Jim Fitzpatrick walks out of Muslim wedding

Jim Fitzpatrick and his wife walked out of a Muslim marriage ceremony.
Jim Fitzpatrick and his wife walked out of a Muslim marriage ceremony.

By Liz Stephens

Jim Fitzpatrick and his wife walked out of the marriage ceremony of a constituent after discovering that men and women would have to sit in separate rooms.

Farming minister Mr Fitzpatrick, whose constituency of Poplar and Canning Town is one third Muslim, was apparently unaware that the custom is common in Islamic weddings as well as in mosques.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he regularly attends Islamic weddings where men and women mix freely and said the gender segregation was damaging to social cohesion and a sign of increasing radicalisation.

He blamed the segregation policy on the Islamic Forum of Europe, a hardline group based at the East London Mosque.

"We've been attending Muslim weddings together for years but only recently has this strict line been taken," he said

"But it is an indication of the stricter application of rules that is taking place that didn't exist before."

"I think the stranglehold influence of the IFE is present more than ever before."

However, the mosque insisted that men and women have been kept apart at weddings in the centre since 2004 and Muslim leaders have insisted the custom is normal at Islamic weddings.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, a founding member of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "I think in the interest of cohesion it would be better if Mr Fitzpatrick established more contact with the Muslim community.

"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.

"There are some who prefer segregated events and some where they are joined together. We live in a society where we need to respect all traditions."

Mr Fitzpatrick later told the Daily Telegraph: "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.

"I'm not pandering to any minority opinion."

Mr Fitzpatricks' opponents have accused him of trying to pander to white voters in his constituency.

George Galloway, the current MP for Bethnal Green and Bow who will contest the new Poplar and Limehouse constituency against Mr Fitzpatrick at the next election, said: "If he doesn't wish to attend an Islamic wedding and observe the religious customs preferred by the bride and groom, he should not go rather than insult them for perceived political gain.

"I am absolutely amazed and astonished that a government minister with a substantial Muslim minority in his constituency should have decided to give such a gratuitous insult to so many Muslims."

Tim Archer, the Conservative candidate for the constituency at the next election said: "I can't help but feel he's playing a certain race card to save his skin at the next election. I think it's a desperate strategy."

Three years ago, justice secretary Jack Straw caused a similar furore when he referred to Muslim veils as "a visible statement of separation and difference" and called for women to remove them during surgeries in his Blackburn constituency.


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