Monday 23 July 2007
Dear Ms Wheatcroft,
I am writing regarding the story 'Preach in English, Muslim peer tells imams' by your reporter, Tom Harper, published in the 22nd July 2007 edition of the Sunday Telegraph.
The story is full of inaccuracies and an example of very sloppy journalism. It also gives a very misleading impression of the Muslim Council of Britain and its views on English speaking Imams. Fortunately, we have the emails and relevant transcripts at hand to show clearly the position of the MCB on this matter.
Let me briefly encapsulate for you the chain of events:
1. On Friday morning (July 20th) I was apprised that your reporter, Tom Harper, was working on a story to do with the MCB. I rang Tom who then explained to me that he had gotten hold of the transcript of the evidence that the MCB Secretary-General, Dr Bari gave on 3rd July 2007 to the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Tackling Terrorism. He informed me of the quotes from the transcript he intended to use from Lord Ahmed and Khalid Mahmood MP. I told him I would email him a formal response from the MCB.
2. On Friday afternoon, I emailed Tom the following response which stated our position on English-speaking Imams:
'[Regarding] Lord Ahmed's call for more English-speaking Imams, we wholeheartedly support this. It is crucial that Imams are able to properly relate and communicate with our youths so that they can help prevent them from falling under the spell of those inciting terrorist acts.'
3. As you can see, the MCB response above makes it absolutely crystal clear that we wholeheartedly supported Lord Ahmed’s call for more English-speaking Imams and explain the reasons why. For some reason, the Sunday Telegraph did not use this material.
4. Later on Friday afternoon, I received a call from Tom Harper, saying that he would like an additional response to what he said was Lord Ahmed's call for the government to prevent Imams from coming to the UK unless they had an excellent level of proficiency with the English language. I said that the MCB would in principle be happy with this provided that it was applied across the board ie to religious figures from all faith groups, not just Muslims. Again, this response was not included in Tom's story.
5. Tom then said that Lord Ahmed was also calling on the government to prevent existing UK Imams from giving sermons unless they were in the English language. It was in response to this particular suggestion that I said that this was 'ludicrous and completely unworkable'. This is for a number of reasons including the fact that there simply aren't enough imams at the moment who are capable of delivering sermons in English but also that Arabic is a key language in Islam and some sermons have to be delivered in the Arabic language.
6. As you can see from Tom's story he has implied that I called Lord Ahmed's suggestion of foreign born Imams needing to speak English as 'ludicrous' when in fact I had expressed the MCB's support for such a proposal.
7. I do hope Tom either kept notes of our conversation or recorded it on tape as I am certain it will verify my account above. Please look into this matter urgently.
8. In the second half of Tom's story he makes some serious - and entirely bogus - allegations regarding Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari. He says that in his evidence to the APPG on Tackling Terrorism, 'Mr Bari said he did not recognise the problem of non-English speaking imams' and '[Dr Bari] defended all-male mosques'.
9. I am attaching a copy of the entire transcript of the evidence that Dr Bari gave to the APPG on Tackling Terrorism.
10. As you can see from the transcript that far from not 'recognising the problem of non-English speaking imams' as Tom alleges, Dr Bari actually said that: '...here is the mood in the community that young people need to be engaged, and that engagement can only happen if the imams and the scholars communicate with them, and communication is in English.'
11. As for the allegation that Dr Bari 'defended all-male mosques', you will see in the transcript that Dr Bari actually said: '...we had four Ulama conferences or imam conferences across the country, London, Birmingham, Preston and Bradford, in the last three months, and in some of them, 200 or 300 very senior ulama came, and we raised this issue, and we gave clear message that it is against the law even for not allowing women into certain mosques. These mosques, probably they are not that many in number, but there are, so we clarified by law and by Islamic principles that this should not happen, because women and young people are the backbones of the society…'
We are appalled by the behaviour of the Sunday Telegraph over this story. Please could you investigate this matter urgently. We shall, of course, be referring this matter to the Press Complaints Commission, as we believe your story breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the PCC Code of Practice.
Mr Inayat Bunglawala,
The Muslim Council of Britain