London, Feb.11 : The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, is expected today to improvise a speech to the Church of England's 550-strong national assembly so that he can directly address the furore sparked off by his comments on sharia law.
Rowan Williams has torn up his original speech, choosing instead to respond to the criticism he has faced since raising the questions of the possible adoption of some aspects of Islamic law in Britain, the Guardian reports.
According to the paper, he was originally expected to speak about the political turmoil in Zimbabwe and the ordeal of Christians living under Robert Mugabe's regime. But officials advised last night that the intense media interest prompted by his speech last week should now be challenged head-on.
Last night Williams was still working on the revised speech. Lambeth officials suggested he was prepared to improvise the 30-minute address to mark the opening of general synod, a biannual gathering of bishops, clergy and laity, "with notes" to clarify his position.
The decision to alter his speech comes even as members of the Archbishop of Canterbury's own flock are now saying that he should resign over his controversial comments, the focus of whic was the inclusion of some aspects of Islamic law in the British legal system.
According to a straw poll undertaken at Canterbury Cathedral has revealed that 74 per cent of worshippers there want Dr. Rowan Williams to move out of his Lambeth Palace headquarters.
They believe he was wrong to say that aspects of Sharia law - the legal and social code that guides Muslims in their daily lives - should be recognised in the UK.
Ninety-seven percent of the people responding to The Sun's "You The Jury" poll said he needs to be sacked.
A massive 29,809 people said he should go, while just 1,080 said he should stay.
Two members of the Church of England's General Synod have also urged him to quit his 67,790-pound-a-year post.
Many people said they were furious about Dr. Williams' remarks.
A tabloid quoted 50-year-old Dolores Joshi as saying that England was a Christian country, and there was no need for incorporating aspects of Islamic law in the British legal system. She said Christian law would never be entertained in a Muslim country.
"The consequences of using parts of their law could be disastrous. I'm very disappointed in the Archbishop," she said.
Sixty-three-year-old Gerald Sterne said the Archbishop "must step down immediately. He's no longer representing us Christians as we want."
Valerie Brand, 57, said: "The Archbishop has a lot of explaining to do."
Senior churchmen and Members of Parliament also criticised Dr. Williams.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor - head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales - said: "There are aspects of Sharia that are practised that we certainly wouldn't want in this country."
The Government Chief Whip, Geoff Hoon, said: "I'm not sure it was wise to comment on these rather complicated legal matters.
Former Tory Home Secretary Ken Clarke described Dr Williams as a "completely unworldly man". He said: "It's a subject he should not have gone into. We have only one law here."
Dr Williams is to address the General Synod today, and has said that he is determined to carry on. He is expected to refer to the row during his presidential address.
On Saturday night, Dr. Rowan Williams defended his remarks, saying that his suggestions were "well researched".
Rejecting the charge that he was recommending the introduction of a parallel legal system, Dr. Williams said the barrage of criticism he was facing was unwarranted.
According to Lambeth Palace (the Archbishop's seat of authority), Dr. Williams has only "sought carefully to explore the limits of a unitary and secular legal system in the presence of an increasingly plural (including religiously plural) society and to see how such a unitary system might be able to accommodate religious claims".
Several British dailies say the row is still being seen as the most serious threat to the Archbishop's authority, especially angering conservative elements within the Anglican community, who are already unhappy with his leadership.
Dr. Williams made his suggestions at the Royal Courts of Justice and in an interview to the BBC.