We are not in Lahore in the Punjab, but Hodge Hill, Birmingham. It is not a private gathering in a mosque or other sanctified space of holiness, but a hired function hall for a public meeting, where the previous guests ate bacon sandwiches and unclean dogs begged beneath the tables. It is not a religiously mandated Friday Jumu’ah, where Muslims would listen to the call to prayer and begin their rakat with the tahyat-ul-masjid salah and listen attentively to the imam’s ritual khutbah. It is a Labour election rally, where Muslims are listening to parliamentary candidates, including Tom Watson, Liam Byrne, Kahlid Mahmood and Jack Dromey (Mr Harriet Harman) issue the call to vote, with assurances of sharia-compliant schools and a pledge to outlaw ‘Islamophobia’.
It is astonishing, in England in 2015, that zealots for absolute equality and gender parity would deign to address a sex-segregated meeting. How is this ‘progressive’? How is it consistent with Labour’s ‘equal society’ and enlightened notions of human rights?
The women aren’t quite second class, for they are not seated behind the men or shunted down to the basement as they are in many mosques. But they are separated nonetheless, like the sheep from the goats, and the inference is clear: when it comes to courting the Muslim vote, gender apartheid trumps equality.
Perhaps Khalid Mahmood is used to this sort of cultural directive, and tolerates it because he grasps the backward belief of some of his co-religionists that women are chattel and exist to obey orders. But would Tom Watson address a political gathering where white men sit on the right and black on the left? Isn’t that racist? Would Liam Byrne agree to speak at a meeting where heterosexuals were separated from homosexuals? Isn’t that homophobic? Would Jack Dromey accept an invitation to address an audience where Muslims were separated from Sikhs, or Protestants from Roman Catholics? Isn’t that bigoted sectarianism?
As the Archbishop of Canterbury recently observed, “Equality as an aim in itself through government action is doomed not merely to defeat but to totalitarianism.” Conservatives will not instinctively prioritise the universalism of equality, but would certainly advocate the liberal core concept of equal concern and respect expressed to all in their common humanity, without the need to respect some of their attributes or ends. Human equality for the Christian is not merely an abstraction of thought to be dispensed with for political expediency, but an incarnational assertion that we have a common purpose and share a common end.
As St Paul said: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus‘ (Gal 3:28). Clearly, Muslims are not all one in Mohammed: the seed of Abraham is not united in the ontological parity which negates the subordination of one sex to another. There exists still a formal religious and legal universalism which imposes gender limitations upon political and social practices.
Would Labour politicians address a meeting where Jews were segregated? If not, why is the segregation of women remotely acceptable to politicians who have dedicated their lives to ending the social and economic inequalities endured by women in all cultures throughout the whole of history?