The rise of radical, parallel Shariah in Britain
by Benedict Rogers
Every now and then, you read something which strikes you as incredibly important. The Centre for Islamic Pluralism's publication, A Guide to Shariah Law and Islamist Ideology in Western Europe 2007-2009, is one such example, and is essential reading for anyone concerned about our freedoms, values and community relations.
Written primarily by Muslim scholars Stephen Suleyman Schwartz and Irfan al-Alawi, the publication provides clear definitions of Shariah Law - and an irrefutable case against radical Shariah. It draws a distinction between traditional Islam's Shariah provisions for personal conduct in the areas of prayer, diet, fasting and charity, and the development of a parallel legal structure which is at odds with our own. As the authors argue:
The publication begins with a history and analysis of Shariah, and then examines its implementation - and the growth of radical Islamist ideology - in Europe through five case studies: Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, France and Spain. It concludes with an invaluable assessment of Islamic finance and banking, and some conclusions. It also touches on issues such as 'honour killings', female genital mutilation, forced marriages and divorce. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the paper, written by Muslim scholars, is its critique of Western non-Muslim acquiescence with radical Shariah:
In other words, a large proportion of the Muslim population does not want radical Shariah imposed in Britain or other parts of Europe, and the authors remind us that many Muslims fled their original homelands to western Europe in order to escape "the excesses of Islamic ideology" in those societies. Western non-Muslim leaders should wake up to that fact. Calls by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chief Justice for the acceptance of some aspects of codified Shariah in British law - leading to a parallel legal system - are, the authors say, "patronising" to Muslims and indicate that they are not listening "to the many British Muslims who reject Shariah and other Islamist penetration into their community". In the authors' words:
The report explores in great depth the concepts of "radical Shariah", "parallel Shariah" and informal "Shadow Shariah". They describe, for example, the Muslim Council of Britain's campaign in 2007 to introduce these concepts into education, calling for Muslim students not to be exposed to education about other religions; releasing radical Shariah guidelines on dress code for students; and demanding a bar on participation in music and dancing, and segregation in or exclusion from swimming classes.
It also describes the growing presence of radicalised Muslims in the medical profession who refuse to attend classes on alcoholism or sexually-transmitted diseases, in the belief that the practises that lead to such illnesses are prohibited, and refuse to wash their hands in alcohol-based disinfectant before conducting examinations or operations - even though Saudi Arabian hospitals use such disinfectants!
While it is important to recognise that Shariah is more than simply stoning and amputations, it is also important to realise that the destination in mind for some proponents of radical Shariah in Britain is extreme. The senior judge and Secretary of the Shariah Council at Regents Park Mosque is quoted on Channel 4, and in this report, as saying:
I would hope that not even the most hard-line hanger-and-flogger Tory would go along with that.
It is striking that the authors themselves are taking such a strong line, as Muslims, against parallel and radical Shariah - and we need to listen to their voices more often. "Parallel Shariah implies separation of Muslims living in the West from their non-Muslim neighbours," they note.
The authors are not, however, lone voices. British Muslim lawyers are also largely opposed to the development of a separate legal system - yet their voices are seldom heard. Some interviewed for the report believe that parallel Shariah would be "a disaster for the Muslim community ... [and would] produce legal chaos."
In discussing France, the authors highlight the positive influence of the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Dr. Dalil Boubakeur, who has said clearly: "The way of Islam states that the believer must submit to the general laws [in a country of residence] ... French Muslims must take account of their presence in a non-Muslim context". He has gone on to say: "The most urgent problem in the question of religious instruction is to develop love for others."
Yet voices like his are seldom given the platforms they deserve. The authors note that he is rarely invited to international academic or religious events focused on the future of Islam, and instead those with radical sympathies - such as Tariq Ramadan, whom the authors dismiss as a "European pop star" and "the ally of [Yousuf] al-Qaradawi" - are given prominence. "It remains to be seen which will, finally, enjoy greater influence in European Islam". It is worth remembering that Tariq Ramadan's brother Hani authored an essay in Le Monde in 2002 justifying stoning as a penalty for adultery.
Islamic banking, the authors suggest, is a key element of Islamist ideology and we should not be duped by it. Muslims can decide not to invest their money in enterprises involved in 'haram' (forbidden) products such as pork or alcohol, the authors argue, "without recourse to Islamic banking". The danger with Islamic banking is that it increases the influence of radicals, and "it would support a greater sense of segregation".
There is much more to say, but I would simply recommend you read this publication. The authors offer some important recommendations. There is, they argue, "considerable European Muslim opposition to radicalism, including to the introduction of some form of Shariah as a special, separate legal standard". Western governments, therefore, should support such voices - but instead, they have:
We should do more to strengthen Muslims within the legal profession, who oppose a parallel Shariah system, tackle financial sources of support for Islamist groups, resist further implementation of Shariah, and recognise that protection of Muslim women from abuse "is better secured through Western marriage and family law than through Shariah schemes".
Most importantly, the authors highlight the fact that opponents of radical, parallel Shariah among the Muslim community are not limited to those we regard as "progressive", "liberal" or "secular" Muslims, or even to "reformers". Radical Shariah is not traditional or conservative, according to some interpretations - and therefore, the authors conclude,
This is a paper every policy-maker, journalist, political activist and ordinary person concerned about the rise of radicalism should read.. If we are to combat both radical Islamism and the rise of the far-right, racist BNP, we need to listen to and support those in the Muslim community who oppose radical, parallel Shariah.
Note: The content of external articles does not necessarily reflect the views of Center for Islamic Pluralism.