Archbishop says Britain’s Muslims should be allowed Shariah in some cases

>LONDON (AP) – The archbishop of Canterbury on Thursday called for a limited application of Islamic law in Britain. Muslims praised the proposal but the government rejected it. The unusual suggestion from Britain’s highest ranking Christian leader would, if adopted, allow British Muslims to choose to resolve marital and financial disputes under Islamic law, known as Shariah, rather than through British courts.

Archbishop Rowan Williams said in a radio interview with British Broadcasting Corp. that incorporating Islamic law could help improve Britain’s flagging social cohesion.

“Certain provisions of Shariah are already recognized in our society and under our law, so it’s not as if we’re bringing in an alien and rival system,” said Williams, who gave a speech on the topic Thursday night.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s spokesman immediately rejected Williams’ proposal.

“The prime minister believes British law should apply in this country, based on British values,” said Michael Ellam.

The idea was also rejected by Sayeed Warsi, an opposition spokeswoman for social affairs. She said all British citizens have to be subject to the same laws developed by Parliament.

Williams said he was not advocating that Britain allow extreme aspects of Shariah, which has been associated with harsh punishments meted out by Islamic courts in Saudi Arabia and some other countries, used to undermine the rights of women.

“Nobody in their right mind” would want to see that, he said. He called for “a clear eye” when discussing Islamic law.

Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, said the use of Shariah would help lower tensions in British society.

“It would make Muslims more proud of being British,” he said. “It would give Muslims the sense that the British respect our faith.”

Shafiq said it was important that non-Muslims in Britain understand that Williams is not suggesting Shariah be adopted for resolving criminal charges, but only civil disputes.