The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams (head of the worldwide Anglican Communion), set off an international firestorm on 7 February 2008 by suggesting that some accommodation of Muslim family law was ‘unavoidable’ in England. His suggestion, though tentative, prompted more than 250 articles in the world press within a month, the vast majority denouncing it. England will be beset by ‘licensed polygamy’, ‘barbaric procedures’ and ‘brutal violence’ against women and children, his critics argued, all administered by ‘legally ghettoized’ Muslim courts immune from civil appeal or constitutional challenge. Consider Nigeria, Pakistan and other former English colonies that have sought to balance Muslim sharia with the common law, other critics added. The horrific excesses of their religious courts – even calling the faithful to stone innocent rape victims for dishonouring their families – prove that religious laws and state laws on the family simply cannot coexist. Case closed.
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