The adoption of some aspects of Islamic sharia law in the UK "seems unavoidable", the Archbishop of Canterbury said today.
Dr Rowan Williams said there was a place for finding a "constructive accommodation" in areas such as marriage - allowing Muslim women to avoid western divorce proceedings.
Other religions enjoyed such tolerance of their own laws, he pointed out, but stressed that it could never be allowed to take precedence over an individual's rights as a citizen.
He said it would also require a change in perception of what sharia involved beyond the "inhumanity" of extreme punishments and attitudes to women seen in some Islamic states.
Dr Williams told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system.
"We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances."
He added: "There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law.
"It would be quite wrong to say that we could ever license a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general. "But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them. "In some cultural and religious settings they would seem more appropriate."
He said people needed to look at Islamic law "with a clear eye and not imagine, either, that we know exactly what we mean by sharia and just associate it with ... Saudi Arabia, or whatever.
Nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that has sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states: the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women."
There were questions about how it interacted with human rights, he said. "But I do not think we should instantly spring to the conclusion that the whole of that world of jurisprudence and practice is somehow monstrously incompatible with human rights just because it doesn't immediately fit with how we understand it."