When Jim Fitzpatrick MP and his wife decided to leave a Muslim wedding party after they discovered it was segregated by sex, he did not anticipate the controversy his decision would generate. “It reflects badly on him,” said Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former head of the Muslim Council of Britain. “It shows a lack of interest… to engage with people of different backgrounds.” Tim Archer, the Tory who is standing against the minister of state at the next election, commented that “Fitzpatrick is playing a certain race card to save his skin at the next election”.
All this because Mr Fitzpatrick did not want to imply that he endorsed sexual segregation by remaining at the party. Yet what can possibly be wrong with an MP, or anyone else, withdrawing from a celebration whose organisation suggests that women are not equal to men?
Some people claim that segregating the sexes is a matter of personal choice, like choosing between flavours of ice-cream. It has no implications in terms of your view of the equality of the sexes, any more than wearing the niqab or the hijab – the Islamic garments that cover women from head to toe – implies that you think women are inferior.
The Muslims who feel most strongly about sexual segregation, or about the importance of ensuring that women dress “modestly”, see those customs as ordered by God. They are profoundly offended by the idea that they reflect merely human choices. That is why there is a vocal strain of Islam in Britain that insists that Muslims should be governed, not by British law, but by sharia.