Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is facing calls to resign after suggesting that the introduction in Britain of some aspects of Islamic law was unavoidable.
In a BBC interview, Dr Williams talked about the use of Sharia to resolve some personal or domestic issues among Britain’s Muslims, much like the way Orthodox Jews have their own courts for some matters.
Asked if Sharia needed to be applied in some cases for community cohesion the spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans said: “It seems unavoidable.”
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Dr Williams’ comments has sparked outrage in some of Britain’s popular newspapers, led by the mass circulation Sun, which has launched a campaign to remove him from office, accusing him of giving heart to “Muslim terrorists”.
The issue of integrating Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims has been widely debated since July 2005, when four British Islamists carried out suicide bombings on London’s transport system, killing 52 people.
Dr Williams’ predecessor as archbishop, George Carey, has joined the criticism, saying that Dr Williams’ “acceptance of some Muslim laws within British law would be disastrous for the nation”.
However, he says Dr Williams, who is already battling divisions within his church over gay priests, should not resign.
Some bishops criticised Dr Williams and several members of the Church of England’s governing body, the general synod, calling for his resignation.
General synod member Alison Ruoff says Dr Williams is not the right person to be Archbishop of Canterbury.
“At best it [the comment] was politically inept and at worst it was sheer foolishness,” she said.
Other church leaders leaped to Dr Williams’ defence.
George Cassidy, bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, says he is saddened by what he calls the “hysterical knee jerk reaction” to Dr Williams’ comments.
A statement on Williams’ website denied he had called for the introduction of Sharia as a “parallel jurisdiction to the civil law.”
Dr Williams himself has made no comment on the controversy.
As he left a church service in Cambridge, a heckler shouted “Resign!” while a few people booed and a few applauded.
Sharia is the body of Islamic religious law based primarily on the Koran, as well as the words and actions of the Prophet Mohammad. It is a legal framework that regulates both public and private life.
Sharia covers a broad range of issues including worship, commercial dealings, marriage, inheritance and penal laws.