Archbishop of Canterbury defends sharia remarks

Other News Materials 9 February 2008 13:20 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The Archbishop of Canterbury, who came under furious criticism for his remarks about sharia law, has defended himself in a statement posted on his website Saturday.

Rowan Williams, who is the head of the worldwide Anglican church, had suggested that, in the interest of social cohesion, Britain's 1.7 million Muslims should be given the choice to have civil matters, such as marriage, divorce, or financial issues, dealt with under the provisions of sharia.

Muslims should no longer be forced to choose between the "stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty," the archbishop said.

The idea was condemned by all three main political parties and received a mixed reception from Muslim organizations.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown believed that British law, based on British values, should apply, a spokesman said in response to the suggestion made by Williams Thursday.

On Friday, David Blunkett, a former home secretary and prominent member of the government of Tony Blair said the idea to formalize sharia in Britain would be "catastrophic" for social cohesion.

However, in the statement on his website Williams said that he "certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law."

Rather than proposing a parallel system of law, Williams was pointing out that "as a matter of fact certain provisions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law," the statement said.

The statement added that the archbishop was "exploring ways in which reasonable accommodation might be made within existing arrangements for religious conscience."

There have been calls for Williams to resign as head of the Anglican church which has more than 70 million members.