LONDON: An imam appointed by the UK government to draw up a definition of Islamophobia has said he has received no “meaningful engagement” from ministers in years.
Qari Asim, who was appointed to lead an official process to define the term in 2019, told The Independent that letters sent to ministers as recently as last month have received no reply.
His intervention came as the government has become embroiled in a controversy surrounding Islamophobia after former Minister Nusrat Ghani said she was fired because her “Muslimness” made colleagues uncomfortable.
Asim said those allegations “once again demonstrate the importance of having a definition of Islamophobia.”
He added that he had been given no office, money, staff or terms of reference to assist him in drawing up a definition of Islamophobia.
“Other than an announcement and conversations (with ministers), there hasn’t been any progress, and that shows a lack of political will to define Islamophobia,” he said.
“I’m perplexed over the reasons for lack of engagement when the government time and again say they have zero tolerance to anti-Muslim hatred.”
Asim, an imam at Makkah Mosque in the English city of Leeds, said several letters sent to successive communities secretaries have gone unanswered, some as recently as November and December 2021, addressed to Michael Gove.
Gove committed to “the importance of countering anti-Muslim hatred” in Parliament in November, alluding to Asim’s efforts and a working group set up to tackle anti-Muslim hatred. A letter sent by Asim following up on those assertions went unanswered.
“I have set out my plan on how I thought a broad-based consensus can be achieved, but there has been a lack of meaningful engagement,” he said.
“Initially I didn’t pursue it during the first year of the pandemic, because I wanted to give the government the space to deal with that, but from the community’s perspective it’s hugely disappointing and undermines trust and confidence in the government. Something needs to happen.”
Asim said the government needs to recognize that Islamophobia is a “real issue” and move forward on defining it.
“Some people don’t like the term Islamophobia because they think that it’s more about protecting the faith itself, but it’s not the case,” he added.
“The faith has been critiqued since its inception — this is about protecting people and deterring those who target people because of their faith.”