The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Sharia law in the United Kingdom

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1.  The Archbishop of Canterbury said today that it might be helpful in a number of ways to permit the application of Sharia law in the United Kingdom: “There’s a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law”.

2.  Jewish thought and practice has always believed that religious law can and must work alongside that of our host nations.

3.  On the one hand, we have a concept of dina d’malchusso dina hi – the law of the land has status in Jewish law.  The rule of secular law is vital for the wellbeing of all those who live in secular societies, since the religious communal institutions are (except in a country wholly governed by and in accordance with those institutions) unable both theoretically and practically to provide effective control over most aspects of human behaviour.  The establishment of a just and fair system of secular law is one of the Noachide laws, an obligation on all non-Jewish states, and one which we who live in those states are therefore bound to support by compliance and respect. 

4.  On the other hand, there are some matters of communal law that can be enforced effectively only within the communal religious institutions.  English secular law has long granted autonomy to the Jewish community in matters of kashrus and marriage, and with occasional forays into the secular legal institutions for the resolution of disputes the system appears to work to the satisfaction of all.

5. Between these two areas lies a wide range of civil matters where the secular institutions may well be able to handle them, but where there may be significant advantages in having them addressed by people who are able to empathise with the social, cultural and religious aspirations and values of the parties involved.  One takes it that this is one of the areas to which the Archbishop is referring.  Certainly Jewish law strongly supports the idea that a dispute between Jews should be handled by the Jewish courts wherever possible (Shemos 21:1 ; Gittin 88b).  And in the United Kingdom for some years we have managed to put this into practice through the mechanism of the Arbitration Acts: Jews with a dispute on any commercial matter can go the Beis Din and sign an arbitration agreement, following which the matter proceeds as an arbitration and the Beis Din’s decision may be enforced if necessary through the secular courts, and can be challenged there only on limited, mostly procedural, grounds.

6.  An important point about the latter process is that it does not involve imposing Jewish law on anyone who chooses not to be bound by it; it makes it possible for those who wish to have disputes determined in accordance with religious values that they share to go to their religious judges and have the matter treated accordingly (although, as I say above, that will often involve the importation of principles of local secular law, as a matter of dina d’malchusso dina hi).


Written by Daniel Greenberg

February 7, 2008 at 4:29 pm

One Response

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  1. According to the Times article on this issue, the proposal was for “a ‘plural jurisdiction’ that would allow Muslims to choose whether some legal disputes were resolved in secular or Sharia courts.” Does this not sound remarkably similar to current law with regard to the prerogative of Beis Din, and surely such a change seems reasonable, even commendable (from the point of view of religious equality)?

    Yisroel Greenberg

    February 9, 2008 at 7:10 pm

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