A CITY councillor has been accused of disrespect after walking out of a meeting – because a Muslim Imam read a prayer.
Tory councillor Malcolm Hey left the council chamber immediately after a Christian prayer, just before Resident Alim, Sheikh Fazle Abbas Datoo, began an address to yesterday’s full meeting of Portsmouth City Council.
He returned when the prayer had finished and remained for the rest of the meeting.
He said: ‘I did so because we are a traditionally Christian country, so Christian prayers are read as a matter of tradition. But I don’t feel it’s appropriate for Muslim prayers to be said, as I don’t feel we worship the same God as Muslims, so I left.’
But other councillors, including the city’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Paula Riches, who invited the Imam to read to the council, objected to Cllr Hey’s actions.
Cllr Riches said: ‘It’s very disrespectful and I will tell him so. He objected by letter to the idea but it’s very disappointing he chose to do this.’
Here’s an example of how and what Muslims pray:
Cllr Hey, a Cosham councillor who is an openly devout Christian, said his action was not racially motivated.
But he is also a member of the city council’s standing advisory group on religious education, which aims to unite faith groups across the city.
Yasin Rahim, director of interfaith at Wessex Jamaat, said: ‘The Muslim community here is mature. We aren’t angry, we just regard this as a host who doesn’t know how to behave towards his guest. It’s a real shame. But we invite him to come to read a Christian prayer to Muslims at one of our prayer meetings. That way, he can experience what interaction between faiths can do.’
The Imam was invited to the meeting after contributing a prayer to Portsmouth’s remembrance service last November.
His prayer, which he read in Arabic and English, included the words: ‘Adorn us with the qualities of the righteous. And clothe us with the beauty of those who guard against displeasing You. And issue from our hands good to the people, O Lord. Make us speak with righteousness.’
He explained: ‘This was a chance to help with cultural integration. We have people of all faiths in Portsmouth, and we can understand each other better if we understand one another’s religious beliefs. It was an honour to be able to read the prayer to the council. I am sorry a councillor walked out.’
Cllr Riches hopes to be able to invite Catholic and Buddhist religious leaders to read prayers at subsequent meetings.
But Cllr Hey said: ‘I will leave for prayers by Buddhists or Hindus. They don’t worship the same God as us. I would stay for a Catholic or Jewish prayer, because they do.’