The board criticised ‘attacks’ on Qari Asim, who was accused of supporting restrictions on free speech. The Board of Deputies has defended a leading imam after he faced calls to stand down from a government inquiry into Islamophobia by critics accusing him of questioning free speech.

The board criticised “attacks” on Qari Asim, the imam at the Makkah mosque in Leeds, who sits on the government’s Islamophobia panel last July to help create a definition of anti-Muslim hatred.

An article in The Sunday Times reported that the imam told an interfaith workshop in September 2018 that some Muslims want exceptions when it comes to free speech particularly where it concerns the prophet, Muhammad.

The Board intervened to say it agreed with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who also defended Mr Asim.

Mr Welby said: “Qari Asim is an outstanding leader and friend, committed to the common good.

“Having named views other than his own in order to confront them, he merits attention and respect, not distortion. British Muslims, and all of us, deserve better journalism.”

The Board said: “We absolutely agree with the Archbishop, Qari Asim is a firm friend to community cohesion & attacks on him undermine the important effort to define and tackle Islamophobia.”

Rabbi Harvey Belovski, senior rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue, also supported the Imam. 

He said Mr. Asim was a “staunch supporter of the Jewish community. He is a talented and enlightened faith leader who devotes himself to spreading harmony and tackling divisiveness in our society.”

Mr Asim said the Sunday Times article took his comments out of context and he did “not support restrictions on free speech.”

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