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Archbishop controversy: does sharia have a role in Britain?

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"It would resist the problem of forced marriage, because Islam requires the consent of both parties," he says. Sharia, he says, provides people with a means to "work out their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party, as long as both sides agree to the process."

Williams was under pressure Monday to clarify his Feb. 7 remarks, in which he argued that certain aspects of sharia law appeared "unavoidable" in Britain. Almost 2 million of Britain's 60 million population are Muslim, and a 40-year policy of multiculturalism has enabled them to preserve and pursue traditions largely unfettered by the secular state.

"Certain provisions of sharia are already recognized in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system," Williams said.

In comments Monday to the General Synod of the Church of England, Williams noted that some of what had been attributed to him differed from what he actually said last week, but apologized for any "unclarity."

"We are not talking about parallel jurisdictions, and I tried to make clear that there could be no blank checks in this regard, in particular as regards some of the sensitive questions about the status and liberties of women," he said.

Much of the British press reported his remarks as a defense of the more extreme manifestations of sharia justice, such as beheadings and amputations. Prime Minister Brown's spokesman said Monday that religious law "should be subservient to British criminal and civil law."

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