No Hejab No. 1
Rowan Williams’ lecture on Civil and Religious Law in England would do any Islamist - or for that matter archbishop - proud. And it has. Hizb ut Tahrir, Muslim Council of Britain, and UK Islamic Sharia Council have all rushed to his defence whilst the rest of us are still grappling with its adverse implications for real live human beings and our society at large.
Let’s be frank. The Archbishop’s lecture lays out quite concisely the Islamist strategy for gaining access to political power and a how to guide on diminishing the role of secularism (with lessons for religious groups aiming to access or - as in his case - maintain power).
Like the Islamists, Rowan Williams uses rights language to help justify regression and violations of rights. By using terminology like‘Muslim communities in this country seek the freedom to live under sharia law,’ he deliberately fails to differentiate between the political Islamic movement and Islamists on the one hand and Muslims and those deemed to be Muslims on the other.
Of course Islamists want sharia here and everywhere. But to imply that ‘Muslims’ would ‘freely’ choose sharia implies that the masses of 21st century humanity would choose to live in the Middle Ages. On the contrary, a large number of those of us he wishes to hand over to the Islamists have resisted and fled Islam in power and have not accepted nor ever will accept sharia law.
Moreover, like the Islamists, he uses anti-racist language to assert that his defence of sharia is a defence of the ‘rights of religious groups within a secular state.’ Clearly, however, having the right to a religion is not the same as having the ‘right’ to religious law. His is merely a prescription for discrimination, inequality and culturally relative rights.
Also, like the Islamists he justifies and excuses sharia law and even attempts to dispel the ‘myths’ surrounding it. He quotes Tariq Ramadan saying 'the idea of Sharia calls up all the darkest images of Islam...It has reached the extent that many Muslim intellectuals do not dare even to refer to the concept for fear of frightening people or arousing suspicion of all their work by the mere mention of the word'.
Clearly, though, it frightens people because it is frightening.
From the death sentence imposed on Parwiz Kambakhsh in Afghanistan for blasphemy and the recent sentence of death by stoning of two sisters Zohreh and Azar Kabiri-niat for ‘adultery’ in Iran, the image of Islamic law is dark because its reality is even darker.
Of course the archbishop is not referring to nor do the Islamists want the stoning of adulterers or the hanging of apostates like myself from cranes in Trafalgar Square. That is - according to Suhaib Hasan, one of the ‘judges’ at these sharia courts or councils and a spokesperson for the MCB, the job of Islamic states. This, however, doesn’t mean that he can’t dream: ‘Once just only once if an adulterer is stoned nobody is going to commit this crime at all.
‘We want to offer it to the British society. If they accept it, it is for their good and if they don’t accept it they’ll need more and more prisons.’
Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, we are told that we need not worry. Ibrahim Mogra of the MCB says the sharia councils will only cover ‘small aspects of Sharia for Muslim families when they choose to be governed with regards to their marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children and so forth’.
Mogra implies that those who avail themselves of sharia law will 'choose' to do so. It is interesting how pro-women's ‘choices’ the political Islamic movement becomes when it is vying for power and influence in the west. According to Mogra, sharia will even give rights to women they don’t have under English law. His pathetic example? ‘A Muslim man can take a second wife under sharia law and treat her as he wants knowing that she has no legal rights in Britain. It means that she is regarded as no more than a mistress and he can walk out on her when he wants.’
Despite their deceptive claims, in the real world, even ‘small aspects of sharia’ will increase intimidation and threats against the most vulnerable women and girls, deny them rights they have and deserve and leave them hostage in virtual Bantustans at the mercy of the likes of Suhaib Hasan and Ibrahim Mogra.
And for those rejoicing that sharia law in England will be a ‘moderate interpretation,’ I need to remind them that a ‘small aspect’ is not the same as a different interpretation. As Hasan says to the woman who questions his ruling in one of these kangaroo courts: ‘there is no exception to this rule, in the sharia there is no exception, you have to accept it.’
Marriage, divorce, child custody may be ‘small aspects’ to Mogra and the MCB but they are important pillars in the oppression of women living under Islamic law. Much of the struggle for women's rights has taken shape in countries like Iran against these very aspects.
And by the way, laws are generally meant to safeguard rights not violate them. Many of the laws that sharia courts aim to avoid have been fought for by progressive movements over centuries in order to improve people’s, women’s and children’s position in society and often vis-à-vis religion in power.
This whole scandal is in my view a feeble attempt by the archbishop to muster up support for religion in power, safeguard its dwindling position in society and reduce secularism’s role by going to the Islamists. This time, though, the archbishop may have been a little too clever for his own good.
Nonetheless, we need to remind him and his friends that backwardness is never inevitable and we have many rights and freedoms here in Britain to prove it.