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UK: Our New Sharia Law

by Douglas Murray

What is Sharia and what should be our attitude towards it? These questions, which have intermittently swirled around Britain in recent years, have just re-erupted thanks to a recent story in the Sunday Telegraph.

The story revealed that The Law Society — the body which represents and advises solicitors in England and Wales — has drawn up guidance for its members on how to draw up wills in accordance with Islamic law. The document can be seen here. As the Telegraph pointed out, High Street solicitors in England and Wales will now be assisted in drawing up documents that refuse women an equal share of inheritance and that discounts the potential inheritance of non-believers entirely. Nicholas Fluck, president of The Law Society, told the Sunday Telegraph that the document, which would be recognised by the national courts, would promote “good practice” in applying Islamic principles. The paper claims that this document effectively enshrines Sharia law in the British legal system for the first time.

Since this is such an important matter it is crucial to note what is right and what is wrong about this story. First the good news: this is not the first entry of Sharia into British law. Now the bad news: it has happened a lot already. This is just one in a string of such developments.

The first opening that adherents and advocates of Sharia law were given in the UK came from the 1996 Arbitration Act, which allowed civil disputes to be settled by any means of arbitration to which both parties consented. So, for instance, if two parties wished to have a dispute voluntarily arbitrated by a religious or other social arbiter, they could.

The point was that so long as the arbitration did not run contrary to, or above, the rest of the law of the land (and this is an important distinction to keep in mind), then the arbitration would get the stamp of state approval. This condition was apparently intended to save the courts’ time and satisfy the religious demands of some groups.

The result, of course, was to leave an opening for advocates of Sharia….

…The strangest thing of all about this is not the slow erosion of the principle of one law for all. It is not even the offering up of an increasing number of parts of British life to an extremist ideology. It is the ease with which it is all done. “This is not chopping off hands,” Sharia’s defenders say, scoffingly. “It is not chopping off heads or lashing people,” they continue. Some people already complain that critics of Sharia are giving Sharia as a whole a bad name, lumping in the “bad” Sharia with the “good” Sharia. In reality, of course, Sharia law, officially adopted just this week by Brunei, apparently complete with amputations and stoning, is not compatible with law as we have been practicing it for over 2000 years in the West. The short-term political gains for the political leaders who support it hardly seem worth the long-term losses that will befall our society if we continue incorporating this system of law into our national life. If we are indeed seeing the beginning of this process, we are far from seeing what lies at the end of it.

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