Submission from the Muslim Council for
Religious and Racial Harmony
We would like to submit the following evidence
on behalf of our organisation known as Muslim Council for Religious
and Racial Harmony on "Religious Offences" for your
Select Committee consideration:
1. The existing religious offences (notably
blasphemy) laws should not be abolished but amended and extended
to all major faiths practiced in the United Kingdom. We strongly
recommend that new religious offence laws be created (such as
incitement of religious hatred) which may be based on "Prevention
of Incitement to Hatred Act (Northern Ireland) 1970". We
also believe that there is significant mischief that is not covered
by existing laws, and that technical problems of providing sufficiently
tight definitions can be overcome so that laws be effective and
2. The Muslim Council for Religious and
Racial Harmony was established in 1980 to work for the welfare
of British Muslims and to promote better understanding in our
multi-cultural and multi-faith society about different cultures
and faith traditions. We believe that serving for and sharing
in the common good of our society as a whole for better religious
and racial harmony is the only way forward. We strongly recommend
that faith communities must be valued and appreciated for their
charitable and voluntary work and protected against vilification
and incitement to religious hatred. This is a necessary prerequisite
for creating a better and harmonious society.
3. There is urgent need to strengthen our
British laws in three areas:
(a) Outlaw religious discrimination as established
in Employment Tribunal judgment in CRE v Precision Engineering;
(b) Enact against incitement to religious
(c) Laws against sacrilege and abuse of religious
The most outstanding example is filth against
Muslims in Penguin's infamous book "Satanic Verses".
In case of R v Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate,
ex parte Choudhury (1991), where the court declared that current
laws of Blasphemy do not extend to religions other than of Anglican
4. British Muslims are representatives of
a rich diversity of heritages drawn from many ethnic backgrounds
and cultures. A microcosm of British society, Muslims are a multi-cultural
community, united through strong ties of faith identity that transcend
ethnic boundaries. British Muslims seek to play a constructive
role in British society as concerned and responsible citizens.
We believe that repealing the existing law will give a negative
message, one that implies that "religion does not matter".
5. For many Muslims, religionand
not only ethnicityforms the basis of their primary identity.
In terms of service provision across the whole range of public
services, faith-based needs are often more relevant than those
based on ethnicity. Statistics provided by the religious question
of the 2001 Census should lead to a more equitable allocation
of public services, and provide baselines for monitoring representation
and social exclusion. Ethnicity plays an important role, but the
rightful place of a faith-based identity needs to be recognised.
For many of Britain's Muslims, discrimination can take the form
of insults or intimidation, or it can mean being refused a job
or a place at school. It is particularly acute when Muslim women
wear the headscarf, or hijab, or when men grow a beard and the
outward signs of their faith often make them easy targets of abuse.
These practicing Muslims should have protection in law against
the violation of their religious identities and human dignity.
6. The Muslim community welcomed the incorporation
of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. However,
the Human Rights Act 1998 falls short of providing adequate protection
from religious discrimination. Muslims have no protection against
having their faith reviled and ridiculed in a scurrilous and contemptuous
fashion. Our legal framework does not envisage a situation in
which an offence of sacrilege could be committed against religious
people other than the Anglican faith. Subsequently there is no
recourse or redress in our British legal system. The specific
legal recognition of Jews and Sikhs accords them a level of protection
denied to peoples of other faithsparticularly Muslims
who are consequently vulnerable to discrimination and harassment
motivated not only by race but by religion. The Law Commission's
working paper 79 on "offences against religion and public
worship" expressed similar views. The evil of Islamophobia
is now broadly acknowledged as a pervasive and powerful negative
force in society. Our Government cannot ignore the real fears
of its Muslim citizens. Legislation banning all forms of religious
discrimination, harassment, and incitement to hatred must be its
priority. Appropriate laws must be urgently enacted.
7. The Muslim Community seeks equality of
treatment. In Northern Ireland there is a law that prohibits incitement
to religious hatred. There is no legal or other sound reason not
to have such a law in Great Britain, since the laws on incitement
to racial hatred cover only some religious groups and not all.
Again it would seem clear that by not having a law on incitement
to religious hatred the United Kingdom is in breach of its international
obligations. We draw your attention towards reports of the Committee
of the United Nations on elimination of all forms of racism. In
international legislation Islamophobia is an agreed and is considered
as the worst manifestation of cultural racism. For further information
please see report on "Islamophobia" published by the
Runnnymede Trust 1997, as well as the two follow-up reports by
the Commission on the British Muslims and Islamophobia known as
"Addressing the Challenge of Islamophobia" (1999) and
"Addressing prejudice and Islamophobia: post 11 September
2001" published in Autumn 2001.
8. We would like to submit in our evidence
the following three academic's written opinions, which are widely
available to further our arguments:
(1) "Protect Both Gods and Books"
by Simon Lee, a professor of Jurisprudence at Queen's University
Belfast. Faber published this article in "Free Speech"
Reproduced in UKACIA document "Need for Reform" 1993.
(2) "Towards Legislative Reform of the
Blasphemy and Racial Hatred Laws" by Sebastian Poulter published
in UKACIA document "Need for Reform" 1993.
(3) "Muslim Incitement to Hatred and
the Law", by Dr Tariq Mood Professor of Sociology Bristol
University published in UKACIA document "Need for Reform"
5 July 2002