We live in a democracy where people should be free to express themselves. But we have to say that Councillor Malcolm Hey’s decision to walk out of a meeting to avoid an Islamic prayer being read was ill-judged to say the least.
Cllr Hey obviously believed it was a principled stand, making the point that he didn’t think the prayer was appropriate in a traditionally Christian country. As a devout Christian, he doesn’t feel he worships the same God as Muslims.
But his actions were disrespectful to Resident Alim, Sheikh Fazle Abbas Datoo, who had been invited into the Portsmouth City Council chamber to read out the prayer by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Paula Riches.
They were also disrespectful to all those Muslims living locally who are represented by the Imam.
What makes it much worse is that Cllr Hey is a member of the city council’s standing advisory group on religious education, which aims to unite faith groups across the city.
If we are to avoid religious division, then surely we need to understand and respect each other. Cllr Hey’s decision to leave the full council meeting and then return once the Imam had finished was hardly going to help foster good relations.
In fact the Imam and Muslims in the city had every right to call for Cllr Hey to be removed from Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE), which includes members of religions, teaching staff and city council representatives.
An emergency meeting was held yesterday to consider just such an action.
Yet he was saved by a letter to the council’s education boss, Cllr Terry Hall, from the President of Wessex Jamaat, Roshan Gangji.
In it, he said Cllr Hey had been guilty of nothing more than an ‘aberration’ and should be forgiven.
There was also a suggestion that Cllr Hey meets with other faith leaders in the community and maybe shares a meal with them.
It was a response full of grace and compassion rather than retribution. A lesson to us all.