Government minister praises Muslim 'cultural shift towards equality'

John D McHugh/AFP

A senior Government minister has challenged cultural "embarrassment" that inhibits confronting Muslims over issues such as wearing the veil or segregating women.

Simon Hughes, the Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties, argued that a cultural shift was taking place in the UK Muslim community towards greater equality.

He said women and men should, for example, be allowed to worship together in mosques.

Britain should not be afraid to challenge beliefs and practices and take on hardliners opposed to equality, he said in a speech to the Girl Summit, an event aimed at confronting and challenging the practices of female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

He said there had been a fear among schools that challenging female genital mutilation would be "tresspassing on a cultural space that was inappropriate" but this had changed recently as political leaders committed themselves to oppose publicly the practice.


He also said there had been a "nervousness" about discussing the veil that had been broken through.

Sara Khan, director and co-founder of Inspire, a counter-extremism and human rights organisation seeking to address the inequalities facing British Muslim women, welcomed Mr Hughes' comments. She told the National Secular Society: "For years, organisations like mine have been at the forefront of fighting discrimination experienced by Muslim women not only in wider society but also within Muslim communities. We have consistently opposed the argument of 'religious or cultural differences' which has often been used to ignore, deny or prevent women from receiving the same level of protection from human rights and equalities legislation which is afforded to other British women. Universal human rights belong to all British citizens.

"A cultural shift is indeed beginning to slowly take place within British Muslim communities, but we cannot be complacent. Our work within Muslim communities highlights to us that the fight against hardliners and fundamentalists who oppose equality is still a huge battle and will not change overnight. It is a generational battle. We therefore welcome the support of all those in British society who believe in equality and human rights for all."

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