(CNSNews.com) - British Muslim leaders meeting with government representatives to discuss ways of combating extremism are calling for the establishment of Islamic law (shari'a) to govern Muslims' family life.
"We told her if you give us religious rights, we will be in a better position to convince [Muslim] young people that they are being treated equally along with other citizens," said Syed Aziz Pasha, secretary general of the Union of Muslim Organizations of the U.K. and Ireland.
Pasha was among some 30 Muslim leaders, described as moderates, who met with Ruth Kelly, the minister responsible for communities, amid raging debate in the country over what to do about the terror threat.
The government is appealing to Muslim figures to work harder to prevent extremist views from taking root in their communities, particularly among young people.
The campaign was accelerated after the July 2005 London bombings, and given new urgency in recent days after police discovered what they said was a conspiracy to blow up U.S.-bound aircraft, killing thousands of air passengers and crew.
As of Tuesday, police were holding 24 suspects, all reported to be Muslims.
Pasha stressed that he was calling for the introduction of shari'a codes covering marriage and family life, and not for criminal offenses.
Shari'a is controversial because it provides for punishments including limb amputation for theft and death for apostasy. The legal code is applied in varying degrees in countries including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia.
Shari'a in family affairs deals with issues such as dowry, inheritance and sharing of assets. In some traditions it also allows men to beat wives who refuse to obey them and won't submit to non-physical admonition, and to end a marriage by declaring "I divorce you" three times.
Pasha said Muslim leaders were ready to cooperate with the government, but wanted a partnership."They should understand our problems then we will understand their problems."
Other Muslim leaders, however, disagreed. Khalid Mahmood, one of four Muslim lawmakers in the House of Commons, said shari'a could not apply in Britain because it was not an Islamic state.
An ICM poll of British Muslims earlier this year found 40 percent of respondents supported the introduction of shari'a in predominantly Muslim areas of Britain, while 41 percent were opposed to the idea.
About 2.7 percent of Britain's 60 million people are Muslims. In another opinion survey of Muslims this year, by polling company NOP, 22 percent of respondents agreed that the London bombings, which killed 52 people, were justified because of Britain's foreign policies. Among Muslims aged under 45, the figure rose to 31 percent.
Exposure of the airline bomb plot led to the introduction of unprecedented security measures at British airports, causing major disruption.
Media reports say the government is considering introducing a system of "profiling," to ensure security staff focus attention on those considered more likely to be suspect -- because of behavior or ethnic/religious background -- and so ease congestion at airports over the longer term. The government has not confirmed the reports.
Muslim Council of Britain General Secretary Muhammad Abdul Bari said the proposal could have the effect of discouraging Muslims from cooperating with police. If profiling was based on race or religion, it would be wrong, he told Sky News.
In another meeting this week, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott met with Muslim lawmakers who earlier had put their names to an open letter saying the government's foreign policies were providing "ammunition to extremists."
The letter, whose signatories included representatives of all major mainstream Muslim organizations, sparked a strong backlash from ministers, who said foreign policy could not be dictated by terrorists.
Heritage Foundation scholar Nile Gardiner called the letter a wake-up call to the government.
"It shatters any illusions that the government's policy of engagement with leading 'moderate' Muslim groups since the 2005 London bombings has reaped any benefits," he said in a memo.
Gardiner urged the British government to "reject the message of appeasement" and for inquiries to be made into links between leading Muslim groups and radical organizations and individuals.
"Britain needs a new generation of Muslim leaders who are untainted by association with, or sympathy for, Islamic extremism and who are proud of their British identity," he said.
"They must be willing to condemn terrorism unequivocally and help root out extremists from Muslim communities."
British Foreign Office Under Fire for Engaging with Radical Muslims (Jul. 13, 2006)
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