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Archbishop 'must quit' in Sharia row

  • Story Highlights
  • UK Christian leader tries to damp down row over Sharia law comments
  • He said some aspects of Muslim Sharia law could become part of British law
  • Rowan Williams faces calls to resign from senior members of his own church
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The head of the Anglican Church has tried to damp down controversy surrounding comments he made suggesting that some aspects of Muslim Sharia law could become part of British law.

Rowan Williams, the UK's highest-ranking Christian leader, is noted for addressing controversial issues.

Rowan Williams faced calls to resign Saturday from senior members of his own church following an interview he gave to the British Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday in which he suggested the introduction of some parts of Sharia was "unavoidable."

The words of the Archbishop of Canterbury provoked widespread criticism from politicians, including the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who immediately ruled out the idea.

Col. Edward Armitstead, a member of the Church of England's ruling body, the General Synod, told the Daily Telegraph Saturday that Williams should step down because of the comments in the interview, which was followed by a lecture the same evening on the subject at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Video Watch as row grows over comments on Sharia law »

"I don't think he is the man for the job," Armitstead told the paper.

A statement posted on the Archbishop of Canterbury's Web site late Friday denied that the Rowan had made any proposals for Sharia in either the lecture or the interview and that he "certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law."

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Sharia law is a legal and social code designed to help Muslims in their daily lives. It has proved controversial, however, because of its use in some Muslim states to justify suppression of women's rights and extremely brutal forms of punishment, including beheadings.

In his BBC interview, Williams strongly criticized the implementation of Sharia to suppress human rights. However, he said that Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty."

He also said that at present "certain provisions of Sharia are already recognized in our society and under our law."

Under British law, people are permitted to find their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process. This provision is used by Muslim Sharia courts and Orthodox Jewish courts in Britain.


In welcoming Williams' comments, Muslim groups criticized the "hysterical" backlash against the archbishop.

In a statement on its Web site, the Muslim Council of Britain said it was "grateful for the thoughtful intervention" and that it observed "with some sadness, the hysterical misrepresentations of his speech which serves only to drive a wedge between British people." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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