Leading Muslim jurists on Friday welcomed comments by Britain's chief justice supporting a role for Shariah law in resolving disputes.

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips said in a speech on Thursday that there was no question of Islamic law replacing English law.

However, "there is no reason why Shariah principles, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution."

Shaykh Faiz Siddiqi, a barrister and chair of the governing council of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, said Friday that critics of any use of Islamic law failed to recognize that both parties had to agree to any form of dispute resolution in Britain.

Shamim Qureshi, the presiding judge of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, said the application of Shariah law could be useful in settling disputes about forced marriages, according to a statement released by the tribunal.

Qureshi, a judge in Wolverhampton Magistrates Court, is one of the few Muslims to serve as a judge in England.

The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, established last year, offers alternative resolution of family disputes, forced marriages and disputes over debts, commercial matters and inheritance.
Not necessarily in conflict with British law

In his speech at the East London Muslim Centre, Phillips said there is a widespread misunderstanding of Shariah law in Britain.

"Part of the misconception about Shariah law is the belief that Shariah is only about mandating sanctions such as flogging, stoning, the cutting off of hands or death for those who fail to comply with the law," Phillips said.

"The view of many of Shariah law is coloured by violent extremists who invoke it, perversely, to justify terrorist atrocities such as suicide bombing, which I understand to be in conflict with Islamic principles," Phillips said.

He said British media, in particular, had misunderstood a speech in February by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who also supported a role for Shariah law, specifically suggesting a role in resolving disputes.

"A point that the archbishop was making was that it was possible for individuals voluntarily to conduct their lives in accordance with Shariah principles without this being in conflict with the rights guaranteed by our law," Phillips said.

He noted that it is already permissible in England for parties in a dispute to agree to resolve under rules other than English law.

Makes sense to me.