Thomas Bridge 19 January 2015

Pickles compared to 'far right' after letter to Islamic leaders

Muslim leaders have criticised communities secretary Eric Pickles after he called on religious leaders to show the faith 'can be part of British identity'.

In a letter sent to over 1,100 imams and Islamic leaders, Pickles and Muslim peer Lord Ahmad called for widespread condemnation of extremism alongside action to show 'men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship'.

The letter said the 'challenges of integration and radicalisation' could not be 'solved from Whitehall alone' and urged religious leaders to take responsibility for 'explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity'.

However the Muslim Council of Britain said it would now be writing to the communities secretary to 'clarify' his requests.

Responding to the letter, Harun Khan, deputy secretary-general of the council, said: 'Is Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?'

Yet Lord Ahmad this morning said the council's response was 'disappointing', telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme the letter held 'an explicit paragraph which says British values are Muslim values. All Muslims should be non-violent, Islam is a religion of peace'.

In the letter, Pickles and Lord Ahmad wrote: 'We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement: that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy.

'We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Muslims; show them these men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere in the world.

'We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country. We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam; but we need to show what is.'

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