Our survey shows British Muslims don’t want sharia

Don’t believe the Lord Chief Justice any more than the Archbishop of Canterbury, say Stephen Schwartz and Irfan Al-Alawi

9 July 2008

12:00 AM

9 July 2008

12:00 AM

Don’t believe the Lord Chief Justice any more than the Archbishop of Canterbury, say Stephen Schwartz and Irfan Al-Alawi

A senior establishment figure has once more raised the question of whether sharia law should be introduced as a parallel system of justice for British Muslims. Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, was following in the footsteps of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who in February suggested that the institutionalisation of unspecified aspects of sharia law is ‘unavoidable’.

Rowan Williams gave the appearance of mere cluelessness; discussing sharia in a vague, multiculturalist manner apparently intended to project warm feelings toward British Muslims. But Lord Phillips, in attempting to move from nebulous clichés to specifics, has done far more damage than the Archbishop.

For non-Muslim authorities to propose the introduction of sharia as a legal standard for Muslims in any non-Muslim land is not only absurdly patronising and discriminatory, but also violates the canons of traditional sharia law. Sharia has always held that Muslims emigrating to non-Muslim lands are obliged to accept the laws and customs of their new homes, and must not attempt to change them in an Islamic direction. Precedent for this goes back to the counsel of the Prophet Mohammed himself, when his followers, persecuted in Mecca, sought a temporary refuge in the nearby Christian kingdom of Ethiopia.


Iraqi Shia Ayatollah Ali Sistani, one of the world’s preeminent sharia authorities, teaches that, ‘If [a Muslim] has given [a non-Muslim government] a commitment — even if indirectly (as is implied in the immigration documents) — to abide by the laws of that country, it is necessary for him to fulfil his commitment.’ If they cannot do this, they should return to Muslim territory.

Soon after Archbishop Williams’s gaffe the Centre for Islamic Pluralism conducted a field survey of attitudes towards sharia in the main Muslim communities in Britain. We visited Birmingham, Manchester, Bolton, Bradford, Sheffield and Leicester, in addition to ongoing and extensive investigations in London’s East End. Interviewees included imams, muftis (legal authorities), spiritual shaykhs, British Muslim barristers and solicitors, social workers and rank-and-file mosque attendees. The full results will be published, with similar data from Germany, Holland, France and Spain, next year.

Our survey was made easier by Muslim debate over the Williams affair. The overwhelming majority of our sample — we estimate a minimum of 65 per cent — brusquely repudiated the imposition of sharia in Britain and even expressed resentment at the interference of individuals like the Archbishop in British Muslim affairs.

Unfortunately, the real beliefs of British Muslims are unlikely to get sufficient attention either from non-Muslim leaders or from most of the British media. For the elite, multiculturalism is the order of the day, and sharia must be offered, notwithstanding the utter ignorance of it among the non-Muslims who advocate it. In the tabloids, sharia is identified with such punishments as the stoning of adulterers — an issue Lord Phillips ineptly tried to address. Little sensible commentary may be expected from the public prints.

At the Madina Mosque in Bolton it was pointed out to us that tens of thousands of British Muslims practise as solicitors and barristers, and have no interest in surrendering their positions to sharia advocates. A parallel system of sharia law would be a disaster for the British Muslim community, producing legal chaos, according to the barrister Aseid Malik. British Muslim legal professionals observe that Islamist radicals prefer to enter the scientific and medical professions, because there they can avoid participation in the British ‘unbeliever’ state required of solicitors and barristers.

Maulana Mufti Ayoob Ashrafi, a leading British Muslim traditional jurist, opposed the introduction of sharia, asking why Islamic law must be introduced in non-Muslim societies when it does not function in the majority of Muslim countries. At present, only Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and some remote areas of Africa and south-east Asia grant precedence to sharia over European-originated civil law — another surprise, no doubt, to most non-Muslims.

We conducted a significant part of our survey in Bradford, the city widely known as ‘Little Pakistan’. Sayyid Irfan Shah, a jurist known as ‘the Lion of Bradford’, who maintains a girls’ school, also rejected the intrusion of sharia in Britain. He declared that Muslim opponents of the introduction of sharia are much more sophisticated in their understanding of the distinctions between private and public law than many non-Muslim critics of Islam in Britain.

Tasleem Ahmed, a Muslim woman employed at the Bradford Advice Centre, administers community programmes to assist Muslim women with economic and social problems. She observed that women seldom attend mosque services or apply at mosques for help with their problems, and that, failing to gain support in their families, homes, and local communities, they may go to informal sharia courts for assistance in marriage and divorce cases, even though the latter tribunals — the most notorious functioning in east London — charge thousands of pounds for decisions that are almost always improvised and may not even conform to traditional Islamic law. Ms Ahmed said that because British Muslim women do not know their British civil rights, they have an incentive to turn to sharia.

Lord Phillips sought to mitigate the fear of the British non-Muslim public regarding sharia punishment for moral and criminal offences by arguing that it would be limited to the financial and marital areas. But the experience of British Muslim women with the sharia divorce courts demonstrates just how dangerous this seemingly anodyne proposal is. The sharia divorce courts are in the hands of radicals who use them to promote extremist ideology while making money. The same outcome would be likely if sharia courts were granted authority for mediation of financial disputes.

Nearly everywhere we went, Muslims rejected the idea of incorporating sharia into British law. In Sheffield, Muhammad Islam Qadri, a prominent religious activist, declared ‘the demand for sharia is a political slogan from which the Sunnis will not benefit’. In Leicester, Britain’s main centre of radical Islam, local leader Mohammed Ramzan asked, ‘Who is Rowan Williams? His comments were unimportant; he is not a political leader like Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.’ He also criticised the British authorities for supporting ‘dialogue’ with Islamic fundamentalists and stated that the problem facing British Muslims is terrorism, not a lack of sharia. According to our findings, Lord Phillips’s speech will be seen by most British Muslims in a similarly disapproving light.

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Show comments
  • bill

    Of course, we all know this. It’s just the usual clap-trap the elite serve us up to keep us divided so we don’t look to closely at how they’re cynically ripping us off.
    I wouldn’t mind so much but I think they genuinely believe they’re being clever/

  • Keith

    I am not surprised UK Muslims feel patronised by this,I am sure many are here precisely to avoid over the top interpretations of religious law.They must be sick of other religious and PC politicians claiming to know what they want.The system of secular law in the UK is better than any religious system, more just and more equitable and caters for belief and non belief. Let us also remember that non believers and those not attached to organised religions have equal rights under the law with the religious and can equally be offended by overt displays of religion or religious law.

  • Herbert Thornton

    The last sentence of this paragraph in the survey strikes me as especially significant –

    “Iraqi Shia Ayatollah Ali Sistani, one of the world’s preeminent sharia authorities, teaches that, ‘If [a Muslim] has given [a non-Muslim government] a commitment — even if indirectly (as is implied in the immigration documents) — to abide by the laws of that country, it is necessary for him to fulfil his commitment.’ If they cannot do this, they should return to Muslim territory.”

    Now, let us ask ourselves – do any of the political parties see virtue in that last sentence? If so, which?

  • Ib

    Very helpful. Our government at all levels consults very hard liner Muslim ‘leaders’, hence beds moved 5 times per day in Dewsbury hospitals, the pulling of honour killing legislation. Churches do the same, speaking to ultra conservatives as representing all Muslims.
    It has been a disastrous policy, strengthening the fanatics, bringing ordinary Muslims by birth under their ‘leadership’, and making British Islam more and more conservative. Look at the muslim council of Britain website and its links to DTI rules for prayers etc in factories.
    So thanks: we rarely get a snapshot of grass roots opinion.

  • Charles Smyth

    For those who must have Sharia as the law, there are states to which they can repatriate or expatriate to, in order to enjoy this class of law. In the UK and/or EU an introduction of Sharia would be divisive in itself vis-à-vis the state law, which is designed to be even handed to all, and would, as has been tentatively suggested in Germany, demand the reintroduction of other faiths’ doctrines into law. Fortunately, the majority of Muslims in the UK have more sense than to advocate the introduction of Sharia, which many of them have fled to the UK, to avoid.


  • Iftikhar Ahmad


    Sharia laws and State funded Muslim schools are for those who believe in Sharia laws and who would like to send their children to Muslim schools. Silent majority of Muslims would like to live under Sharia laws and want to send their children to Muslim schools. There is no complusion in Islam.

  • Nicholas storey

    For the sake of comity between peoples, I welcome comprehensible explanations of Islam, since it is much misunderstood by non-Muslims and, like anything that is misunderstood, it is routinely feared and, ultimately, attacked by the tabloid-led rabble; especially when a cynical minority of cynics adopt the ostensible cause of Islam to pardon and excuse the perpetration of attrocities in order to satisfy some perverted instinct. It might be useful if someone ran through the major basic tenets of Islam for the non-Muslim British public – and even for the Americans. Then they might realize that Islam does not reject the person whom they call ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ as a great prophet, it rejects that he was the Son of God and of the Virgin Mary. But all that should be dealt with comprehensively by those who know far more about it than I. Turning to the article, several points do arise: first of all, you say that Muslims are told that they should abide by the Laws of the land into which they go. However, what if they find the very core of the State into which they go, so lacking in moral fibre that it has lost its own sense of identity and desire to uphold its own laws; that it bends with the wind and shows eager to adopt the healthier parts of Sharia, even to a restricted extent? Would Islamic scholars then deny Muslims the right to exploit this weakness, this rottenness to the very core in the State into which they have gone? For, the Archbishop of Canterbury as the head of the Church of England (which, the last time that I looked, was both still a Christian organization and still an established part of the Constitution)has no business making political pronouncements about the state of the secular law, except to the extent that it is proposed to make it inconsistent with Christian morals or ecceliastical law. Rather, he and his clergy have a bounden duty to get out there and convert non-Christians to Christianity. Is this not how it all began – men (mainly but not just men) dying for the Faith? Men like Thomas More died to uphold his own brand of the Faith, the point of which would be lost on most modern Britons. Secondly, since the whole purpose of abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor was to make the judiciary appear to have no political links or bias, one wonders why the unelected Lord Chief Justice sees fit to give out political opinions (coincidentally as spineless, as ignorant, as unwise and as contrary to the purpose of his office, as the opinions of Dr Rowan Williams) on the legal infra-structure, enacted by Parliament, which it is his sole function to enforce.

  • David Short

    I once had the chance, which I did not take, in a farmhouse in a very posh part of England, the Cotswolds, to ask: ‘More tea, Vicar?’

    I wish I had, just for history’s sake, but we were talking, lots of us, about the Muslim religion, and this was about 15 years ago.

    I said to the young vicar, who was in fact drinking lots of whisky under the disapproving nose of his wife because he had a service to perform that evening: ‘But of course Islam is an evangelical religion!’

    He replied, quite correctly: ‘So is Christianity!’

    I missed another opportunity around a Sunday fireside to reply: ‘How true, vicar! How true!’

    Do we value our own religion?

    If not, then don’t complain.

  • Nicholas Storey

    David Short says ‘don’t complain’ – but he doesn’t say about what. Might he please clarify?

  • Vir Narain

    So British Muslims do not want Sharia. What if they did? Surely it is not for them to choose, or not to choose, what laws should govern the United Kingdom. The line of reasoning implied by the title is pernicious