SENIOR religious leaders in Britain attacked multiculturalism and sharia law yesterday, warning that they were "disastrous'', socially divisive and are destroying culture and values.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Lord Carey rebutted the call of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for Islamic law to be recognised in Britain.
In an interview, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said that government promotion of multiculturalism has destroyed the unity that used to hold British society together. Immigrants must "obey the laws of this country'', he said.
And Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, also stepped into the row, accusing his successor of "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut'' in advocating an accommodation of Muslim law.
He condemned multiculturalism as "disastrous'', blamed it for creating Islamic ghettos and warned that Dr Williams's support for sharia law will "inevitably lead to further demands from the Muslim community''.
Lord Carey even suggests that such a move could embolden some Muslims to try to turn Britain into a country ruled by Islamic law, which he says contradicts principles of human rights and allows the persecution of Christians.
Their comments will come as a blow to the embattled archbishop, who is experiencing the darkest days of his six years as leader of the Church of England, following his claim that the adoption of certain aspects of sharia law is "unavoidable''.
It also marks a deepening of the rift between Dr Williams and leading church figures over his support for Islamic law. The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, said that it would be "simply impossible'' to have two different legal systems running side by side.
Dr Williams tried to defend his comments yesterday, but is fighting to survive calls from politicians and members of his Church demanding his resignation. A poll of the General Synod found that some members believe he has damaged the Church's reputation and want him to stand down, although the majority rallied to support him.
A number of bishops have spoken out against the attacks on the archbishop, but a far greater number, including the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, have chosen to distance themselves.
Dr Williams argued that Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty''. However, Lord Carey says that the potential damage of Dr Williams' idea of incorporating sharia courts into civil law "does not bear thinking about''. He says that it would be dangerous to allow room for a separate legal system as it would encourage some Muslims to try to turn Britain into an Islamic state.
The former archbishop says that accommodating sharia law would lead to further demands. "This is absolutely inevitable, since questions to do with the separation of 'church and state' are largely new to Islam. Sharia law trumps civil law every time.''