English, Christian or Muslim law: deconstructing some myths

Catherine Shelley

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Archbishop Rowan Williams's 2008 lecture, “Civil and Religious Law in England: A Religious Perspective,” has become an historic reference point for discussions about relationships between Islam, religious law and English law. One of the Archbishop's heart-felt pleas was for “deconstruction” of myths about both Islam and the Enlightenment. Continued stereotypes perpetuated by the “Trojan Horse” debate over Birmingham schools and the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo event suggest the plea went unheard. This article aims to address factors that prevent objective assessment of the relationship between English law, religious laws, Islam and other faiths. It is hoped that this will help the deconstruction of myths by examining what the law says, the claims religious communities make and whether further change is needed. The relationship of religious laws, norms and courts to secular legal systems is a pertinent topic for Christian–Muslim dialogue to which it is hoped that this article might contribute. Amongst issues considered are the scope for more formal recognition or monitoring of religious laws that have an impact on the lives of some UK citizens, and arguments for recognition on the basis that a democracy should reflect all parties to its citizenship and protection of the most vulnerable. As calls for further recognition of religious laws arise, the deconstruction of myths can only smooth the way for their objective assessment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalIslam and Christian-Muslim Relations
Issue number3
Early online date8 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • religious law
  • Sharia law
  • secular and religious law


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