Islam is rejuvenating “British values”, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed while lambasting sections of the press for presenting Muslims as “un-British”.
Rowan Williams was giving a speech at the annual Living Islam Festival in Lincolnshire on Friday, discussing what British values were and how Muslims could affect them.
He said one of the greatest gifts to Britain had been bringing back “open, honest and difficult public discussion”, the Timesreported.
Asked if he thought Islam was restoring British values, he said: “Yes. I’m thinking of the way in which, for example, in Birmingham we have seen a local parish and a mosque combining together to provide family services and youth activities, both acting out of a very strong sense that this is what communities ought to do. ”
Dr Williams was one of several speakers at the event organised by the Islamic Society of Britain, which saw thousands of people gather for four days of talks, debates, music, worship and bazaars.
The now Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge praised both Christianity and Islam for working towards community cohesion and promoting a sense of duty.
But in comments reported by the Guardian, he also objected to the notion of British values, saying they should be more universal.
“The setting-up therefore of British values against any kind of values, whether Muslim or Christian, just won’t do,” he said.
His comments have provoked less controversy than some previous statements on Islam.
While still Archbishop of Canterbury in 2008, he sparked a row by saying the use of sharia in some aspects of British law was “unavoidable”.
British Muslim organisations welcomed Dr Williams’ latest remarks but secular groups objected to the suggestion that religious belonging is necessary for social responsibility.
David Cameron has been leading the charge to promote “British values” in the wake of the Birmingham Trojan Horse scandal, withsuggestions that children should be taught about the Magna Carta at schools.
In the Mail on Sunday, the Prime Minister wrote: “We need to be far more muscular in promoting British values and the institutions that uphold them.”
Michael Gove also brought the issue into his curriculum changes as Education Secretary, scrapping American classics from English literature GCSEs and changing the history syllabus.