London : A British minister Friday defended his decision to walk out of a Muslim wedding where men and women were separated, saying such practices ran against his efforts to build “inclusion.”
Farming Minister Jim Fitzpatrick and his wife walked out of the marriage ceremony in his east London constituency – home to a large number of Bangladeshis – after discovering they would have to sit in separate rooms.
He told BBC radio Friday that such practices promoted “exclusion rather than inclusion,” which his government was trying to build in areas like east London.
He also claimed he had received the support of a large number of his constituents, a third of whom are reported to be Muslims.
“My wife and I go to weddings to celebrate the occasion jointly. If we are welcome as a couple we go as a couple, and if not, it is our right to say we don’t want to do that,” the minister told the Daily Telegraph in comments published Friday.
“I’m not pandering to any minority opinion,” he added.
However, Fitzpatrick was criticised by some Muslim leaders in Britain.
Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “It shows a lack of interest on the part of the MP to engage with people with different backgrounds and sadly it reflects badly on him.”
“If he had a little bit of knowledge, he would have found it was quite normal and nothing unusual for them to enjoy the celebration in this way.”
Fitzpatrick said segregation in the East End of London was a relatively recent trend and blamed “the stranglehold influence” of orthodox Muslims.
“We’ve been attending Muslim weddings together for years but only recently has this strict line been taken,” the minister said.
Three years ago, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw caused a row by advising Muslim women calling into his constituency office to consider removing their veils so that he could have “face to face” conversations with them.
Straw, whose northern England constituency of Blackburn includes a large number of Pakistanis, described the veil as a “visible statement of separation and difference.”