Gay policy sparks Muslim council dispute

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A dispute appears to be emerging within the board of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and its advisors in regards to their policy on gay issues.

Last week revealed an informal 5 year MCB plan to combat homophobia amongst Muslims and Islamophobia in the gay community, after talking to the group’s policy consultant, Muhammed Aziz.

The story, seen as a landmark move in the organisation, was picked up by several news media including the Islam Channel, but when they spoke to the MCB media secretary, Inayat Bunglawala, he denied all knowledge of any work.

He insisted that Mr Aziz does not represent the MCB and told the Islam Channel, “There is no truth in these quotes, our position is very clear, our Secretary General (Sir Iqbal Sacranie) was nearly prosecuted for this because we maintain that homosexual relationships are sinful in Islam.”

“We do not believe that it is in any way equal with marriage between man and wife, we do not accept the idea of gay adoption, we believe it is completely wrong.”

Mr Bunglawala claimed that he spoke to Mr Aziz who refuted the comments. spoke to Mr Aziz for a second time, he confirmed that he his not an official policy advisor to the MCB, but he just gives them advice and sits on equality forums for them.

Mr Aziz reiterated that there are plans with gay groups, but nothing as formal as a five year plan.

He told he would seek to clarify his exact role with the MCB.

Mr Bunglawala’s insistence that Mr Aziz does not represent the organisation is contradicted by his participation on the Equality and Diversity Forum (EDF) and the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, where he is listed as an “advisor” to the MCB.

In the minutes of the 18th January 2006 meeting of the EDF he speaks on their behalf and suggests talks with the gay charity, Stonewall.

The notes, in the any other business section, said: “Mohammed Aziz addressed the subject of remarks made by Sir Iqbal Sacranie in an interview on Radio 4. Part of what was said related to a real issue about the theological position of sexuality in Islam and this needs to be engaged with and a solution sought. Two comments were made that were particularly regrettable, about damage to society and about a possible danger to public health.

“While he cannot apologise for Sir Iqbal Sacranie’s comments, Mohammed would like to apologise on a personal level for the pain and hurt that they caused – he knows the pain and hurt that he would feel if such comments were made about Muslims.”

He then is reported to be speaking as an “advisor to the MCB.” The document said, “This affair has been a wake-up call. Up until now, the strategy of Mohammed and others who were asked to be MCB advisors around 2002-2003 was to steer the MCB away from the topic of homosexuality.

“To some extent this strategy succeeded, for example in relation to Section 28 and civil partnership. But this controversy has shown that that approach isn’t enough. So at a personal level and with the support of colleagues Mohammed plans to take this problem forward in three ways: 1) on 31st January at the APPG on conflict of rights to put some thoughts forward on how to deal with issues about theology and conflict with other rights; 2) to engage some Islamic scholars with a human rights background to address this problem; and 3) to develop a project of engagement between the communities involved, which he has already discussed with Stonewall.”

Alan Wardle, Stonewall’s director of Parliamentary and Public Affairs, was also at the meeting, he confirmed there has been some contact with the MCB but said any specific projects are in the early stages, he said “It is something we may look into for the future.”

A DTI spokesman also told that talks had taken place.

The document concluded, “The EDF Chair will write to the MCB setting out EDF’s position on homophobia and Islamophobia, welcoming the discourse that is going to take place and offering to contribute to taking this dialogue forward.”

But in his interview with the Islam Channel, Mr Bunglawala expressed shock that the station was covering this story and insisted, “There are no talks with any gay groups anywhere.”

He added: “Islam has a clear moral position which is that it does not regard homosexual relationships as acceptable.”

The MCB’s legal affairs chair, Khalid Sofi, last week told that Mr Aziz does work with them on issues relating to equality, discrimination and sexual orientation.

Mr Bunglawa told, “I will always be too busy,” when asked to comment.

If Mr Aziz is not a representative of MCB then this raises the question of who speaks for them on equality committees such as the EDF and CHR, as no one else is listed from the organisation on their websites or in their minutes.