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German Bishop Protests Against UK Shariah Comments

As the Archbishop of Canterbury comes under fire for suggesting parts of Shariah law be applied in the UK, the head of Germany's Protestant Church told Deutsche Welle a country needs a single legal system for everyone.

Bishop Wolfgang Huber, head of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany

Bishop Huber said integration can't be achieved through a dual legal system

Speaking to journalists at the Deutsche Welle in Bonn, Wolfgang Huber, head of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, slammed the proposal by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams to introduce parts of Islamic Shariah law for Muslims in Britain. Williams also said introduction of some aspects of Islamic or Shariah law was "unavoidable" in Britain to promote social cohesion.

"Hoping to achieve integration through a dual legal system is a mistaken idea," Huber told Deutsche Welle in an exclusive interview. "You have to ask the question as to what extent cultural characteristics have a legitimate place in a legal system. But you have to push for one country to have one system."

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams

Williams, head of the 70-million member Anglican Church, provoked an outcry in an interview with the BBC on Thursday by saying a single approach to the legal system with one law for everybody was "a bit of a danger." He also called into question whether the current legal system could fulfill the demands of a "multi-faith society."

The archbishop also stressed that "nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states, the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women."

"Recipe for chaos"

Williams' interview prompted strong reactions from policymakers in Britain.

The idea of formalizing Islamic Shariah law in Britain would be "catastrophic" for social cohesion, David Blunkett, a former Home Secretary and prominent member of the government of Tony Blair, said on Friday, Feb. 8.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a blunt response to the issues on Friday.

"The prime minister is clear that in Britain, British laws based on British values will apply," a spokesman said.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham added that there is no basis for applying different laws to people of different religions, saying: "You cannot run two systems of law alongside each other. That would be a recipe for chaos."

Britain's Muslim Council wants debate

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Great Britain's largest Muslim association, also said it rejected a "dual legal system" but was in favor of a larger debate on the issue.

Britain, which has 1.7 million Muslim citizens, had to "face up to the fact" that some of them did not relate to the British legal system, said Williams. Integration has been widely debated in the UK since four British Islamists killed 52 people in suicide bombings on London transport in July 2005.

Williams proposed that Muslims should be able to choose whether to have issues like marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in Shariah-compliant proceedings or the existing legal system.

Shariah councils exist in UK

Muslims praying

A recent study showed 60 percent of Muslims in the UK are against introduction Shariah law

"We're looking at a very small aspect of Shariah for Muslim families when they choose to be governed with regards to their marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children and so forth," said Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Islamic Shariah Councils, which have no legal authority under the British system, deal with everything from banking to alcoholism, forced marriage and divorce -- an issue that features in 95 percent of the cases brought before the councils. Under English law, people may settle disputes in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process.

Tariq Ramadan, and Islamic scholar who teaches at Oxford University said Muslims needed to find a way to merge religious beliefs and law.

"[Williams'] kinds of statements just feed the fears of fellow citizens," he told the Guardian newspaper. "I really think we, as Muslims, need to come with something that we abide by the common law and within these latitudes there are possibilities for us to be faithful to Islamic principles."

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