Issues of equality are very complicated, said Ziauddin Sardar at the Chaplaincy Lecture on Monday evening.
Talking of the current controversy about the Equalities Bill and the Pope’s remarks on it, he drew attention to the tension between contradictory points of view that each have their own validity. Freedom of speech and conscience are in a sense absolute: therefore religious bodies should not be forced to employ people whose beliefs and way of life are contrary to what they stand for. But equal rights are also in a sense an absolute: therefore no-one should be subject to discrimination on the ground of their gender or sexual orientation. But when these “absolutes” clash, the issue becomes complicated.
Ziauddin Sardar is a leading Muslim scholar and author. He was delivering the Chaplaincy Lecture on ‘Re-thinking the Contemporary Relevance of Islam’. As a former member of the Equalities Commission, he gave examples of the kind of dilemmas often faced, and stressed that every case must be considered individually in its context, and we need to learn to live with contradictions. He went on to say that faith and belief systems are full of contradictions, including science, which he described as a kind of belief system with its own contradictions.
On Islam, he pointed out the difference between the Qur’an as the supreme authority and the Sharia as the product of tradition in different historical contexts. He likened tradition to a lake – a rich source of refreshment and nourishment for plants, animals and people, but needing to have a constant influx of fresh water or it will become stagnant and a source of disease rather than life.
In answer to a question from the floor Dr Sardar said he felt very positive about future co-operation between faith communities and optimistic about the essential contribution they make to society.
The lecture, which was held at the Glamorgan Conference Centre, was attended by people of different faiths from the University and the local community. Details of further Chaplaincy lectures will be posted on the Chaplaincy web site