An Inadvertent Error
Wednesday 13 February 2008
We have "the inadvertent error of the righteous" and they have the "inadvertent error of the clergy".
This is the impression that an analyst has reached after hearing the intellectual nuclear bombshell that was detonated by [Archbishop of Canterbury] Dr Rowan Williams, the archbishop of the Anglican Protestant Church, when he called for incorporating some aspects of Islamic Shariaa in the British legal system. In my opinion, a statement by a man with such a high ecclesiastic standing - he is considered the Pope of the Protestant Church - cannot be considered a slip of the tongue or a bad call or even "an inadvertent error by a clergyman". In fact, it would be a mistake to accuse such a man of committing an inadvertent error. Stephen Lowe, a prominent British bishop, says, "Archbishop Williams is one of the greatest and most brilliant minds of the archbishops of Canterbury. The Church has not known a man like him for a long time. He may perhaps represent one of the most brilliant minds in this nation".
The revolutionary character of this fiery statement by the most senior British archbishop can only be understood if we were to assume a statement by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar calling, for instance, for amending the Egyptian legal system to incorporate some aspects of and be in harmony with some doctrines in Christianity.
What is remarkable about the statement by Archbishop Williams is that he is a senior and prominent clergyman. The norm and the convention is that any prominent religious leader would normally tend to defend his religion and its followers. Such a person is usually less tolerant or, to be exact, less enthusiastic about talking about the rights of adherents of other faiths. The British archbishop, however, broke this convention and went to the extent of defending the rights of the Muslim minority in Britain that does not reach more than 4 percent of the British population. He went so far as to call for changes on the British legal system to incorporate new Shariaa legislation. Even the most zealous Islamic leaders in Britain have never harbored such an aspiration. Normally, harmony and compatibility between some Christian religious figures and the followers of Islam in some western countries is not a common phenomenon. Nevertheless, it is not rare.
I still recall when I worked in the Islamic Center in London when a clergyman in one of the churches of London made a sincere wish that Muslims would buy his church that he had put up for sale and convert it into a mosque. He justified this wish by saying that God is worshipped in the Muslim mosques. I also recall when a Christian school for girls in London refused to admit a Muslim pupil in the Christian school until her parents could prove that the family members observe the teachings of Islam, such as performing prayers in a mosque. One parent that wanted to admit his daughter to this exclusively female school asked me to write to the principal of this Christian school and to testify that the parent is a frequent worshipper in the Islamic Center in London.
Another British reaction to the statement made by the Protestant archbishop was made by Charles Moore, a writer in the British Daily Telegraph. When Moore heard this controversial remark he unwittingly repeated the famous motto raised by Sayyid Qutub [early 20th century Egyptian Islamic thinker] "Take all of Islam or leave it all". Moore wrote an article entitled "O Archbishop, Shariaa is all or nothing". The writer intended to scoff at the call made by the British archbishop by implying that he either applies all the provisions of Shariaa - including the amputation of the hand of a thief or the stoning of an adulterer - or he does not apply any of them at all. What is even more remarkable in the archbishop's request to change the British laws kin favor of Islamic Shariaa is that this call coincided with a current call in Turkey that seeks to change the Turkish constitution to allow women college students to wear the hijab.
In other words, the two calls were made to strengthen the stature of Islamic Shariaa in the British constitution and the Turkish constitution. But the paradox is that the first call concerns a basic legislative issue in the British constitution and was made by the archbishop of a Christian country. Whereas, the second call was made by a senior Muslim leader concerning a marginal issue such as the hijab. Furthermore, it was made in a Muslim country where the majority of the women already wear the hijab and the wives of the president of the state and its prime minister wear the hijab. This is a paradox that perplexes the most indulgent person!