More than 100 ‘prominent’ women in Britain have written an open letter to the BBC criticising the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour for their “strikingly hostile” interview with Zara Mohammed, the first woman to lead the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).
According to the reports, Zara Mohammed had appeared as a guest on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme. In the interview, the host Emma Barnett had confronted MCB leader Mohammed on various issues of Islam, including the number of female imams in the country.
The Muslim Council of Britain is a national umbrella body representing over 500 Muslim organisations. In January, the 29-year-old Mohammed, who works as a training and development consultant from Glasgow, was appointed as the controversial Islamic organisation’s first female leader.
The interview has now given rise to a fresh controversy after several ‘prominent’ women of the United Kingdom, especially from the Muslim community, have expressed their discontent over the tone of the BBC radio show.
Conservative party leader Sayeeda Warsi, the Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Naz Shah, comedian Deborah Frances-White and many other women have taken offence to the interview and shot a letter to the BBC accusing the host of “persistently” asking how many female imams there are in Britain.
It labelled the interview with Zara Mohammed, the first female leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, as ‘strikingly hostile’ and called for a greater representation of Muslims within the BBC.
“Despite Mohammed’s repeated claims that religious adjudication was not within the parameters of her role leading a civil society organisation, Barnett asked the question about female imams four times, each time interrupting Mohammed’s answer,” the letter said.
Radio show was in the tone of accountability interview, says open letter
The women collective accused show host Barnett of interrupting Mohammed’s answer and claimed that the segment ‘mirrored the style and tone of an accountability interview with a politician, rather than authentically recognising and engaging in what this represented for British Muslim women’.
“The framing of the interview and clipping up of the ‘female imam’ segment for social media mirrored the style and tone of an accountability interview with a politician, rather than authentically recognising and engaging in what this represented for British Muslim women. Moreover, the false equivalence between imams with rabbis and priests in a religion that has no clergy reflected a basic lack of religious literacy needed for authentic engagement with British Muslim communities,” read the letter.
The letter’s signatories also criticised BBC for the lack of representation of Muslims within the media network. The open letter said part of the problem was that Muslim voices were “underrepresented at every level” within the BBC, especially in the production arm BBC Studios.
In addition to the open letter, the BBC has also received 564 complaints against the interview, as per reports.
BBC to ‘reflect on’ controversial Woman’s Hour interview
Following the controversy, the BBC has released a statement saying that they will “reflect on” the concerns raised in the open letter against Zara Mohammed’s interview.
Defending the show, the BBC also added that Woman’s Hour host Emma Barnett asked a Muslim leader about “legitimate” issues. The show said it would “think hard” about reflecting Muslim women in their upcoming shows.
Director-General of the BBC – Tim Davie said he agreed with the programme’s response to the letter and that the BBC has “a responsibility to explore and debate issues within all communities”.
In a statement on Friday, the BBC said, “While we appreciate that people can sometimes have very differing responses to our live interviews and discussions, we believe it was legitimate for the programme to seek to explore some of the issues facing Muslims in the UK. Woman’s Hour however has always been a programme that listens to feedback and learns from the responses we receive; we will reflect on the issues and concerns you raise in this open letter.”
Further, the statement said that the show would commit to returning to this on-air soon and to deepen our engagement with the issues that matter most to Muslim women, as well as to look at representation across Woman’s Hour as part of the BBC’s plans to reflect the society they serve more accurately.
Davie also invited the writers of the letter, asking them to meet with some senior colleagues at the BBC to speak on the issues that they had raised in their letter.