Blackburn Muslim Association Condemned Over 2006 Instruction Restricting Travel for Women

From the Telegraph:

Women should not be allowed to go on long journeys without a male chaperone a British Muslim group has advised followers.

Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, condemned the advice from Blackburn Muslim Association as “disgraceful” and said such views had “no place” in modern Britain.

…Ms Greening’s intervention came following a question from David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, during development questions in the Commons… He asked if efforts to improve sexual equality “would be made easier if organisations like the Blackburn Muslim Association were not putting out information to people that women should not be allowed to travel more than 48 miles without a chaperone?”

The “information” was posted online in 2006, and the above was Davies’ second attempt to generate publicity around this particular example of a successful hunt for “something unreasonable on an Islamic website”. A few days previously, he had mentioned the same thing during a Westminster Hall discussion on face veils. According to his press release:

…Mr Davies, who made his comments during a Westminster Hall debate on violence against women and girls, (Wednesday 27 April) was also highly critical of publicly funded bodies giving what he described as “medieval-style” advice to Muslim women.

“The Muslim Council of Britain is often viewed as a moderate organisation and is in receipt of public funds, yet looking at some of the groups affiliated to it sets alarm bells ringing,” he said.

“For example, Blackburn Muslim Association – which has received public money in the past for an education project – advises Muslims that it is not permissible for a women to travel a distance exceeding 48 miles without a husband or close male relative chaperone.

“Apparently, 48 miles is the distance a women would have been able to travel in three days on a camel in a desert in 7th-century Saudi Arabia. It is now being applied to 21st-century Britain.

That earlier quote made Davies’s local Monmouth Today, but it took the later exchange with Greening to make the Blackburn Muslim Association into a public “issue”, with the Sun following up on the “DISGRACEFUL” news. The Telegraph rang round for some quotes: Howjat Ramzy, “former head of the MCB’s education committee”, denounced the instruction as “offensive in this day and age”, while the head of the National Secular Society stated that “women are entitled to their own autonomy and freedom of movement; any attempt to limit this must be condemned roundly”.

I’m all for shining a light on and challenging regressive statements by groups and public figures, but I wish these sorts of controversies could be aired in a way that doesn’t depend on self-promoting politicians contriving to hook the media with haphazard “gotchas” – both in principle, and because it is a method that can easily go horribly wrong.

Eliciting predictable comments from groups such as the NSS is easy work, but it would have been more useful to have had some sort of profile of the Blackburn Muslim Association and the the man who posted the instruction, a certain Yusuf Shabbir.

Shabbir’s 2006 post appears on a site called Nawadir – the main Blackburn Muslim Association website (currently empty) described the site as its “Department of Theology” and provided a click-through. Until a few days ago, Nawadir‘s “About” page stated that

This website has been created to share the knowledge and writings of various scholars on a range of topics. We hope you benefit and feel free to share.

The sentence “We will be launching a new website soon” was added at some point, and the statement has now been further amended :

This website has been created to share the knowledge and writings of various scholars on a range of topics. We are an independent website without any affiliation with any other organisation. The website is run by a group of scholars and professionals. We hope you benefit and feel free to share. We will be launching a new website soon.

Although fairly anonymous, the site carries a prominent link to Shabbir’s Facebook profile, and his Twitter feed (since disabled) linked to the Nawadir website rather than the main Blackburn Muslim Association website. An old report lists him as the Vice Chair of the Blackburn Muslim Association.