More than 100 public figures sign open letter to BBC over ‘strikingly hostile’ interview with Zara Mohammed


Zara Mohammed (Photo: MCB)
Zara Mohammed (Photo: MCB)

MORE than 100 public figures have signed an open letter to the BBC criticising Radio 4 Woman’s Hour ‘strikingly hostile’ interview with Zara Mohammed, the first woman to head the Muslim Council of Britain.

The letter, organised by the writers Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Mariam Khan, and signed by Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi, Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Naz Shah, and the comedian Deborah Frances-White, has called on the broadcaster to diversify its editorial and production team and better engage with Britain’s Muslims, The Guardian reported.

It claimed that the line of questioning in the interview reinforced ‘damaging and prejudicial tropes’ about Islam and Muslim women.

Mohammed,29, a training and development consultant from Glasgow, was elected first female leader of the Council in January.

On 4 February, Mohammed appeared as a guest on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme. In the interview with Emma Barnett, Mohammed was repeatedly asked about the number of female imams in the country.

“Despite Mohammed’s repeated claims that religious adjudication was not within the parameters of her role leading a civil society organisation, Barnett asked the question about female imams four times, each time interrupting Mohammed’s answer,” the letter said.

According to the Guardian report, the letter also pointed out the false equivalence between imams with rabbis and priests in a religion that has no clergy reflected a ‘basic lack of religious literacy’ needed for authentic engagement with British Muslim communities.

Other signatories include the Labour MPs Zarah Sultana and Apsana Begum, the director of the Class thinktank, Faiza Shaheen, Nikesh Shukla, author and editor of the Good Immigrant, Rizzle Kicks’ Jordan Stephens, the theologian Dr Amina Wadud, and media company Gal Dem. A total of 200 people have signed the letter.

The letter states that following complaints online and in private, the BBC removed the original tweet with a clip of Mohammed’s interview.

“This cannot be the way that media organisations, especially the BBC – which is meant to represent Britain and British people – engage with Muslim women and Muslim people,” Abdel-Magied told The Guardian.

According to the letter, Muslim voices are underrepresented across the public broadcaster. It calls on the BBC to issue a public statement recommitting to engaging with Muslim women and those from historically marginalised communities.

It also urged to recruit Muslims in leadership and commissioning roles, and ensure programmes have diverse production and editorial teams.

Earlier, Labour MP Dawn Butler published a separate open letter to the BBC about the corporation’s decision to make its editorial director, Kamal Ahmed, redundant.

The move meant the public broadcaster was in breach of its own rules on minority ethnic representation. Signed by 48 cross-party MPs and peers, the letter asked: “We would like to know how the BBC intends to deal with its all-white news board and lack of diversity at the leadership level?”

The BBC said it would respond to the letter ‘in due course’, the report added.

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