FEARS have been raised that sections of the Muslim community ‘do not feel welcome in Portsmouth’ and many followers of the faith are depressed.
Muslim Labour councillor Yahiya Chowdhury said people have come to him with concerns over how they don’t feel included. And he blamed the council for not doing enough to help.
Muslim leaders – including the head of the Jami Mosque – agree more could be done.
But they have played down talk of any major problems – and Portsmouth Tory leader Donna Jones has labelled Cllr Chowdhury’s claims ‘misguided and dangerous’.
Cllr Chowdhury said: ‘People need support. A lot of the Muslim community do not tend to understand what is going on in the city. They are just suffering.
‘There are a lot of people in the Muslim community suffering with depression.
Women feel they have no place to go and socialise and simply have coffee with their friends. They can’t express their feelings.Portsmouth Muslim Labour councillor Yahiya Chowdhury
‘Women feel they have no place to go and socialise and simply have coffee with their friends. They can’t express their feelings. They know they can’t take their hijabs off around non-Muslim people.’
Cllr Chowdhury said he has appealed for a weekend Bangladeshi school to be set up, but the council has only committed to include teachings on the culture in the existing school curriculum.
Cllr Chowdhury also said negotiations had stalled over plans to put up a memorial to those who died in the Bangladesh Liberation War – though Muslim officials say they are moving forward.
Syed Aminul Haque, chair of Bangladesh Welfare Association Portsmouth, said: ‘The city council is doing its best, but it can do more for the whole community, as well as the Bangladeshi community.
‘We have had Bangladeshi classes for the past 35 years in Portsmouth, for our youngsters, in a private school, as well as at Mayfield school for the past few years.
‘For whatever reason, that has been taken off now, although we have been fighting with the council over that.
‘But there are cuts. The council has said it will be in a position to help us going forward.’
Addressing concerns over Muslim women, Mr Haque said: ‘There are ladies in Portsmouth who are working with the city council, in many areas. It is for the ladies who want to work here in Portsmouth. There are no problems with the general public, apart from with certain organisations, like EDL, which have caused more harm than they should have done.’
He added: ‘We have asked the council, for the past 10 years or so, for a Bangladesh Liberation War monument.
‘The former leader, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, and the former MP, Mike Hancock, verbally agreed to provide us a place in Victoria Park.
‘But because of the change in administration, it has been delayed for whatever reason.
‘But we are still negotiating with the council over how it can help us.’
Jami Mosque chairman Mujahid Miah said: ‘People can go to see Cllr Chowdhury. But he doesn’t represent the whole Muslim community, he doesn’t represent Bengali welfare.’
Cllr Jones said: ‘Cllr Chowdhury’s comments with regards his opinion of the relationship between the Muslim community and public bodies across the city, including the council, are misguided and dangerous.
‘He’s been a councillor for less than 35 weeks. In that time, he has not raised a single concern with me, or the relevant cabinet member for environment and community safety, Rob New.’
She added: ‘We don’t just have a good relationship with the community, we have an excellent relationship and these comments from a councillor with no experience are naive and ill thought-out, as demonstrated by the reaction from the Muslim community when these comments were put to them.’
Portsmouth Lib Dem leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We are lucky that community relations in Portsmouth are so good, and have been for years.’