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Cardinal Rejects Shariah in British Legal System

Muslims believe the Shariah is the revealed law of God. It informs their religious, social, domestic and private lives but is opposed by many non-Muslims because it demands inequalities between men and women and between Muslims and people of other faiths or no faith.

An English cardinal has rejected suggestions that aspects of Shariah, or Islamic law, might be incorporated into the British legal system.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster distanced himself from remarks made in a speech by Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, but he added he was "saddened" by the way the archbishop had been misunderstood.

In a Feb. 7 lecture on Islam and English law, Archbishop Williams, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, said Britain needed to continue to find accommodation with religious legal codes such as Shariah if community cohesion and development are to be achieved.

Archbishop Williams told the British Broadcasting Corp. hours before the lecture in London that the adoption of some aspects of Shariah in Britain "seems unavoidable." Senior Anglican bishops from around the world criticized his remarks, and some called for his resignation.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor declined to criticize the archbishop but made his views on Shariah clear in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph newspaper Feb. 10.

"I don't believe in a multicultural society," he said. "When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land.

"There are going to be certain things which might clash in the overall culture of the country. That's where one has to make a judgment," he said.

"There are aspects of Shariah that are practiced that we certainly wouldn't want in this country. The laws of this country don't allow forced marriages or polygamy," he said, adding that governments had "a right to make sure that those laws are kept.

" The cardinal said that multiculturalism had "meant a lessening of the kind of unity that a country needs."

"It is not enough for people to live within their own cultures and then say 'We'll live within the freedoms that are given in this country within a totally separate culture,'" he said.

"Of course you can keep the variety of traditions, but when you enter this country there are common values which are part of its heritage, which should be embraced by everybody," he added.

The cardinal, one of six children of Irish migrants, said it would be better if Muslims contributed beyond their own families to the common good, saying they would then "become a normal part of this country and, indeed, cherish those values that should be common to everyone."

Muslims believe the Shariah is the revealed law of God. It informs their religious, social, domestic and private lives but is opposed by many non-Muslims because it demands inequalities between men and women and between Muslims and people of other faiths or no faith.

In some parts of the world it is used to justify slavery and punishments such as amputations for theft, stoning for adultery and the death penalty for apostasy.

In his lecture, Archbishop Williams said that "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 (with) the extreme punishments (and) the attitudes to women as well."

But he hinted that he thought Shariah courts might be an acceptable way for Muslims to settle marital disputes and financial matters. He cautioned that such flexibility was necessary because the increasing secularization of the British legal system could bring religious believers into conflict with the law on matters of conscience.

Archbishop Williams refused to apologize for his remarks when he addressed the Church of England General Synod in London Feb. 11.

He said much of what he said had been misinterpreted and that he believed "quite strongly that it is not inappropriate for a pastor of the Church of England to address issues about the perceived concerns of other religious communities and to try and bring them into better public focus."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor told BBC Radio 4's "Sunday" program, "I think he did raise a point of considerable interest and concern at the moment, namely, the rights of a religious group within a secular state."

"Everyone in Britain must obey the law and, therefore, the question of how one can be a loyal British citizen and a faithful member of a religious group is a very pertinent question," he said Feb. 10.

Archbishop Williams' lecture was praised Feb. 11 by the Christian Muslim Forum, an organization founded partly by the government to further community cohesion.

"The archbishop has opened an important debate, not primarily about Shariah, but about the broader issues around the rights of religious groups within a secular state," said a statement co-signed by the forum presidents, including Catholic Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia.

Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe, former worldwide head of the Dominican order who is now based in Oxford, called Archbishop Williams' arguments "intelligent and subtle" and the reaction "hysterical."

"Christians believe that our intelligence is a gift from God, which should embolden us to probe complex issues, and the archbishop has shown real Christian leadership in daring to do so," Father Radcliffe wrote in a Feb. 11 letter to The Times, a London-based daily newspaper.