Ecclesiastical Law Journal


In Pursuit of Religious and Legal Diversity: A Response to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the ‘Sharia Debate’ in Britain

Samia Banoa1

a1 Lecturer in Law, Reading Law School


This article responds to the lecture given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, entitled ‘Civil and Religious Law in England: a religious perspective’. Dr Williams argues that the legal system in Britain must engage constructively with the religious concerns and motivations of members of the diverse communities that make up contemporary British society. My own analysis focuses on the argument that ‘Muslim communities in this country seek the freedom to live under sharia law’, a claim that underpins the lecture and provides the framework for the Archbishop's discussion of the ability of the English legal system to accommodate Islamic principles and law, in order to become more just and equitable for faith-based communities. My empirical analysis, I argue, is not only better equipped to analyse this complex issue but also demonstrates that Muslim engagement with sharia (in matters of family law) is a complex process that cannot be understood in terms of sharia versus state law, Muslim versus non-Muslims, or those considered as insiders of communities versus outsiders. Muslim engagement with sharia cannot be understood merely in terms of the need for legal rights and obligations to be reformulated to make faith-based minority communities more legally and socially inclusive. It is also necessary to understand the specific ways in which such legal orders emerge in the British context and, most importantly, the rights and motivations of those members of communities who seek to use faith-based dispute resolution mechanisms – in this case, focusing particularly on Muslim women.