Rowan Williams has a point
Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-02-11
Archbishop Rowan Williams’ speech indicating that some elements of Sharia will inevitably be incorporated into legal systems of Western countries is absolutely correct. Indeed, this would be to our advantage.
The first "cab off the rank", in my view, should be commercial law.
The speech, insofar as the language was penetrable, was nuanced, and certainly did not advocate the introduction of beheadings and stonings, nor did it accept the complete corpus of Sharia, which, to my mind, was corrupted since the time of Mohammed by biased judgements, notably during the Caliphates when powerful political masters were pandered to.
I’m pretty sure he was talking about something like the theory involved in the dualist system required to accomodate elements and methods of tribal law in Australia.
Now for the bit of sharia that would be useful in our society:
Consider commercial law: Usury is prohibited in Abrahamic tradition, yet only the Islamic branch of it maintains the prohibition. There is a way around this that allows people to get capital: the creation of entities with joint equity, initiatially wholly owned by the bank, but gradually purchased by the "borrower".
Bringing this as an option to normal Western business practice not only allows strict Moslems to use the mainstream banking system rather than force them to use banks that might have connections to fundamentalist islamists, and thus possibly decrease the risk or terrorists getting finance, but could also be used by non-Moslems, to the advantage of "borrowers" and the economy.
Under mainstream contracts, the key thing is the capital, rather than the success of the capital investment. By creating a partnership between bank and "borrower", the Islamic tradition may tend towards more responsible "loans".
In some ways, it reflects the pure capitalist model. If banks took equity in a business in return for capital rather than merely loan money at interest, they would be more likely to give wise advice to the "borrower" and help them succeed – as the equity might increase in value beyond the nominal interest rate. This would be particularly useful for startups with innovative products.
Kentucky Fried Chicken have a range of Moslem-friendly offerings, although this is not advertized in the wider community, and KFC have got a nice little earner happening because of this inclusiveness. The first mainstream bank in Oz to offer Moslem-friendly "loans" as an alternative to usury will certainly gain competitive advantage – although our regulations regarding banking might need some modification.
Extracts from the speech (my emphases):
- As such, this is not only an issue about Islam but about other faith groups, including Orthodox Judaism; and indeed it spills over into some of the questions which have surfaced sharply in the last twelve months about the right of religious believers in general to opt out of certain legal provisions – as in the problems around Roman Catholic adoption agencies which emerged in relation to the Sexual Orientation Regulations last spring.
- The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the umma or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category, so that participation in other kinds of socio-political arrangement is a kind of betrayal.
- Or we might think of the rather more serious cluster of questions around forced marriages, where again it is crucial to distinguish between cultural and strictly religious dimensions
- So the second objection to an increased legal recognition of communal religious identities can be met if we are prepared to think about the basic ground rules that might organise the relationship between jurisdictions, making sure that we do not collude with unexamined systems that have oppressive effect or allow shared public liberties to be decisively taken away by a supplementary jurisdiction.
- But to return to our main theme: I have been arguing that a defence of an unqualified secular legal monopoly in terms of the need for a universalist doctrine of human right or dignity is to misunderstand the circumstances in which that doctrine emerged, and that the essential liberating (and religiously informed) vision it represents is not imperilled by a loosening of the monopolistic framework.