Muslim anger at bishop's 'ghettoes' attack

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The Independent Online

Muslim leaders reacted angrily yesterday to a claim by the Bishop of Rochester that Islamic extremists have created "no-go" areas in many cities and a plea for mosques to desist from using amplifiers to broadcast calls to prayer.

The Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Church of England's only Asian-born bishop, sparked anger after writing in an article that in many predominantly Muslims areas of Britain's cities people of a different faith face "hostility" from the Muslim community who create "no-go" areas. Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, accused Dr Nazir-Ali of scaremongering.

"Bishop Nazir-Ali's remarks are quite frankly more like the kind of commentary we would have expected from the far-right BNP, not a responsible figure in the Church of England," he said. "Where are these so-called "no-go" areas that he speaks of? He doesn't say."

Dr Nazir-Ali said attempts had been made to "impose an "Islamic" character on certain areas" in cities and was particularly critical of mosques which have sought permission from local authorities to broadcast the daily call to prayer over a loudspeaker.

Sheikh Imam Ibrahim Mogra, a Leicester-based imam who runs interfaith programmes with Christian clergy, said he was very disappointed by the bishop's decision to criticise the call to prayer. "I cannot understand why a man of faith would have a problem with God's name being called out in an increasingly non-religious society it's beyond belief," he said. "We've had church bells ringing in our country for centuries and yet the character of our country is not really Christian, we are a predominantly non-religious society."

The imam added that the comments by Dr Nazir-Ali, who chairs the Anglican Church's inter-faith dialogue group, were likely to do much harm to promoting greater understanding between religious groups. "He has given more ammunition to the hatemongers," he said. "He is helping to foster the false perception that Muslims are misfits who really shouldn't be here."

Only a very small number of Britain's 2,000 plus mosques have permission to broadcast the call to prayer over loudspeakers. Those that do are generally in cities with large Muslim populations such as Bradford, Blackburn and Birmingham and are only allowed to do so in daylight hours as long as they keep below a set volume.

Bary Malik, an imam in Bradford, where tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities sometimes run high, accused Dr Nazir-Ali of unfairly singling out the Muslim community. "He's right to say there is segregation and 'ghettoisation' but we all share the blame for that, not one individual community.

"The Bishop of Rochester supposedly understands both cultures so he should be trying to foster better relations between these different communities, not aggravating them further."

Cleric who courts controversy

* Dr Michael Nazir-Ali is the Church of England's only Asian-born bishop and, as a notoriously conservative bishop, is no stranger to controversy.

* Born and raised in Pakistan to a Catholic-convert father, he later changed to the Anglican Church and became the youngest bishop in the world at his consecration in 1994.

* In 2000 he accused childless married couples of being "self-indulgent" and that those who chose to marry had a duty to procreate. Gay rights activists accuse him of being homophobic.

* Despite being a president of the Anglican Church's Network for Inter-faith Concerns of the Anglican Communion, Dr Nazir-Ali has been known to play up the differences between Britain's various faiths.

* He recently said the Prince of Wales could not become the defender of all the faiths in the UK on becoming monarch because of serious differences between religions.

* He has also upset the Muslim community, accusing many of being guilty of double standards for seeking both "victimhood and domination".

* He has said laws should be introduced to give some officials power to lift a woman's veil for security reasons.

* Supporters say the bishop is an articulate, intelligent religious leader who cares deeply about the state of Anglican Christianity in an increasingly non-religious Britain.

* He has been a member of the House of Lords since 1999, the first Asian religious leader to sit in the upper house.

* In 1997 he was the only UK bishop in a poll to be able to name all five Spice Girls.

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