Fear of Muslims has stirred up division between neighbours in Britain in a way not seen in living memory, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned. The Most Rev Justin Welby said tensions had “seeped into our society” threatening to fracture multiculturalism by widening “cracks” between different communities into seemingly insurmountable barriers.

Britain, he said, is now “living in a time of time of tension and fear” in which extremists try to marginalise the mainstream while secularists wish to turn religion itself into an activity like sex, which should be “between consenting adults in private”.

He told a gathering organised by Muslim leaders in Cardiff that mainstream elements in all major religions must make their message more “exciting and beautiful” to drown out extremists. It is not enough, he said, simply to condemn hate preachers who seek to radicalise vulnerable young people without putting forward a powerful alternative message.

And while emphasising parallels between Christianity and Islam – including remarking that they share strikingly similar beliefs about the justification for war – he said it was important not to “gloss over” fundamental differences.

He insisted that many faiths, not just Islam, have a problem with radicalisation.

And, significantly, he said Christians should not deny “accountability” for the role of their faith in “many atrocities” over the centuries including recent decades.

His remarks came in an address to an interfaith dinner at Cardiff City Hall hosted by the Muslim Council of Wales. Among the guests were the heads of the Anglican churches of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the first time all four primates of the British Isles had met in one place.

The Archbishop echoed Mr Kidwai’s remarks telling the audience: “We are living in a time of tension and fear. That fear has seeped into our society in a way that is new to me in my lifetime and begins to work at the cracks between us in our diversity, deepening them into barriers between us. The counter-narrative must be so exciting and so beautiful that it defeats the radicalisers with their message of hate, despair and destruction.”

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