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Bishop Quits Anglican Church to Fight Jihad By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, April 06, 2009

Britain’s leading ecclesiastical critic of radical Islam is retiring early so as to help persecuted Christians suffering under Islamist regimes.  Church of England Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester aroused jihadist death threats last year when he publicly warned about encroaching Islamism in Britain.  Born in Pakistan and from a family that converted away from Islam, Nazir-Ali has championed Britain’s Christian roots and condemned multiculturalist accommodation towards anti-Western ideologies.

“Scourge of Church Liberals to Step Down,” declared one British newspaper about Nazir-Ali, whose family received police protection last year.  Besides defending Britain’s traditional British culture against Islamists and multiculturalists, the Bishop of Rochester further irked his critics by siding with African and other Global South bishops against theologically and sexually liberalizing tendencies in Western churches.  Last year he skipped the once a decade “Lambeth” gathering of the global Anglican Communion’s bishops, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Instead, he attended an alternative gathering for hundreds of more adamantly orthodox Anglican bishops who convened in Jerusalem, at the invitation of the senior Anglican prelates of Nigeria and Kenya, among others.  

Nazir-Ali was a candidate to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003 but was overlooked in favor of Rowan Williams, who fecklessly suggested last year that Britain accommodate some aspects of Islamic law.  Only age 59, Nazir-Ali is young enough that he possibly could have been considered for the title when Williams presumably retires in 2014.  But Nazir-Ali seems to have been called to a different vocation.

"Bishop Michael is hoping to work with a number of church leaders from areas where the church is under pressure, particularly in minority situations, who have asked him to assist them with education and training for their particular situation," according to a news release from Nazir-Ali, who is Britain’s only bishop of Asian descent, and who was Britain’s first non-white diocesan bishop.

The death threats and resulting police protection for Nazir-Ali resulted from his warnings against the “no-go” zones in some majority Muslim neighborhoods of urban Britain, where some non-Muslims feel intimidated.  Much of Britain’s religious establishment, like its secular elites, prefer ignoring or remaining publicly silent about the threats to Britain’s historic culture of tolerance posed by radical Muslims.  The Church of England has recently condemned the far-right and largely irrelevant British National Party, banning priests from membership, after a public membership list supposedly included several clergy.  But addressing the far more violent challenge of radical Islam does not usually merit inclusion in the agenda of synods or bishops’ councils.      

Archbishop Williams, responding to Nazir-Ali’s retirement, hailed his contribution to bioethics and “clarity of mind” without mentioning what the Bishop of Rochester has become best known for in recent years: his tireless defense of Christendom and Western Civilization, spoken from the perspective of a Pakistani who knows well the contrast with Muslim cultures.  Williams did commend Nazir-Ali’s impending “courageous” work with “churches in minority situations,” not typically a major concern among most of the Church of England’s prelates.

Another bishop colleague of Nazir-Ali’s more directly hailed the Bishop of Rochester for  having “courageously spoken out against both injustice and compromising the Word of God.”  And the Dean of Rochester cited Nazir-Ali’s “ability to communicate across cultural divisions, and this has opened doors of influence that he has always been courageous enough to walk through, often at personal cost.”

One of several courageous doors through which Nazir-Ali has recently walked was challenging the Archbishop of Canterbury and others who seemed to accept some aspects of Sharia in Britain.   The Bishop of Rochester responded by provocatively asking if all parties submitting to Islamic courts in Britain were there voluntarily, as Britain’s multicultural elites would prefer to think:  “Both in terms of submission to a tribunal and in accepting its decisions, are women genuinely free or is it possible that there are elements of family, social and even religious coercion?”  

Nazir-Ali wondered if Muslims who supposedly were eager for Muslim courts still had full access to the authority of impartial civil courts.  “It is most important for personal liberty and social order that this duty is not negotiated away in the cause of misplaced concern for community relations or communal harmony,” the bishop urged, insisting that Muslim courts must not be permitted to enforce what is “contrary to public law” in Britain.   Nazir-Ali cited Muslim inheritance, divorce and child custody laws that discriminate against women.   He also wondered if bigamy, still illegal in Britain, would be protected by Muslim courts.

Muslim law assumes not only inequality between men and women but also between non-Muslims and Muslims, Nazir-Ali pointed out.  Will courts in Britain abide this discrimination?  British public law assumes that “all citizens must be treated alike,” the Bishop of Rochester surmised, based on the nation’s Judeo-Christian tradition.  But this legal equality is now challenged by Islamic law’s “entirely different set of assumptions.”  Now is “not a time to flinch but to uphold the hard-won liberties of this country for all of its citizens, whatever their creed or color,” Nazir-Ali concluded last September.  

The same unflinching steadfastness that guidied Nazir-Ali during his defense of legal equality and Western freedoms in Britain likely will also guide his future work among church leaders “from areas where the church is under pressure, particularly in minority situations.”  The Bishop of Rochester will retire from his diocese in September.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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