Having attended the book launch for this title at the grand Temple Church, I was curious as to how the authors would grapple with the difficult topic of Islam and English law. Without having any prior knowledge or training on Islamic law, one would assume that where shari’a law is practised, there is a large number of amputees frequenting the souks and bazaars warning of the consequences of shoplifting. Or perhaps, those languishing in prison on crimes of apostasy, conflicted on what form of prayer may assist when the time comes, and wondering whether following any religion was bad for the health. It is precisely these myths of shari’a law that the book exposes.
Many notable contributors have lent their hand: the former Archbishop Rowan Williams, Lady Butler-Sloss, Lord Phillips, professors Christopher McCrudden and Tariq Ramadan, to name a few.
The book follows on from the famous lecture given by then Archbishop Rowan Williams in 2008 and, despite its title, discusses Islam as one of the Abrahamic religions, and the religious cases which have been decided by the courts. One will recall the much-publicised decisions in Eweida and Chaplin, and a demonstration of just how wrong the courts can be on matters relating to religious cases. There is a difficult balance to be struck, but were those cases correctly decided?
I suspect there were many, like myself, who attended the book launch to see the former archbishop. He has perfected the art of speaking, and is known to read and speak over half a dozen languages. His essay at chapter 2, however, at times, I found difficult to follow. He writes: ‘If shar’ designates the essence of the revealed law, shari’a is the practice of actualising and applying it; while certain elements of the shari’a are specified fairly exactly in the Qur’an and Sunna and in the hadith recognised as authoritative in this respect, there is no single code that can be identified as ‘the’ shari’a.’
The book focuses on aspects of private law, which could run parallel to English law, and recognises that the wholesale adoption of shari’a law is perhaps problematic in ECHR terms. It touches on the existing role played by Islamic Shari’a Councils, and confirms the view that the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill is long overdue.
The book does assume the reader has some prior knowledge of the broader issues discussed within it, and for the younger readers it might help to have a dictionary to hand.
Azeam Akram is a consultant solicitor with PWT Advice LLP