In a speech Thursday night and an interview with the BBC, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury who has faced enough grief with the division in his church over homosexuality, said it is “unavoidable” that some elements of Islamic Sharia law eventually will be adopted in England.
âNobody in their right mind,â the archbishop told the BBC, âwould want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states â the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well.â
But equally, he said, âI donât think we should instantly spring to the conclusion that the whole of that world of jurisprudence and practice is somehow monstrously incompatible with human rights simply because it doesnât immediately fit with how we understand it.â
The archbishopâs statement about some aspects of sharia beingâunavoidableâ is so clear that it is hard to argue in his defence that it was taken out of context or hardened up by headline-hungry hacks. This is not like Pope Benedictâs ill-fated Regensburg speech in 2006, where the pontiff quoted a Byzantine emperor slamming Islam and later said he didnât mean to say he agreed with it. Williams talked about accommodating some aspects of sharia law and spoke in detail about this.
His main complaint seems to be summed up in this passage late in the speech: âOne of the most frequently noted problems in the law in this area is the reluctance of a dominant rights-based philosophy to acknowledge the liberty of conscientious opting-out from collaboration in procedures or practices that are in tension with the demands of particular religious groups.â His example for this is the case of Catholic adoption agencies in Britain that have been told they must stop refusing to provide children to gay couples or risk being shut down. The law should allow opt-outs for cases of conscience, he argues, something that is already allowed for doctors who refuse to perform abortions. He also notes that Orthodox Jews have their own courts for some religious issues. So his argument seems to be that opt-outs are needed and Muslims need to have theirs.