April 9, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 1877

Libyan Liberal Muhammad Al-Houni on Statements by Archbishop of Canterbury: If Europe Adopts Shari'a, It Will Revert to Pre-Enlightenment Era

April 9, 2008
Libya | Special Dispatch No. 1877

In a February 26, 2008 article in the Arab liberal e-journal Elaph, Libyan-European liberal thinker and entrepreneur Muhammad 'Abd Al-Muttalib Al-Houni wrote that the recent statements by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams on implementing shari'a law in Britain constituted dangerous encouragement to fundamentalists in their war against the Enlightenment. He added that such statements could have very grave repercussions for the struggle for freedom in Muslim countries as well.

The following are excerpts from Al-Houni's article:

Would Europe Have Islamic Courts, or Would We Send European Judges to the Taliban to Learn Shari'a?

"I recently read a statement by the head of the Anglican Church [Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams], the upshot of which was that there was nothing wrong with the British legal system adopting some laws from Islamic shari'a and their implementing them for British citizens of the Islamic faith.

"There has already been a great clamor [and argument] between supporters and opponents of these statements, so I thought that I, as a Muslim citizen of Europe, would take up this thorny subject and attempt to understand this statement and its implications. [I do this] in order to shed light on what would happen in Europe if its countries were to adopt the kinds of measures that the English archbishop is demanding.

"I do not think that this demand that some laws from Islamic shari'a be adopted into European law is [meant] to include shari'a criminal law - that is, punishments such as killing the apostate (a Muslim who converts to another religion), amputating a thief's hand, cutting off a brigand's opposing hand and foot... stoning the adulterer to death, publicly flogging wine drinkers, killing homosexuals by throwing them from a high place, or allowing a relative of a [murder] victim to deal with the murderer, instead of the state.

"I imagine that the archbishop is referring [only] to Islamic shari'a laws regarding personal status. So let us imagine these laws being implemented in European courts.

"First of all, on the procedural side, there would need to be Islamic courts in European countries to adjudicate in all disputes involving European Muslim citizens - or else a large number of European judges would have to be sent to the Taliban to learn shari'a thoroughly enough to implement its laws.

"Also, European countries seeking to implement shari'a would need to submit their reservations regarding any international conventions they may have signed. This is because they will have to:

"1) Permit polygamy for European Muslim citizens, and not punish them for it - [even though] this is considered criminal under European law;

"2) Permit European Muslim citizens to beat their wives to discipline them, as the Koran urges;

"3) Allow men to unilaterally decide to divorce without requiring any court proceedings, as this is a right guaranteed [to men] by shari'a;

"4) Give daughters [only] half the inheritance rights that sons have, while widows receive only an eighth of the inheritance;

"5) [Not] consider women's testimony the equal of men's in shari'a courts;

"6) Deprive a divorced woman of custody of her children if she remarries;

"7) Allow European Muslim citizens to marry in traditional marriages without the need to officially register these marriages;

"8) Eliminate adoption, since it is contrary to shari'a;

"9) Force a woman whose Muslim husband converts to another religion to divorce him, because he is an apostate;

"10) Prevent European Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims…"

Adopting Shari'a Would Undermine the Concept of Citizenship

"If [Archbishop Rowan's] intention is to introduce some or all of these laws from Islamic shari'a into Europe's legal systems, it would mean the following:

"1) The concept of citizenship in Europe will change. There will be [different] classes of citizenship and of citizens, with some citizens being exempt from having the general law applied to them because they belong to a particular religion or belief. There will be a Muslim [class of] citizen, a Christian [class of] citizen, a Buddhist [class of] citizen, a Confucian [class of] citizen, and so on. Each will apply his own laws... Thus, faith will not be an individual freedom or belief; it will [come to] have extremely serious public ramifications.

"2) If some or all of these laws were implemented and recognized by European legislative bodies, it would not only seriously damage human rights legislation - it would spell the end [of this legislation]. This is because everything I mentioned above is a negation of human rights principles.

"3) Recognizing all, or [even] some, of these laws would take European societies back to the age before the Enlightenment and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a result, the West would revert to barbarism."

Is the Anglican Church a Partner in Fundamentalism?

"While I maintain that the European countries will never accede to these catastrophic demands - for reasons more practical than humanist - the fact that they were proposed by the British archbishop sends the wrong message to the Islamic world. The gist of this message is that there is no contradiction between Islamic shari'a and Western civilization if [shari'a] applies [only] for Muslim citizens.

"What is the Anglican Church trying to achieve, and what interest does it have in such cartoonish proclamations? I believe that it wants achieve the following goals:

"To absolve itself of responsibility in the eyes of fundamentalist Muslims, who will be persuaded [by the Church's statements] that the clash is not between Christians and their Church [on the one hand] and Muslims [on the other] but a clash between Muslims and secular states. This will create greater hostility among Muslim citizens of European countries to their [host] countries, and will lead to increased violence and terrorism in the future…

"These statements [by the Archbishop of Canterbury] also mean that the Church - or at least part of it - still does not believe in human rights legislation, and takes every opportunity to cast doubt on the universality and comprehensiveness of the humanist principles [underlying] it.

"Lastly, it this means that the mosques that are controlled by extremist Muslims in Europe do not have a monopoly on fundamentalism and on preventing [Muslim] citizens from assimilating into public life. Rather, the Church itself has, through these statements, become a charter member in this dangerous game."

How Can Muslim Secularists Oppose Shari'a When the Anglican Church Supports It?

"Although the demands announced by the bishop are far from implementation in a Europe that long ago distanced itself from medieval values and thought, the reverberations of these demands will have a grave [impact] on the Islamic world.

"The Islamic world has been suffering from fundamentalist attacks on what is left of secular society in their countries. These fundamentalists want to implement a shari'a law that contravenes human rights, taking as their model and inspiration the seventh-century state [established by] the Prophet Muhammad in Medina.

"At present, these [fundamentalists] are picking fights with the secularists in Islamic countries, and their attitude is: 'How can you oppose shari'a law in your own countries when we see that the Anglican Church is seeking its implementation in Europe?

"This message is wrong, and it is detrimental to all pleas for modernism and secularism in the Islamic world. Such [pleas] are weak enough as it is, overpowered as they are by the tsunami of Islamist extremists who accuse [those who voice] them of subordination [to the West], treason, and heresy. Such statements by some Anglican clerics are nothing less than support for the ideas of Islamist extremists, and are also an attempt to make fundamentalist religious thought triumph over secular thought in the Islamic countries.

"I believe that monotheistic religious fundamentalists, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, can, despite the deep-seated historical hostility among them, ally with each other and join efforts to wage war on Enlightenment thought… The[ir ideologies all] contain the same germ - the claim to absolute truth that applies to all times and all places." [1]


[1], February 26, 2008.

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