What possessed Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams? He has suggested it is probably 'unavoidable' that certain aspects of Sharia Law be adopted in the UK. Personally I think the idea is completely crazy and rather than aiding community cohesion, is likely in my view to lead to a great deal more divisiveness. However, I think there is a great deal more behind this suggestion than at first appears and I will come back to this point later in the post.
On the other hand, as I learned a couple of years ago when discussing a previous controversy involving religious dogma (of the Roman Cathoic variety, on that occasion), there are already cases where civil matters are dealt with in a parallel system to the principles of 'British law' (i.e. English and Scots Law respectively); this usually involves marital and financial or contractual matters in the case of the Jewish faith by believers in the orthodox Beth Din variety of that religion and in the case of (according to the linked article above and this is a new one on me!) in matters relating to abortion in accordance with certain religious beliefs.
Let me be clear - I think the same laws, as enacted by Parliament, should apply to everybody in the UK, irrespective of whatever religious belief they may or may not have. The UK is a secular country. Period. If it was up to me I would curtail the already existing rights of some Jewish people and those of other religious faith to have their religious dogma impact on legal matters of any kind in this country. The argument, intellectually flawed in my view, of Dr Rowan Williams is that the existence of legal variants for some religions means it is somehow only fair for this privilege/right to be extended to those of the Islamic or any other religious faith is specious; all such rights are incompatible with the laws of a secular state such as the UK.
Dr Rowan Williams is however [said to be] a very clever man and I think he is laying the foundations for future assaults on the commonality of our laws. A couple of years ago there was controversy involving the Roman Catholic religion when officials of that belief system wanted to be able to prohibit gay couples from jointly adopting children through Catholic adoption agencies. Similarly, and more recently, the Church of England (CoE) (of which Dr Rowan Williams, as Archbishop of Canterbury, is the major domo) wanted to be able to apply special criteria in its employment practices, specifically as a way of excluding homosexuals or others of whom the CoE disapproves and indeed successfully obtained exemption from recently enacted employment equality laws. Completely outrageous!
Quite rightly politicians from all major political parties have come out strongly against Dr Williams's proposals. However, do not be lulled into a false sense of security - there needs to be a constant watch on this kind of religious 'adventurism'; if his ideas on Islamic practices were ever implemented it would be used to try and justify further divergence in our laws by holders of other religious beliefs as has already happened in recent years. Over the years I have written numerous posts about the role the CoE tries to play in our society - see some of them here.