In her interview for the last edition of Nouse, Prof. Afshar seems to assert that the Archbishop’s desire to give constitutional recognition to sharia is fully compatible with equality before the law. She implies that British Muslims are not being treated equally in this respect. In fact equality already prevails as no religious courts currently have the authority vis-à-vis the English legal system that Dr. Williams suggests should be the case with sharia. In the Jewish Beth Din courts for example, Jews must still have recourse to English law to have their marriage or divorce explicitly given legal standing.
I do not believe that Muslims are in any way disadvantaged. Quite the reverse in fact – as while sharia courts are illegal in theory – British authorities turn a blind eye in practice. While there is a growing minority in the Muslim community that would wish the authority of sharia to be significantly greater, there is little demand from other religious groups for similar exemptions from English law. In this context, concessions are likely to enhance inter-faith divisions. Given that the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir was one of
the most vocal supporters of the Archbishop’s statements, I am a little surprised that Prof. Afshar isn’t more concerned that these developments might prejudice both women’s rights and equality before the law.