The Rt Revd Toby Howarth, Bishop of Bradford, has written a letter to Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, expressing his concern at the removal of Imam Qari Asim from his roles as Independent Advisor to the Government and Deputy Chair of the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group.
The letter, published publicly in the Yorkshire Post, can be read below.
“Dear Mr Gove,
“I am troubled about the letter to Imam Qari Asim that has been posted on your department’s website and reported on in the press informing him that he has been removed from his roles as Independent Advisor to the Government and Deputy Chair of the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group.
“While I recognise that Government ministers are entitled to choose and release their advisers, the way that your department’s message was communicated appears discourteous. Imam Qari writes in his response to your department’s letter that he found out about it from the media. He was not contacted beforehand about your department’s concerns or asked for clarification of his views before the decision to remove him was taken. Although the letter was published on Saturday 11 June, as of reports today, he has still not received the letter personally.
“The letter as published on the DLUCH website was not dated or signed. Further, Imam Qari has given exceptional service to the work of community relations over many years, all in a voluntary capacity and yet there is no word of thanks or acknowledgement of this work in the letter.
“At a deeper level, your department’s letter undermines dialogue and communication between government and religious communities. Dialogue is not about agreement. It is rather about how we negotiate difference.
“Imam Qari has a proven track record of bringing people together within his Muslim community and beyond to talk about contentious issues. He has courageously spoken out against the persecution of Christians and others in Pakistan and elsewhere. He has contributed positively to the work of the national Christian Muslim Forum of which he is a trustee, and he has been recognised nationally for his work by being awarded an MBE and being chosen to represent the Muslim community at high profile national events.
“Publicly undermining and excluding such a constructive figure as Imam Qari risks leaving the field open to less constructive voices.
“To be clear, I am not in favour of banning films from cinemas. I am in favour of upholding the right to peaceful protest within our democratic norms, and I am in favour of encouraging dialogue with those who disagree with what a film portrays and those who do not want it to be shown.
“It is hard not to read your department’s letter without noting the context of Imam Qari’s frustrations with your government’s work in tackling Islamophobia. The letter mentions only that Imam Qari was appointed as a Government Advisor. It does not specify what was agreed at the time, that this role was specifically created to provide expert advice on a definition of Islamophobia.
“As Imam Qari’s response makes clear, when he was appointed in 2019, he was told by the Minister that he would be joined by a second adviser.
“This has not happened, and neither, according to Imam Qari, have terms of reference been agreed or resources been allocated for this project. As he wrote in February of this year, no progress had been made, and repeated communication with the Prime Minister and with yourself had remained unanswered.
“This wider context raises the possibility that an unacknowledged part of the reason Imam Qari was removed from his role was because he had been publicly critical of your government in relation to the work he had been unable to do.
“Although no longer a trustee of the Christian Muslim Forum, I am still involved in that organisation and have been in touch with the current trustees. CMF is the key national body bringing together Christians and Muslims in Britain for the good of all. I would strongly urge you meet with representatives of CMF to discuss how we may better encourage good relations between government and religious communities in the future.
“Toby Howarth, Bishop of Bradford”