Several Muslim scholars and an umbrella organisation of the community have expressed reservations over the removal of a cleric as the UK government’s official adviser.
The government had earlier this month dismissed Imam Qari Asim from his role as its Islamophobia Advisor, accusing him of fomenting protests against ‘The Lady of Heaven’, a film about the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.
In separate letters to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the World Muslim Forum and 120 individuals under the banner of British Muslim Scholars took serious exception to the government’s claims about the Imam.
“The process adopted by DLUHC to remove Imam Qari Asim is contrary to British values of civility and mutual respect, and undermines dialogue and communication between the government and Muslim communities,” British Muslim Scholars said.
“Imam Qari Asim has been an ardent campaigner for fostering interfaith and intrafaith relations. He has a strong track record of standing up against hatred and extremism, and has contributed enormously to the work of community relations over many years.”
According to the group, the removal of Asim from his role represented “a step backwards in our collective efforts to enhance community cohesion”.
The government’s action reinforced the perception that it “does not intend to adopt a definition of Islamophobia to capture the increasing anti-Muslim hatred in our country,” the group said.
The Forum, which represents a multitude of organisations, said Asim was not allowed to explain his position before the government took action against him.
“It was contrary to decency and respect that Qari Asim, who has served the nation tirelessly for many years with utmost dedication and sincerity, had to read the notice of his removal on the government website and in the national press,” it said.
“This unceremonious removal of Qari Asim undermines dialogue and communication between the Government and British Muslims.”
“We absolutely disagree with the contention made in the recent letter from DLUHC that Qari Asim’s statement regarding the “Lady of Heaven” film may have encouraged communal tensions. Qari Asim simply expressed his concerns that the film risked fuelling extremism and tension in communities that would undermine cohesion in British society. He did so to protect our society from the extremists who take every opportunity to further the interfaith and intrafaith divide that unfortunately exists in our communities. Sadly, the concerns manifested themselves when the appalling anti-Shia hatred was expressed, and despicable sectarian slogans were raised in some of the protests.”
The Forum went on: “The potential for this unacceptable behaviour was amongst the reasons Qari Asim expressed his concerns about the divisive film. He was saddened by the turn of events and unequivocally condemned the anti-Shia hatred in his mosque and, whilst fulfilling his social responsibility, reached out to the local Shia community to express support, sympathy, and solidarity with them.”
Both the Forum and the British Muslim Scholars have urged the government to tackle anti-Muslim prejudice and engage with communities.