The Conservative candidates debate last night was a predictably dreary affair: reminiscent of a Freshers’ Week event at the Oxford Union Society. At the end of the hour’s viewing pretty much every prejudice that the population of this country might hold about politicians in general would have been amply reinforced.
There has been some comment this morning on one particular participant: Mufti Abdullah Patel, a man who described himself on his now-deleted Twitter account as as:
“Imam | Primary Deputy Head | Teacher | Youth Worker | Trainee Counsellor | Psychology & Counselling Degree | DU Bury 2014”
Patel appeared on the programme to ask a reasonable question about the impact of incendiary language about Muslims: “Do you accept words have consequences?”. That question was badly answered by most candidates.
In the aftermath of Patel’s appearance, attention has been paid to his online profile: as often happens when private citizens engage in a high profile public debate. This post examines Abdullah Patel’s social media and public profile.
The “Zionist’s Payroll”
The Guido Fawkes Twitter account uncovered a tweet which appeared to suggest that politicians have been paid by “Zionist’s” in order to scaremonger about Jeremy Corbyn:
He also circulated the Norman Finkelstein meme that resulted in Naz Shah’s suspension from the Labour Party, which suggested that Israel should be “relocated” to America. In his comment accompanying the graphic, Patel implied that, were this to happen, Israel would “attack” the USA.
Steven Daisley, writing in The Spectator, has uncovered a series of tweets in which Patel suggests an equivalence between Auschwitz and the conflict in Gaza, that are particularly distasteful:
Unfortunately, Patel also quotes Kevin Alfred Strom, the American neo Nazi who was convicted of possessing child pornography:
It is unlikely that Patel knew that Strom was a neo Nazi: but that does not matter. The implication of the quotation is that the test of “who rules over you” is finding out “who you are not allowed to criticise”. The implication is that Israel, or “Zionists” are those rulers: itself a concept redolent of antisemitic conspiracism.
Support for CAGE
Patel’s Twitter thread indicates significant support for CAGE: an organisation with strong links to Islamist preachers which campaigns in relation to those arrested in connection with terrorist criminal offences. For example, in May he retweeted a tweet which described two veteran South Asian feminists, Pragna Patel and Rumy Hasan as “native informants”.
Later that month, Patel retweeted the Research Director of CAGE, Asim Qureshi, who notoriously described the man believed to be Jihadi John as a “beautiful young man”. He observed of the organisation:
“Astonishing dedication. A person I consider my elder/teacher always would tell us to keep these guys in our prayers, because if we (inshaAllah not) were to ever encounter a problem, they would come to help us, as they have with countless others. Thus @UK_CAGE have my duas [prayers]”
The problem of aligning with the Liberal Left
There is a particularly instructive Twitter thread in which Patel discusses his views on working with the “Liberal Left”. He summarises the problem as follows:
“The problem Muslims face with aligning with the Liberal Left and other minorities is that the liberal’s moral compass changes with the law and with society’s changing morals, whereas Muslims follow an unchanged universal law, which liberates us from society’s changes.”
He explains his concern as follows:
“Muslims won’t be able to hold beliefs contrary to secular liberalism; where’s the freedom in that? If Muslims believe homosexuality isn’t our chosen lifestyle and is detrimental to society, will it be ‘hate speech’, even if we treat the LGBT community as we treat others?
Precedent has shown us that people are not interested in our practices, but wish to police our thoughts, hence we have thought policing now. Muslims need to be aware of who we build strong alliances with for political gain, because it will come back to haunt us.”
Patel’s conclusion is a reasonable one for a religious conservative to reach:
“I am happy to align with other minorities – even if their beliefs/practices are not my preferred choice as a Muslim – with clarity that I do not agree with their views on this particular topic, but accept their choice in a liberal society, and thus will not discriminate against them…
This is different to aligning with the liberal left and supporting their positions which are in direct contradiction to Islam’s teachings. That. Can. Not. Happen.”
Patel has particularly strong views relating to the importance of female modesty and sex segregation. In a tweet in February, he expressed the view that “it takes 2 to tango”, and counselled women that:
“if you put yourself in that position, don’t expect every man to pass up the opportunity to take advantage of you. Don’t be alone with a man! “
The importance of segregation is a theme on which Patel has provided religious rulings. On IslamQA, a website which provides off the cuff religious advice, Patel advises women not to “reveal their hair, and forearms to other women, such as at weddings”. His concern, in particular, is that:
Wedding receptions are seldom pure from intermingling no matter how much effort is made to enforce segregation. If not free and open mixing, a few males will find it difficult to resist the temptation to satisfy their nafs and will wander in and out under various pretences.
In another discussion, Patel is asked whether “it permissible for a woman(in purda) [i.e. veil] to teach deen in an all-girls muslim school when she has to participate in meetings with non-mahram [close relative] males?”. His advice is as follows:
“This is permissible provided that meetings are infrequent and conducted in a professional manner, i.e. no casual behaviour takes place. The veil (purdah) cannot be removed and the non Muslim staff must be aware of Islamic Etiquette especially the lowering of gazes etc. If at all possible, the seating arrangements should be conducive to the dictates of modesty.
It would not be permissible for her to work, if there is regular and frequent contact with males.”
A wife may not address her husband by name
Patel also advises that, although husbands may address their wives by name, the converse is not permitted:
“The traditional texts of fiqh indicate that a husband may call her wife by her name. However, a woman should not address her husband by name. This has been termed as undesirable. (Makrooh) She should use a term which shows respect and honour.”
Religious marriage in tandem with a sham civil marriage
In another ruling, a woman who is a convert to Islam seeks advice on remarriage to a Muslim man. Her situation is that she paid an American to marry her, so that she might “get legal status in the USA”. However, she needs to stay married to her first husband under US law in order to retain her residency rights in the USA. Accordingly, the woman seeks advice as to whether she can marry a second husband without getting divorced from the first.
Patel advises that she may do so in the following circumstances:
“If three menstrual cycles have passed since your conversion to Islam you will be considered as divorced. You can now marry a Muslim man without obtaining an official divorce from your first husband. “
Al Ashraf Schools
Patel is the Head Teacher of the Al Ashraf Secondary School for Girls. In 2015, the school was inspected and certain “unmet independent school standards” were identified. Although the outcome of the inspection is generally positive, it noted:
“The headteacher accepted that some of the wording on the website used to illustrate the content of the Islamic curriculum was open to interpretation. Some of the language did not reflect the efforts of the headteacher and the governors to promote mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. The headteacher agreed that the website had not been reviewed for some time and is now currently under review.”
The same comment was made in relation to an inspection in the same year of the associated Primary school. It is not clear what the problematic wording on the school website said. Neither is it clear what role Patel played in that school at this particular time.
The 2015 report also indicated that sex segregation of parents was taking place in some contexts:
” A decision to hold separate pupil performances for ‘mums’ and ‘dads’ was taken without consulting parents or considering the implications for pupils’ understanding of equal opportunities. This runs counter to British democratic principles. The Chair of the Trust Board recognises that the decision was taken without reference to the board. “
Patel has now been “suspended from all school duties” at the Primary school:
A reasonable question about the response of the Conservative Party to anti-Muslim agitation has been completely derailed as a result of the decision to host an individual with a deeply problematic public profile.
If Conservative politicians are to be criticised for the language that they use – which they should be – it is best not to choose a man who compares the conflict in Gaza to the Holocaust, and who promotes extremely reactionary views about women, to make that point.
Nicky Campbell, who hosted Patel on his morning show has made a valuable – albeit somewhat belated – observation and apology:
This is not a novel problem. There are many Muslims who could have been selected in place of Patel. It isn’t a difficult thing to conduct a brief search of a guest’s public profile, and to make a prudent and informed decision.