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Should religion be kept out of the workplace?

PUBLISHED: 11:38 17 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:22 05 October 2010

SHOULD employers allow religion to be actively promoted in the workplace? If you think no, then you might be concerned about interesting developments at Tower Hamlets council. Some consider the formation and the growing influence of the Tower Hamlets Muslim Staff Forum enlightened, that debate, discussion and the brotherhood of workers has been strengthened

Ted Jeory puts East End politicians in the dock

SHOULD employers allow religion to be actively promoted in the workplace?

If you think no, then you might be concerned about interesting developments at Tower Hamlets council.

Some consider the formation and the growing influence of the Tower Hamlets Muslim Staff Forum enlightened, that debate, discussion and the brotherhood of workers has been strengthened.

It was set up last year after its founding fathers persuaded Town Hall chiefs a trade union-type lobby group aligned on religious grounds would foster cohesion, tolerance and understanding among the council's diverse employees.

The persuasion was such that the forum was granted access to £3,000 of annual funding. It was also given permission to stage debates in the council chamber during working hours, the most recent of which included a guest Muslim scholar telling the audience homosexuality was a sin.

The bulk of last year's funding, £2,400, went on a huge Iftar feast, the celebration of the breaking of the fast at the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, held at the Town Hall to which all staff were invited.

It was the only central, council-wide religious celebration staged by Tower Hamlets last year. Not a penny was spent on any general staff Christmas party even.

This staff forum, I'm being told by concerned (Muslim) council insiders, is growing in strength and influence.

My sources, who understandably do not want to go 'on record,' were particularly uncomfortable with what they described as the pushy and intimidating nature of forum members last month, when they were allowed to tour council offices collecting for Muslim Aid's charity appeal for Burmese cyclone victims.

(This collection by the way, which also extended to buckets being shaken at the doors to last month's full council meeting, was felt by many to be an unwelcome precedent, permitting as it did the raising of cash through a certain peer pressure.)

Why, these contacts urged me to ask, was Muslim Aid so interested in collecting for a country that is 90 per cent Buddhist and with a relatively small Muslim population?

The answer, I was told, is something beyond humanitarian benevolence. Burma is seen as potentially fertile territory for the spread of Islam.

And that, my moles argue, is what the Tower Hamlets Muslim Forum in its own way is more about, promoting Islam (and creating power bases) at the Town Hall.

Next month's gala dinner for the forum, to which all councillors and senior managers feel obliged to attend, is part of that networking.

With the faith's many decent morals, representation at the top well may be a good thing.

But religion being a deeply private matter, many feel such promotion should be left outside the workplace, not via potentially divisive staff lobby groups, which have organised on the basis of faith.

< WAIS HAS THE LAST LAUGH...

WHEN Cllr Wais Islam defected from Respect to Labour last year, MP George Galloway's office described it as an example of a rat jumping onto a sinking ship.

Some 12 months on, as four other Respect party members prepare to follow suit, wily Wais's move has actually proved prescient.

It seems the real sinking ship is Respect... so much so that no one wants to 'captain' it.

I'm told that group leader Abjol Miah, whose former determination to cling on to that post (despite his almost complete lack of engagement with Town Hall business) contributed to the split in Respect, now wants to stand down and concentrate on his campaign to become MP for Bethnal Green & Bow. His deputy, Shahed Ali, doesn't want the job because he's toying with going to Labour.

I understand that the very likeable Harun Miah doesn't want it either.

Now that their experienced political adviser Eileen Short has also decided to quit, they'll probably decide the new leader by Russian Roulette.

ted.jeory@archant.co.uk


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