THE Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Toby Howarth, has accused Michael Gove of discourtesy over the sacking of the Leeds imam Qari Asim as an independent adviser to the Government on Islamophobia.
Bishop Howarth, an Area Bishop in Leeds diocese, said that he was “troubled” that the imam learned of his dismissal only from media reports of an unsigned and undated letter posted last Saturday on the website of Mr Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
It suggested that his support for the campaign against the showing of a film, Lady of Heaven, about Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, “limited free expression” and was incompatible with his duties as an adviser and deputy chairman of the Goverment’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group.
Last week, the cinema chain Cineworld cancelled all screenings of the film after protests outside several cinemas.
Hannibal MediaA still portraying Fatima from Lady of Heaven
In a letter sent to Mr Gove, the Secretary of State, on Tuesday, Bishop Howarth wrote: “He was not contacted beforehand about your department’s concerns or asked for clarification of his views before the decision to remove him was taken.
“Imam Qari has given exceptional service to the work of community relations over many years, all in a voluntary capacity, and yet there is no word of thanks or acknowledgement of this work in the letter.
“At a deeper level, your department’s letter undermines dialogue and communication between government and religious communities. Imam Qari has a proven track record of bringing people together within his Muslim community and beyond to talk about contentious issues.
“He has courageously spoken out against the persecution of Christians and others in Pakistan and elsewhere. He has contributed positively to the work of the national Christian Muslim Forum, of which he is a trustee, and he has been recognised nationally for his work by being awarded an MBE and being chosen to represent the Muslim community at high-profile national events.
“Publicly undermining and excluding such a constructive figure as Imam Qari risks leaving the field open to less constructive voices.”
The Bishop goes on to highlight the Imam’s frustrations with the Government’s attitude to his work on tackling Islamophobia, including a failure to appoint a second adviser, and to agree terms of reference and allocate resources, as well as a lack of response by both the Prime Minister and Mr Gove to his communications. That, he said, “raises the possibility that an unacknowledged part of the reason Imam Qari was removed from his role was because he had been publicly critical of your government in relation to the work he had been unable to do”.
In a letter to Mr Gove on 12 June, Imam Qari said that the Government’s contention that he had acted to undermine democratic values was “inaccurate”. He was concerned that the film “risked fuelling extremism and tension in communities that would undermine cohesion in British society”.