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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Faith, law and democracy

Three articles:
  1. Faith, Law and Democracy
  2. Adopting Shariah is no way to bridge cultures
  3. Integrating Islam into the West

I am pleased to hear that the North Texas Muslim leaders said that “their religious doctrine calls for Muslim migrants to abide by the laws of their host country. These are the words for everyone to live by.” Writes Dallas Morning News.

Sharia laws are derivatives from Qur’aan and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad on living a life of Justice and peace. As with every group, the extreme interpretations by certain institutions and individuals, and their perpetuation have become contentious. The conflicts are in the areas of divorce, apostasy and women where fine tuning of our understanding is needed.

The basis for Qur'aan is justice, when there is justice people feel secure and live in peace, harmony and prosperity. As far as the Sharia in public life is concerned, our civil laws are just and are good for every one. The rest of the Sharia is about one's devotion to God and how it is carried out, and it usually remains in the private domain.

The religious fundamentalists of every religion have a right to follow their religion in any fashion they want, but they do not have the right to impose it on the next person or any one else. Imposition is not part of Islamic idelology, Qur'aan is very clear about it that there is no compulsion in the matters of faith.

American and Canadian Muslims value and trust our justice system, and do not feel the need for Sharia Laws to arbitrate personal matters, that amount to civil matters by religious agency. India has functioned well with its pluralistic heritage and if I live longer, that would be the focus of my research.


Faith, law and democracy
Defining the limits of exceptionalism

From The Economist print edition

The right of faiths to run their own affairs and regulate their adherents' lives has recently become controversial—because of fear of Islam

AMONG family-law buffs, the case is seen as a key example of the messy ways in which religious and civil law can get entangled. It concerns an Italian couple who wed in a Catholic church in 1962. After 25 years of less-than-blissful union, she got a legal separation from a civil court, which told him to make monthly maintenance payments. But he had other ideas: he convinced an ecclesiastical court that their union had never been valid, because they were close blood relations.

After vain appeals to various civil and religious courts in Italy (to which she complained that she never got a chance to tell her story), she turned to the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2001 ruled in her favour and made a modest compensation award. The European judges in Strasbourg had no jurisdiction over church courts—but they did find that Italy's civil judges failed to assess the religious courts' work or note the deficiencies.

In every democratic and more-or-less secular country, similar questions arise about the precise extent to which religious sub-cultures should be allowed to live by their own rules and “laws”. One set of questions emerges when believers demand, and often get, an opt-out from the law of the land. Sikhs in British Columbia can ride motorcycles without helmets; some are campaigning for the right not to wear hard hats on building sites. Muslims and Jews slaughter animals in ways that others might consider cruel; Catholic doctors and nurses refuse to have anything to do with abortion or euthanasia.

Even in determinedly secular states like France and the United States, the political authorities often find that they are obliged, in various ways, to cope with the social reality of religious belief. America's Amish community, fundamentalists who eschew technology, has generally managed to get around the law with respect to social security, child labour and education. In France, town halls serving large Muslim populations ignore secular principles as they get involved in the ritual slaughter of sheep.

Apart from exceptions to existing laws, another sort of problem arises when religious (and other) communities establish bodies that work very much like courts—and may be called courts—that enforce ancient rules that are often called laws.

All these questions, but especially the last of them, have been on the mind of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Anglican leader caused a furore when he suggested, on February 7th, that some accommodation between British law and sharia, or the Muslim legal tradition, was inevitable and should perhaps be made official.


America's oldest exception: the Amish
At first, there seems not to be any huge problem about the existence of institutions whose members freely choose to respect a set of norms—so long as participation really is voluntary, and the rules do not horrify the rest of society. (Intuitively, most Western societies accept the circumcision, on religious grounds, of baby boys, but they would not tolerate the genital mutilation of baby girls.) But in almost every democracy which aspires at the same time to be fair, secular and tolerant of religious diversity, it is getting harder to mark out and preserve the boundary.

Until recently, religions with deep local roots—like Anglicanism in Britain or Lutheranism in Scandinavia—could rely on well-honed survival instincts; clerics had developed a keen sense of how much “soft theocracy” society could accept, and when to beat a tactical retreat. Even the existence of court-like institutions, dealing in particular with marital and property issues, caused little fuss as long as everybody involved recognised the absolute primacy of the law of land. In Britain, for example, religious courts or beth din used by Orthodox Jews have been recognised by statute—and in 2002, divorce law was adjusted in a way that acknowledged the role of these bodies. (If a Jewish husband refuses to seek a religious divorce—thus denying his wife the chance to remarry in a synagogue—a civil judge can now delay the secular divorce.)

The Church of England uses ancient canon laws to govern the use of church property and its internal workings. But like the monarchy, it knows that the way to retain some vestigial authority is to give up most powers that could be controversial.

What has upset the old equilibrium, say law pundits in several countries, is the emergence all over the world of Muslim minorities who, regardless of what they actually want, are suspected by the rest of society of preparing to establish a “state within a state” in which the writ of secular legislation hardly runs at all. The very word sharia—which at its broadest can imply a sort of divine ideal about how society should be organised, but can also refer to specific forms of corporal and capital punishment—is now political dynamite.

That has rendered controversial some things that were once well accepted, like the existence of arbitration services which lighten the burden of the state by providing an alternative arena in which disputes can be settled. As Maurits Berger, a Dutch specialist on Islam and the law, points out, most English-speaking countries have a tradition of dealing with family law through arbitration—voluntary procedures to whose outcome the parties are bound. (Things are different in continental Europe, where the nearest equivalent is non-binding mediation services.)

The Canadian province of Ontario is the clearest case of an English-speaking place where fear of Islam made religious arbitration untenable. An uproar began in 2003 when Syed Mumtaz Ali, a retired Ontario lawyer, said he was setting up a sharia court to settle family law disputes for Muslims. Such arrangements were allowed by the province's 1991 Arbitration Act and could carry the force of law.

The proposal caused an instant backlash, right across the religious and political spectrum; many Muslim groups were opposed too. Marion Boyd, a retired attorney-general, investigated the matter and initially recommended that the Arbitration Act should continue to allow disputes to be adjudicated by religious bodies—subject to stricter regulation by the state. But that turned out not to be good enough for Ontarians who were nervous of sharia. In September 2005 the province's premier, Dalton McGuinty, decided to prohibit all settlement of family matters based on religious principles under the Arbitration Act. Religious arbitrators could still offer services in the settlement of disputes, but their rulings would not have legal effect or be enforceable by the courts. The province's laws were duly changed.

The political background to these moves is no secret: a general wariness of Islam prompted not only by the September 2001 terrorist attacks, but also by NATO's war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, in which scores of Canadian soldiers have died. Moves to establish sharia tribunals, be they ever so voluntary, aroused “quite a lot of anti-Muslim feelings”, says Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (which opposed the tribunals). “It allowed people to say, here they come, they are going to ask for more and more.” Apart from a general fear of theocracy, says Jeffrey Reitz, a professor at the University of Toronto, Canadians were nervous that “some of the progress that's been made with gender equality might be lost if we begin to accommodate various group that have less concern...”

As anxiety over (real or imaginary) Muslim demands for sharia turns into a broader worry about theocracy and religious exceptionalism, many democracies are seeing bizarre multi-polar disputes between secularists, Christians, Muslims and other faiths.

In southern Europe, says Marco Ventura, a religious-law professor at the University of Siena, Catholics are now more worried about the perceived advance of Islam than about maintaining old entitlements for their faith. “Their dilemma is whether the rights which their faith enjoys can be justified when new ones, like Islam, are appearing in Europe.” Some of Italy's Muslims, meanwhile, have been demanding “secularism” in the sense of diluting the Roman Catholic culture of the state, which is epitomised by crucifixes in court rooms, classrooms and hospitals. A Muslim convert, Adel Smith, has been fighting a long battle to get such symbols removed.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has dismayed secularists by stressing the country's Catholic heritage in some recent speeches. But the late (Jewish-born) Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, was a staunch defender of the secular state as a bulwark against all forms of fundamentalism.

Defining the relationship between religion and the state was certainly easier when it could be assumed that religion's hold over people's lives and behaviour was in long-term decline. But with Islam on the rise, and many Christians—even those with the vaguest of personal beliefs—becoming more defensive of their cultural heritage, the line is getting harder and harder to draw. On that point at least, Archbishop Williams was quite correct.


The law of the land: Adopting Shariah is no way to bridge cultures
Dallas Morning News -06:37 AM CST on Friday, February 15, 2008

It's hardly surprising that British politicians and tabloids are thoroughly roasting the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, for remarking last week that partially adapting Islamic Shariah law into the U.K. legal code "seems unavoidable."

A big surprise, though, was the ripple effect his comments had in North Texas. American Web sites and blogs, including that of Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, came alive with a bizarre discussion of Islamic law already being imposed in our courts.

First, let's debunk the myth: Shariah is not now and should never be a part of the Texas legal code. We live in a secular society where the laws are designed specifically not to be influenced by religion or reflect a religious preference.

The question arose when an Arlington Muslim couple, Rola and Jamal Qaddura, filed for divorce in 1999. After prolonged court battles, they agreed to arbitration by a private Richardson-based group, the Texas Islamic Court. The arbitration agreement wound up in the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, which upheld its validity in 2005.

Throughout the case, our courts never relinquished judicial control. And that's how it must always be. In the eyes of the law, the Texas Islamic Court has zero judicial authority and was brought in only as a private civil arbiter, a common practice.

The British and U.S. secular legal systems are rooted in the Magna Carta. The law of our land should never adapt to the ebb and flow of migrants from countries where other legal codes prevail – particularly not a religious code like Shariah, which authorizes harsh treatment of women and severing the hands of thieves.

Editors and reporters from this newspaper met 14 months ago with North Texas Muslim leaders, including, coincidentally, one of the arbiters in the Qaddura case. They said their religious doctrine calls for Muslim migrants to abide by the laws of their host country. These are words for everyone to live by.

Considering the rising tensions between Muslims and Christians across Europe, it's hard to criticize the archbishop of Canterbury for trying to strike a conciliatory tone. But adaptation to Shariah is no way to bridge our cultures.



Integrating Islam into the West
By Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst
Thursday, February 14, 2008


The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams - the titular head of the 77-million strong worldwide Anglican Church - ignited a huge controversy last week when he suggested in a lecture in the Royal Courts of Law that Britain should adopt certain aspects of Shariah law. This was done with the benign intention of integrating into British law the practices and beliefs of Britain's 1.8 million Muslims.

However, the archbishop's apparent suggestion that Muslims could opt out of secular common law for separate arbitration and judgement in Islamic religious courts created the impression of one law for Muslims and another for everybody else.

This incendiary idea (subsequently corrected by the archbishop) provoked a furor about states within states and a widespread fear that any license granted to Shariah law would also license its more extreme aspects. Unfortunately, the media storm masked the real message of the speech, which concerned the authority of the secular state and its impact on religious minorities in general and Muslims in particular.

For the genuine target of the archbishop's lecture is the increasingly authoritarian and anti-religious nature of the modern liberal state. Militant secularism has forbidden head scarves and wall-mounted crucifixes in France. It has also banned Roman Catholic adoption agencies in Britain for not selecting same-sex couples as potential foster parents. Under the banner of free speech, secular Italian leftists recently prevented Pope Benedict XVI from addressing La Sapienza University in Rome on the subject of rational enquiry.

Williams' legitimate religious concerns with freedom of conscience tie in with wider Western worries about the consequences of failing to integrate a growing, devout and alienated Islamic minority within a relativistic and increasingly aggressive secular culture.

However, the solution proposed by the archbishop repeats the errors of 1960s liberal multiculturalism. In conjuring up the idea of communities sharing the same space but leading separate lives, he unwittingly endorses a scenario that entrenches segregation and fractures any conception of a common good binding all citizens. Despite this, Williams at least recognizes that Britain is struggling to find a way of accommodating its increasingly ghettoized and radicalized Muslim population.

Clearly, the integration of Islam into secular democracies is a challenge that confronts the Western world as a whole and Europe in particular. Regrettably, there are problems with all the existing secular models of integration. British and Dutch versions of multiculturalism hoped to ensure the equal rights of all citizens, but both countries - in abandoning the cultural cohesion based around religion - lost the very medium in which majorities and minorities could share.

Germany eschewed its own Christian legacy in favor of an ethnic account of its identity. Though it grants generous socio-economic rights, the German model still refuses Muslim "guest workers" citizenship and thus participation in civic life.

In France, the Republican ideal appeals to immigrants, but its secular reality denies the primary religious form of their identity. Moreover, the Muslim population is discriminated against in the labor market and tends to be confined to the banlieues. The French model's refusal to accommodate religion prevents France from broadening its concept of French identity.

The trouble with all the European models is that they enshrine the primacy of secular law over and against religious principles. Far from ensuring neutrality and tolerance, the secular European state arrogates to itself the right to control and legislate all spheres of life; state constraints apply especially to religion and its civic influence. Legally, secularism outlaws any rival source of sovereignty or legitimacy. Politically, secularism denies religion any import in public debate and decision-making. Culturally, secularism enforces its own norms and standards upon all other belief systems. In consequence, the liberal promise of equality amounts to little more than the secular imposition of sameness. As such, contemporary liberalism is unable to recognize religions in their own right or grant them their proper autonomy.

By contrast, the United States offers a strong integrated vision that allows for the public expression of religion under the auspices of a state that guarantees not just individual rights but also the autonomy of religious communities. Even though minorities in the United States have suffered discrimination, the American model of religious integration explicitly shields religion from excessive state interference. Thus loyalty to the state is not necessarily in conflict with loyalty to one's faith. Perhaps this explains why American Muslims appear more integrated and less alienated than their European counterparts. In part, this is because the European Enlightenment sought to protect the state from religion, whereas the American settlement aimed to protect religion from the state.

Thus, the real reason for Europe's failure to integrate Islam is the European commitment to secularism. Only a new settlement with religion can successfully incorporate the growing religious minorities in Western Europe. Secular liberalism is simply incapable of achieving this outcome. Paradoxically, what other faiths require for their proper recognition is the recovery of the indigenous European religious tradition - Christianity. Only Christianity can integrate other religions into a shared European project by acknowledging what secular ideologies cannot: a transcendent objective truth that exceeds human assertion but is open to rational discernment and debate. As such, Christianity outlines a non-secular model of the common good in which all can participate.

Rather than trying to defend religion through the guise of secular multiculturalism, the Archbishop of Canterbury should have been defending religious pluralism through Christianity. What Muslims most object to is not a difference of belief but its absence from European consciousness. Thus the recovery of Christianity in Europe is not a sectarian project but rather the only basis for the political integration of Muslims and peaceful religious coexistence.

Phillip Blond is a senior lecturer in philosophy and theology at the University of Cumbria. Adrian Pabst teaches religion and politics at the University of Nottingham and is a research fellow at the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies.

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