Friday 8 February 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams must be feeling a bit silly right now.

However, though his PR department should all be fired, I do have some sympathy for the bloke—and not just because he clearly can’t afford an eyebrow trimmer. His thoughtful speech has been savaged by the media. Half of the press are engaged in hysterically berating him for giving in to those woman-beating, thieves’-hand-chopping, forty-lashings-ing Muslims’ attempts to infiltrate our honest, British laws for British people legal system; the other half are hysterically drowning out thoughtful debate with extensive quotation from the former section of the press in an attempt to provide a ‘balanced’ report ‘reflective’ of the ‘level of feeling his comments generated’.

What I want to know is how far Sharia law has already been implemented in the civil disputes Rowan was talking about, how many people this affects, what issues it raises, whether it will help women who want a divorce without being ostracised by their community, or merely divide a nation already terrified of Islam…that kind of thing. I’m fairly liberal, cautious and curious but, without the media to inform me about what more Sharia law in the UK would entail, I don’t really know where to stand on the issue. So, since the reporters and the general public refuse to take the issue seriously, neither shall I. Instead of probing sociological questions I decided to ask ‘what could Sharia law do for me?’

The most useful thing I learned was that, under Sharia, interest on debts is regarded as ‘money unjustly earned’. I also found out that some UK financial services providers offer Islam-compatible mortgages. It took a moment for me to combine these two facts into a useful implication, but then—ha ha!!—‘Take that, credit crunch!’ I shouted, punching the air with the financial glee of a Saudi prince at a meeting with BAE: I had finally found my ticket to an enormous interest-free mansion.

I hit the Internet, and found that HSBC offered just the fiscal product my new Sharia-orientated moral outlook demanded: Amanah Home Finance. Finally I’d be able to get something back from the western megacorp who owe me so much. (Apart from my interest-free overdraft. I’m pretty sure I owe them that.)

I had already changed my name by deed poll to Yusuf Islam when I realised: where was the huge banner saying ‘0% interest—Sharia-compliant and a total bargain!’? And why were the HSBC megabastards selling a product which would lose them money? Something wasn’t quite right.

Then, I saw it: the get-out clause. I imagined the ruthless, faceless, toothless upper management of HSBC around the boardroom table with one of the well-regarded Sharia scholars they hired to work out how to simultaneously not offend Muslim sensibilities yet still rake in the cash:

‘So, we can’t charge interest because it’s against Islamic principles?’

‘Quite so. A true Sharia-abiding Muslim could not enter into such a contract.’

‘Hmm.’

‘But there is a solution. A bit of a back door, if you will. Imagine you were to, say, charge a bit of rent for the part of the home which technically belongs to the bank…say, a percentage of the outstanding loan, to keep things simple. It would be exactly like a normal mortgage except…well, it’d be exactly like a normal mortgage.’

‘Except we’d now have well over a billion new potential customers who were previously morally opposed to our western capitalist scum ideals.’

‘Precisely.’

‘They didn’t make you a well-regarded Sharia scholar for nothing, did they?’

‘I would say my exorbitant fee was money justly earned.’

I was so appalled that I changed my name straight back to Cat Stevens.

Which, if this storm in a teacup gets any more fierce, I suspect Rowan Williams will do after he signs up to the witness protection programme.

Comments

  1. It was obviously pretty straightforward to get round the Sharia to Western banking conversion – all you do is charge interest but cloak it in the disguise of being a monthly contribution toward the purchase price of the property resulting in an increase in your beneficial share…a rose by any other name …but can we come up with some creative solutions to making some of the more outrageous bits of Sharia law acceptable in the UK? Could we get away with digit deallocation as a punishment for stealing, or sentencing offenders to 40 attitude reallignments ?

    Probably not. Its just a matter of motivation I guess; pragmatically, if a Muslim wants to buy a house, he has to allow himself to believe that his monthly payments are contributions resulting etc etc and not interest. Some of the more hysterical right wing Brits might like the idea of digit deallocation, but most of us jolly old liberals are going to see though that. I’m guessing this conversion thing is going to be mostly one way traffic, or to put it another way, when in Rome….but it does seem to leave poor old Rowan Williams out in the cold a bit., or actually, quite a lot.

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