Muslim MP calls for religious equality law

A minister has called for the Government to introduce a new religious discrimination law which would require public bodies to have a legal duty to promote equality between faiths, to reassure Britain's Muslims that they are not second-class citizens.

Sadiq Khan, a government whip, wants a forthcoming Single Equality Bill aimed at stamping out discrimination on grounds of sex, race, gender and disability to include religion. He also calls for "Islamophobia in the workplace" to be tackled.

Under his proposal, public bodies would have to be proactive in tackling religious discrimination. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, chaired by Trevor Phillips, would issue guidance and codes of practice. "This would not apply exclusively to British Muslims, but it would make a significant difference to the experience of members of this community who, because of socio-economic status, are particularly reliant on public services," Mr Khan says.

The Tooting MP, one of four Muslim Labour MPs, makes his controversial call in a Fabian Society pamphlet, Fairness not Favours, published today. He says a proactive approach to prevent religious discrimination would balance "harder edged" measures such as "clampdowns" on immigration and security and undercut attempts by Muslim extremists to exploit social disadvantage.

Mr Khan wants to break down religious barriers and argues strongly that Britain's Muslims must change, too. He urges them to forget about the Iraq war; give their women more freedom and use their charities to help white poor people. He also calls for imams to stress the importance of parental participation in schools and says everyone should learn English.

"We must end the futile debates about whether or not English needs to be spoken by all who live here or want to come here, and instead address how to ensure everyone can," he writes. "The requirement to learn English is not colonial. English is a passport to participation in mainstream society – jobs, education and even being able to use health services."

The minister says that British history should be mandatory in schools: "Nowadays, how many people – let alone schoolchildren – know that numerous Asians, including Muslims, fought and died in the First World War defending all we stand for today? Or that 2.5 million men from the Indian army fought in the Second World War for a nation they had never visited?"

Mr Khan says: "All of us in the Muslim communities must unequivocally agree that honour killings are murder and forced marriages are kidnapping. These traditions have no place here or anywhere."

He warns that a failure to deal with the inequalities of British Muslim women negates any attempts to build a just and fair society: "But it also has serious consequences for preventing extremism, given the majority of the extremist and radical ideologies that lead young men to turn themselves into human bombs are also deeply misogynist."

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