Thursday 6 March 2008

More Tea Vicar?

Malaysia is supposed to be a place of religious freedom, but - ahem - parallel justice means it is not for Muslims who are subjected to Sharia law and cannot change religion. Members have been jailed for appearing to renounce Islam and then the group's commune was demolished. The group has been around for over thirty years but faces resurgent Islam.

The Sky Kingdom group, which has interfaith leanings preaching inclusive love (and adherents can retain membership of other faiths), has been accused of luring Muslims from their faith and has been the subject of attack by both the mob and by authorities. The latest is another imprisonment.

Its main symbol at its base in the Muslim state of Terengganu was a giant concrete teapot that is meant to express the healing purity of water (there was a vase alongside). It also has the umbrella as a symbol of God and his protection. Architecturally it borrows from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Its leader Ayah Pin is in a polygamous marriage and his problem is that as a Muslim he should not claim a direct link to God but understand that Muhammad is the final prophet.

Kamariah Ali, a 57 year old former teacher, arrested in 2005, has now been sentenced by a Sharia court ahead of dodgy elections. Christians are advising people to vote for those who promote freedom of worship, as liberties are threatened and Sharia law has risen alongside the civil code in a kind of trade off between Islam and the government that has been 'giving an inch' in order to counter Islamic extremism.

This of course has resonances for this country, should Sharia law ever have parallel legal status here (even if individuals could opt out with apparently no consequences for their place in the faith community - as has said the Archbishop of Canterbury).

The rise of such a legal basis of religious conservatism would start to affect wider liberties here, and they are under enough political attack already. The Archbishop may have made his bureaucratic compromises with rampant conservatism, but some of us will not.

It also could be a highly appropriate religion for Britain - so we might look forward in conditions of religious freedom for a giant teapot that can pour pure water into a vase. We could have one to dominate the skyline in Hull, say, which is one of the least religious places in a secularising country. Many British people would understand a religion that worships a pot of tea. They also understand the protective power of an umbrella. I suggest Manchester for that - Hull is a bit dryer.

The danger of such a religion of course is the already established tendency for preachers to spout a lot.


A comment highlights this informed and very useful article:


Anonymous said...

I suspect you're being fey, but do you have any evidence that Hull is particularly irreligious?

Is there any data on church attendance (all denominations, and faiths too) broken down by geographical area?

I think of Anglicanism as largely a rural pastime, but I'd be happy to be shown my error...

Abhijit Pandya said...

Excellent piece.

This demonstrates precisely why Williams was so wrong to use the argument i) parallel systems for civil law exist in other nations like Malaysia, therefore ii) they should exist here. But since Malaysian Muslims cannot renounce their religion in shariah without penal retribution, any semblance of choice is an illusion.

The fallout has brought similar arguments from Muslim hardliners, who cite the case of India. But i) similar problems regarding the oppression of women exist there (there is only one token woman on the 42 person Muslim Law Board) and ii) the constitution of India explicitly states that allowance for Shariah is a temporary measure and the nation should be moving towards a unified civil code.

I still feel terribly disappointed that Williams stands by the substance of his dangerous and flawed arguments. What masquerades as moral relativism inevitably gives way to the most reactionary and bigoted forces in society.

Ali Eteraz explains intelligently why such moves are bound to be counter-productive here:

Shame on Williams.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

There is lots of data over a long time that Humberside is this secular hard case. The book I had a chapter in, Contemporary Mainstream Religion, 1995, edited by Peter G. Forster (not him at Chester), has on page xxvii the Brierley 1991 figures where attendance was given as 7% compared with the national figure of 10% in 1989. These figures have reduced since. Lincolnshire is 9%.

The differences now are where there are immigrant or former immigrant communities, so that there has been a temporary swelling in Roman Catholic churches and a rise in black religiosity.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Obviously I agree with you John Omani. The opt out and the competition Williams argued for were fanciful. He says that means it is not parallel but for me optional opt outs are naive and don't change the substance of this proposal. It would be an admission of ghettoisation whereas what we need instead is the kind of multiculturalism that encourages mixing and finding out, and common standards across all groups with some latitude here and there that breaks nothing deemed fundamental and unifying.

Anonymous said...

If those figures (in your comment #3) are samples they are within the margin of error.

I'm wondering if I can be bothered to look up the on-line Census details (admittedly self-ascription) - presumably someone has done so already.