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The Bischop and the Sharia

13 February, 2008
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Over the last few days, European papers have discussed the controversial comments by Rowan Williams, Archbischop of Canterbury, who stated in a speech, the adoption of certain aspects of Sharia law in the UK “seems unavoidable”. The many outraged commentators, among them Islamophobe Mark Steyn, greatly exxagerated and misinterpreted Williams, who dealt with the topic in a highly differentiated way (here is the text).

I came across one reasonable blogpost by German journalist Heinrich Bergstresser, who pointed out that legal pluralism – far from being a dangerous new trend – is the norm in most countries. “In India, Jordania or Nigeria, to name just a few states, secular state law coexists with islamic law and customary law, without threatening the legal security in any way.” 

It is worth pointing out that in addition to countries with a colonial past, legal pluralism is also already practiced in many European countries, thus in Germany there are special slaughtering laws for Jews and Muslims. In disputes concerning inheritance and divorce among Muslims, German courts often take the legal principals of their country of origin into consideration. In Britain, orthodox Jews can have cases adjudicated in front of their own courts (Beth Din) and there already are sharia councils (yet their judgements are not legally binding and their authority is greatly disputed among different sectors of  British-Muslim society).

Far from being scandelous, the archbishops speech thus seems to me a welcome realization that we have to deal with the (legal) pluralisation of European countries in an open and differentiated way.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 21 February, 2008 3:25 pm

    But, Joana, I thought we agreed (and argued in our upcoming book Maxikulti) that we reject legal pluralism in the sense that particular “communities” should have laws that apply only to them, and side with Lawrence Sager and Rick Shweder in this debate (against e.g. Alison Renteln). It’s a different matter that legal decision should be sensitive to the individual context.

    Would you care to explain how you mean legal pluralisation?

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