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LONDON - The archbishop of Canterbury was expected to speak yesterday to the Church of England's governing body about his controversial suggestion that Britain's legal system should accommodate aspects of traditional Islamic law.
Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of more than 75million Anglicans worldwide, triggered a sharp reaction in an interview with BBC radio, saying that the implementation of Shariah law in Britain was an inevitable part of achieving social cohesion.
Williams suggested that Shariah might have a role in aspects of marital law, regulating financial transactions and resolving conflicts.
The comments on radio and in a lengthy lecture to a legal society later on Thursday delighted some Muslims, but outraged many other people in Britain, including a few members of the General Synod, the church's governing body, who have called for Williams' resignation.
The archbishop was to speak at a regularly scheduled meeting of the synod in London, and his spokesman, Maria Papworth, said he would discuss the debate over Sharia law.
While Williams has been supported by other senior bishops, much of the media reaction has been poisonous, with headlines accusing him of everything from cowardice to tacit support for Islamic terror.
Some editorialists have called for him to resign, but Papworth said he would not do that.
Williams has kept a low profile since the BBC interview, given before a lecture on civil and religious law.
But in a statement posted on his website, he rejected suggestions he had endorsed the implementation of Shariah law as a kind of parallel Muslim legal system, saying his aim was to raise the broader issue of how to work religious rights within a secular society. He said he "certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law."
"He has in my opinion overstated the case for accommodating Islamic legal codes," Williams' predecessor, Lord George Carey, wrote in the News of the World. "His conclusion that Britain will eventually have to concede some place in law for aspects of Sharia is a view I cannot share."
But Carey also defended Williams, saying: "This is not a matter upon which Dr Williams should resign. He is a great leader in the Anglican tradition and he has a very important role to play in the church."
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, was quoted in the Sunday Telegraph: "When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land." - Sapa-AP