Free Press Journal

Letter to Muslim leaders stirs controversy in UK


London: Some Muslim groups in the UK today accused the government of singling out the community and making a far-right argument after a senior minister sent a letter to their leaders, asking them to explain how Islam “can be part of British identity”.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and Ramadhan Foundation had opposed the letter because they claim it appeared to suggest – “like the far right”- that Muslims and Islam were inherently apart from British society.

But Prime Minister David Cameron defended the letter written by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, saying it was “reasonable, sensible and moderate”.

The letter was sent to 1,000 Muslim leaders and imams after the attacks in Paris earlier this month. Cameron said his minister was “absolutely right” to write the letter urging leaders to do more to tackle extremism.

“Anyone who reads this letter – and I’ve read the letter – will see that what he is saying is that British Muslims make a great contribution to our country, that what is happening in terms of extremist terror has nothing to do with the true religion of Islam,” he said.

“Anyone reading this letter, who has a problem with it, I think really has a problem,” he added. In the letter Pickles stressed he was “proud” of the way Muslims in Britain had responded to the Paris terror attacks but added that there was “more work to do”.

He wrote: “You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility, in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.”

But MCB deputy secretary-general Harun Khan said: “We will be writing to Mr Eric Pickles to ask that he clarifies his request to Muslims.”

“We do not need a patronising letter from ministers to tell us to campaign against terrorism, promote values and do more against extremism when all the evidence points to Muslims organisations doing just that,” said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation.

He told the BBC that his organisation did not have an issue with the letter’s content but rather its tone and the thinking behind it.

“Why is the Muslim community being singled out in such an approach?” he said. “It puts imams in a difficult position now because it looks to the public that the government is telling them what to do.”