“Certain provisions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it’s not as if we’re bringing in an alien and rival system,” Williams said in a speech aired by the BBC on Thursday.
Williams said Britain already allows Orthodox Jews to resolve disputes under traditional Jewish law.
Sayeed Warsi, the shadow minister for community cohesion and social action, said all British citizens had to be subject to the same laws developed by parliament.
Williams said he was not advocating that Britain allow aspects of Sharia associated with harsh punishments meted out by Islamic courts in Saudi Arabia and some other countries.
“Nobody in their right mind” would want to see that, he said, calling for “a clear eye” when discussing Islamic law.
Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, said the use of Sharia would be beneficial in promoting cohesion.
“It would make Muslims more proud of being British … It would give Muslims the sense that the British respect our faith,” he said.
Shafiq said it was important that non-Muslims in Britain understand that Williams was only suggesting that Sharia be used for civil cases, and not in criminal cases.
Mohammad Hashim Kamali, professor of law at the International Islamic Univeristy of Malysia, told Al Jazeera that Williams was expressing a postive opinion.
“It is a recognition of the demand we have been experiencing in recent decades… The fact that there is a response by a credible religious figure is welcome news,” he said.
“Certain provisions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it’s not as if we’re bringing in an alien and rival system”
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church
“Muslims do not claim to have jurisdiction in areas of the public law … it is only in respect of Islamic personal law that govern marriage, divorce and family matters,” he said, adding that Sharia has provision for instances where a Muslim is married to someone of a different faith.
Rodney Barker, a political science professor at the London School of Economics, said Williams was encouraging debate.
“He recognises we live in a society where there is not one dominant religion. He doesn’t say, ‘I have the truth and the rest of you are wicked and deluded.'”
But Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle East studies at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, said there could be problems in establishing how far Sharia could be applied in Britain.
“Where do you stop? Where do you set the limit? Britain is a nation of laws, once you say to a community that they can apply their own laws, you are establishing a dangerous precedent,” he said.
He said Sharia’s image in the West has been damaged by the way it has been used by religious hardliners as justification for the removal of secular governments.
“But I don’t think you’ll find a single Muslim, except for secular ones, who does not believe that the Sharia is sacred and that it encompasses all aspects of life,” he said.