The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, admitted yesterday that the Christian and Muslim faiths are so fundamentally different that both sides are still unable to understand each other properly. Dr Williams, speaking at an interfaith conference in Cambridge, said that it was possible for Islam and Christianity, two of the three Abrahamic faiths, to agree around the imperatives to love God and “love your neighbour”. Muslims and Christians agree about the need to alleviate both poverty and suffering, he said. But at a theological level there was still massive disagreement. Dr Williams contrasted the “self-emptying” aspect of Christianity, a faith built on the failure and weakness of its founder through his death on the cross, to the Islamic narrative of “trial and triumph”. The Archbishop said: “Even in its narratives of Jesus, [Islam] questions or sidelines the story of the death of Jesus as Christians tell it – an issue that is still a live one as between our faiths.” He said that the two faiths’ concepts of martyrdom were also different. In Christianity, martyrdom was a way of validating failure while in Islam, it constituted part of the “struggle” in fighting evil. “And how far an Islamic ethic would see love of neighbour as essentially involving the kind of self-abnegation privileged by Christianity is a point worth exploring,” Dr Williams said. The Archbishop was criticised earlier this year following a BBC interview in which he suggested that the adoption of some aspects of Islamic sharia law in the UK seemed “unavoidable”. His lecture in Cambridge, however, illustrated a clear understanding of the issues at stake between the two faiths. Dr Williams did not in any form come across as an apologist for Islam but as someone using his formidable intellect in an attempt to bridge the divide. Dr Williams was one of a number of leading Christian and Islamic scholars addressing the conference, A Common Word at Cambridge University. It marked the first anniversary of the publication of A Common Word Between Us and You, a letter from 138 Islamic scholars, clerics and intellectuals promoting understanding and tolerance between the two faiths. Ruth Gledhill reports.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, convened the seventh Building Bridges Seminar in Rome this week. The interfaith dialogue event has brought together Muslim and Christian scholars since 2002, when hosted at Lambeth Palace by Dr George Carey, the then Archbishop of Canterbury. The seminar studied Biblical and Qur’anic texts, with a view to exchanging not just theological ideas, but scholarly techniques. A spokesperson for the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “What we see with the Muslims is they actually get quite excited about how we do our theology. You see them playing with an idea and it really is fascinating.” The seminar, which is organised in partnership with Georgetown University, ran from Tuesday to Thursday.
For all its good intentions, European multiculturalism fails to make a place for religion. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams — the titular head of the 77-million strong worldwide Anglican Church — ignited a huge controversy last week when he suggested in a lecture in the Royal Courts of Law that Britain should adopt certain aspects of Shariah law. This was done with the benign intention of integrating into British law the practices and beliefs of Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims. However, the archbishop’s apparent suggestion that Muslims could opt out of secular common law for separate arbitration and judgement in Islamic religious courts created the impression of one law for Muslims and another for everybody else.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams – the titular head of the 77-million strong worldwide Anglican Church – ignited a huge controversy last week when he suggested in a lecture in the Royal Courts of Law that Britain should adopt certain aspects of Shariah law. This was done with the benign intention of integrating into British law the practices and beliefs of Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims. However, the archbishop’s apparent suggestion that Muslims could opt out of secular common law for separate arbitration and judgement in Islamic religious courts created the impression of one law for Muslims and another for everybody else. This incendiary idea (subsequently corrected by the archbishop) provoked a furor about states within states and a widespread fear that any license granted to Shariah law would also license its more extreme aspects. Unfortunately, the media storm masked the real message of the speech, which concerned the authority of the secular state and its impact on religious minorities in general and Muslims in particular.
With his plea for recognition of the Muslim legal system in Britain, the archbishop of Canterbury has outraged his people. In doing so, he has driven a wedge into the center of a passionate national debate. He should have known what he was getting into. Rowan Williams, 57, the archbishop of Canterbury, is an educated man, a noted poet and a brilliant theologian. But he’s never been a very skilled politician. And so it happened. Last Thursday, Williams stood before 1,000 spectators in London’s Royal Courts of Justice. He’s a man with a white beard and white hair sprouting in all directions. In his warm baritone voice, he spoke about the relationship between civil and religious law. It was a complicated speech, one that wasn’t easy to understand. But it ignited a raging debate. A day later, The Sun tabloid labeled him a “a dangerous threat to our nation,” and the Daily Express wrote that he had capitulated to Muslim extremists. The tabloids used words such as “outcry” and “rage” to_describe the public reaction and called for him to resign. Mathieu von Rohr reports.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has sought to defuse the bitter row over what he appeared to claim was the unavoidable adoption of sharia law in the UK by conceding that his controversial comments may have been unclear and ” clumsily deployed”. Whilst taking full responsibility for his part in the highly damaging episode, which resulted in calls for him to resign and sparked a disagreement with Downing Street, Dr Rowan Williams fell short of offering a full-blown apology and refused to back down. Instead he insisted that the Church of England had a “considerable” responsibility to other faith groups and asserted that it was not “inappropriate” to raise issues surrounding Islam or other religions – comments that were immediately welcomed by Muslim leaders.