A trainee imam has spoken about his feelings on Boris Johnson’s burka comments, saying he was “saddened” as Johnson had previously attended a Muslim peace event.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a minority sect of Islam, holds a peace symposium every year, and Johnson attended the 2012 event.
Sabah Ahmedi, who is studying to become an Imam, told talkRADIO that Johnson was invited in his capacity as Mayor of London.
“Boris Johnson came and talked about how there was an issue of diversity, and we shouldn’t do things that unnecessarily divide people, and that he applauded and commended the work the community does in doing that,” said Ahmedi.
“Another thing he touched upon was the fact that, in 2012 it was the Olympics, he said we should come together and unite as one and show people that London is the most peaceful and diverse [city] in the world.”
He said Johnson also invited the Caliph Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the leader of the Ahmadiyya community, to City Hall.
“He also invited His Holiness to City Hall where they discussed many topics, and one of the things he agreed with was the motto of the community that was love for all, hatred for none. He said London should have this foundation and be based on this,” Ahmedi said.
'Saddened' by burqa comments
Boris Johnson meeting the Caliph at the 2012 Ahmadiyya Peace Symposium
Johnson’s Telegraph column, in which he referred to women who wear the burqa or niqab as looking like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”, was published some six years after his appearance at the symposium, on 5 August 2018.
Ahmedi said the community was “saddened” to read it.
“The reason for making those comments, only he will know,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that anyone says those words about any minority or sect or religion across the world.
“Obviously being the mayor, coming to our community or our event, it is saddening he had words to say like this.
“Not only the community, but the whole Muslim nation was saddened by the comments.”
'Freedom of speech must be used carefully'
Ahmedi said he felt Johnson had "gone against" the comments he made at the symposium.
"When you live in a society where you have freedom of religion or freedom of speech, you have to use those things very carefully," he said.
"He used them in the way he wanted to use them, and it’s caused upset to the whole Muslim nation.
"The fact Boris Johnson said himself in that Peace Symposium, that we shouldn’t do anything unnecessarily to cause division, it’s something he’s gone against."
Ayesha Malik, an Ahmadiyya Muslim woman, told talkRADIO that Johnson’s comments were “unfortunate and irresponsible” and that she believed “in a woman’s freedom to choose to cover her face if she so desired”.
“Everyone has their own level of spirituality or faith, and if someone is to wear the burqa or niqab, we live in a society where there should be no comment and freedom to practice that,” added Ahmedi.
“When it comes to security issues these women do comply with the law.”
However, some Muslim women have also expressed agreement with Johnson's comments, with one writing in response in the Telegraph that the burqa looks "ridiculous" and that the "growth of young women wearing it in the UK is concerning".
What did Boris Johnson say in his 2012 speech?
In his speech at the Peace Symposium, Johnson called the work of the Ahmadiyya community “good and remarkable”.
“I believe that you are doing the work of so many others, the work that should be done by so many of us in public life, in bringing communities together through understanding and explanation rather than seeking to unnecessarily divide them,” he said, and called London “ the most diverse, the most welcoming, the most cosmopolitan and peaceful city on earth”.
Watch his speech above.
talkRADIO has approached Boris Johnson for comment.