After some thirty Muslim representatives met with Ruth Kelly on 14 August, the media spin on the discussion was that “Muslim leaders” had proposed that holidays should be introduced to mark Muslim festivals and that Muslim communities should be allowed to operate Islamic legal codes for marriage and family life.
This was reported in the Daily Mail under the headline “Muslims call for special bank holidays“, while the Daily Mirror headlined their report “We must not give in to Muslim blackmail“. The Daily Star informed its readers that “British Muslims have demanded special bank holidays for religious festivals…. They also called for the UK to have Sharia law, which in the Middle East includes penalties such as stonings and amputations”, and the fascists of the British National Party echoed the Mirror with “Labour ministers threatened with Islamic blackmail“.
Ever eager to grasp the opportunity for a spot of self-promotion, Labour MP Shahid Malik contributed an article to yesterday’s Sunday Times, headlined “If you want sharia law, you should go and live in Saudi“, in which he wrote that he had been “asked by the media whether I agreed that what British Muslims needed were Islamic holidays and sharia (Islamic law). I thought I had walked into some parallel universe. Sadly this was not a joke. These issues had apparently formed part of the discussion the day before between Prescott, Ruth Kelly, the communities minister, and a selection of ‘Muslim leaders’. I realised then that it wasn’t me and the media who were living in a parallel universe – although certain ‘Muslim leaders’ might well be…. When Lord Ahmed, the Muslim Labour peer, heard my comments – I said essentially that if Muslims wanted sharia they should go and live somewhere where they have it – he accused me of doing the BNP’s work.”
Malik’s intervention was applauded by “Marcus”, one of the neocon bloggers at Harry’s Place. Marcus concluded: “Malik is right. Muslims in this country need new leadership able to respond in a less blinkered fashion to the non-Muslim world.” (Malik’s article has also been welcomed by right-wing journalist Stephen Pollard.)
In fact, the controversial proposals were not made by “Muslim leaders” but by a single individual, Syed Aziz Pasha of the Union of Muslim Organisations. So far as I can see, he received the backing of no other Muslim representative. Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain, who participated in the meeting with Ruth Kelly, said: “Someone with Dr Pasha’s experience should know that this kind of call, even if made in all innocence, may give ammunition for the far-right groups and others who say Muslims are a minority group who cannot integrate.” He added: “There is no room for a dual legal system in the UK.”