Religion news 26 February 2024

Masjid Umar, Evington Drive, Leicester. Image credit: Ned Trifle CCLicense2.0

Baroness Warsi calls on government to condemn anti Muslim rhetoric

The Conservative party is embroiled in a row over Islamophobia after a series of comments by MPs on an Islamist takeover of Britain.  Lee Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, has been suspended as a Conservative MP after refusing to apologise for saying Islamists had “got control” of Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London. This followed Suella Braverman writing in The Telegraph, that the UK was “sleepwalking into a ghettoised society where Sharia law, the Islamist mob and antisemites take over communities”. And Liz Truss interviewed by Steve Bannon on “Real America’s Voice”, who said a “radical Islamic party” could win in the Rochdale by-election and failed to challenge his praise of Tommy Robinson. Sadiq Khan said Anderson’s comments were “Islamophobic, anti-Muslim and racist” pouring “fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred.” The deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden, interviewed by Laura Kuenssberg on BBC One, said the comments were wrong but declined to say they were Islamophobic and said Lee Anderson would have kept his role had he apologised. Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester, said this showed the Conservatives were ambivalent when it came to Islamophobia, and  if similar comments had been made about Jews, it would straight away have been called out as antisemitism. Now the Conservative peer Baroness Warsi is calling on Rishi Sunak to explicitly condemn anti-Muslim rhetoric. She told Sky TV the new generation of Conservatives is “dragging the party into the gutter”. Racism is being used as an electoral campaign tool, almost as though Muslims are fair game and don’t matter”.

Anti-Muslim re-tweets of Church of England donor, Sir Paul Marshall

The Church Times reports on an investigation by The Newsagents podcast and the charity Hope Not Hate into Sir Paul Marshall, a board member of Holy Trinity Brompton’s Church Revitalisation Trust, who was found to have re-tweeted anti-Muslim tweets. The tweets included references to Muslim immigration as an infiltration that would lead to an Islamic theocracy, civil war when the Muslim population gets to 15-20 per cent, and describing “the other side of God” as committed to Satan, evil and homosexuality. Hope Not Hate’s report showed photos of the offending re-tweets which were deleted hours after The Newsagents asked him for comment. The Church Times story says Sir Paul has worshipped at Holy Trinity Brompton since 1997, was a board member at St Paul’s Theological Centre which is a founding partner of St Mellitus training college, and is a donor to the Centre for Cultural Witness, based at Lambeth Palace, which runs the Seen and Unseen website. He owns Unherd, half of GB News and is preparing a bid for The Telegraph and The Spectator. A statement on his behalf says Sir Paul “posts on a wide variety of subjects and those cited represent a small and unrepresentative sample of over 5000 posts. This sample does not represent his views”.

MCB Secretary General “deeply shocked” at government’s refusal to fund Inter Faith Network

The Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Zara Mohammed, said the organisation was  “deeply shocked and quite taken aback” at the decision of Michael Gove to withdraw funding from the Inter Faith Network, which caused it to close down last week. The reason was that the IFN had appointed as a trustee, Hassan Joudi, a member of the MCB, which governments have refused to speak to since 2009. In fact, Zara Mohammed told the Sunday programme on Radio 4 that Gordon Brown re-engaged with the MCB in 2010 and thereafter, it had engaged with different government departments, so “it has not been clear cut”, adding: “We’re here, we’re British, we’re the widest and largest, most diverse Muslim umbrella body. Doesn’t it make sense to be engaging with us? And if you’re not engaging with us, who are you meaningfully engaging with from Muslim communities?”

Archbishop of Canterbury warns enmity is “the devil’s work”

The Church of England general synod will discuss same sex blessings again today. Since prayers of blessing have been allowed as part of regular services, there has been a loud protest from evangelicals against the move, with demands for alternative bishops and the creation of a separate fund for money that should go to the diocese. The Archbishop of Canterbury used his opening speech to say difficult issues should not be put aside. Malign forces were behind feelings of enmity “and that is the devil’s work”. His speech is here

Safeguarding cases in CofE “most definitely not just historical”

Proposals to set up two independent charities to operate and oversee safeguarding in the Church of England will be subject to a period of consultation among people engaged in the current safeguarding process. The general synod rejected moves to urgently move forward with a detailed timetable, and failed to consider moves to include survivors and external professionals in the new committee. The debate followed a taped message from Prof Alexis Jay, whose report set out the new system. She told the synod that it was wrong to say the church’s safeguarding problems are largely historical. “This is most definitely not the case. We engaged quite deliberately with people who had experienced safeguarding in the past five years”.

CofE guidance on asylum seekers under review

Church of England guidance to clergy on supporting asylum seekers is under review after a public argument over accusations that churches were naively supporting fake conversions, allowing people to stay in the UK for fear of religious persecution. A member of the Archbishop’s Council, Mark Sheard, said much has changed in asylum legislation and policy in recent years, and so an update is under consideration. 

Ukrainian Catholic cathedral in London helping refugees traumatised from war

An interfaith prayer service for peace, a march through London and a Trafalgar Square vigil for the war dead were held this weekend to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The aggression has left thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Britain suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Catholic Bishop, Kenneth Nowakowski. His cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile in London is a focal point for worship and pastoral support, with a welcome centre offering English language classes and advice on employment and benefits. Catherine Pepinster’s report on the cathedral’s work is here


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