BBC Woman's Hour accused of 'hostile' interview with Muslim leader

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Zara Mohammed
Zara Mohammed was elected to lead the Muslim Council of Britain at the end of January

A BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour interview with the first woman to lead the Muslim Council of Britain has been criticised for being "strikingly hostile".

More than 100 politicians, writers and other prominent figures have signed an open letter complaining about Zara Mohammed's "mistreatment" on the show.

It said host Emma Barnett "appeared intent on re-enforcing damaging and prejudicial tropes" about Islam.

A BBC spokesperson said the corporation would reply "in due course".

Emma Barnett
Emma Barnett became the main host of Woman's Hour at the start of the year

The letter's signatories include Conservative peer Baroness Warsi, Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Naz Shah, journalist Afua Hirsch, Rizzle Kicks' Jordan Stephens and the Muslim Council of Britain's founding secretary general Sir Iqbal Sacranie.

"The BBC needs to address its engagement with and representation of Muslim women," it said.

In particular, it took issue with Barnett for "persistently" asking how many female imams there are in Britain.

"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," it said.

The interview "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 letter added.

It said "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".

After the letter was published, the BBC spokesperson said: "This is a topic we've been responding to already and now that we've received this letter we will reply to it in due course." Barnett has not addressed the issue since her tweet after the interview.

The letter also criticised a "lack of representation" within the BBC, calling for the broadcaster to release a public statement "recommitting to engaging with Muslim women" and recruit Muslims in leadership positions.

The Muslim Council of Britain is the largest umbrella organisation for British Muslims, with more than 500 members including mosques, schools, charities and professional networks.

After the interview on 4 February, Barnett retweeted a clip of that section of the interview, saying "I still have the question and genuinely would like to know" about the number of female imams. She also thanked Mohammed "for our wide-ranging discussion".

The programme later deleted the clip from Twitter, however, saying it "should have included more of the radio interview to provide full context of the discussion".