with one former government minister describing the idea as “catastrophic.”
The suggestion put forward by Rowan Williams, who is the head of the worldwide Anglican church, has already been rejected by the government as “fundamentally wrong.”
Prime Minister Gordon Brown believed that British law, based on British values, should apply, a spokesman said in response to the suggestion made by Williams Thursday.
On Friday, David Blunkett, a former home secretary and prominent member of the government of Tony Blair said the idea to formalize sharia in Britain would be “catastrophic” for social cohesion.
“I think this is very dangerous,” Blunkett said.
Williams suggested that, in the interest of social cohesion, Britain’s 1.7 million Muslims should be given the choice to have civil matters, such as marriage, divorce, or financial issues, dealt with under the provisions of sharia.
Muslims should no longer be forced to choose between the “stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty,” the archbishop said.
The idea has been condemned by all three main political parties, and received a mixed reception from Muslim organizations.
While the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) rejected the notion of a “dual legal system,” the Ramadhan Foundation gave it a cautious welcome, saying the move could promote respect and tolerance between the faiths.
Williams’ suggestions have also come in for stinging criticism from Christian groups.
“This is a Christian country. If Muslims want to live under sharia law then they are free to emigrate to a country where sharia law is already in operation,” Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said.
Australian Anglicans said Friday they would fight the introduction of sharia.
“We don’t agree with the archbishop’s comments,” Sydney Bishop Robert Forsyth said. “In the case of Australia, we are thankful for freedom of religion but would oppose the idea of different systems of law for different people groups.”
Sydney, Australia’s biggest and most influential diocese, is home to most of the country’s 350,000 Muslims. Forsyth said the rule of law and the secular state were non-negotiable aspects of Australian society for new arrivals.
“You are welcome, but you are welcome to this country on these fundamental terms – the terms are rule of law and secular state,” he said.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government has not commented on Williams’ views on Islamic law, but opposition Liberal Party leader Brendan Nelson said there were “no circumstances” in which he would support the introduction of sharia.
“The idea that in some way you would change your basic values, culture and law to accommodate some people who feel that they don’t want to see themselves as Australians first, above all else – under no circumstances – would I support that,” he said.
Copyright 2008 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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