Muslim MP defends new laws on religion

England's only Muslim MP has defended new laws outlawing incitement to hatred of people based on their religion.

But Khalid Mahmood (Lab Perry Barr) was interrupted by fellow MPs when he defended criticism of The Satanic Verses, a book many Muslims wanted banned.

He was speaking in a debate on the Government's Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, which includes controversial measures to outlaw the encouragement of hatred against people on racial or religious grounds.

This would not prevent people expressing opinions about religion, he said.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Mahmood said: "As far as the Muslim community is concerned, if a preacher from the Christian faith, or any other, wants to make valid criticism as they see it, they are entitled to do that.

"We are talking about inciting hatred and abuse against people.

"That is the point we are making - it is a serious issue that has to be dealt with.

"People of other religions, other than the Sikh community and the Jewish community, feel that there is no protection in this area."

He was challenged by Labour MP Diane Abbott (Hackney), who raised the opposition of many Muslims to the publication of Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses in 1988.

She said: "I was a Member of Parliament at the time of The Satanic Verses and there were thousands and thousands of Muslims who believed emphatically that people were not entitled to criticise their religion."

Mr Mahmood said: "I am sorry but I take issue with that. It was not a question of making a valid criticism of the religion.

"In the context of Salman Rushdie, the issue was the abusive words that he deliberately used, which were written in phonetic Urdu . . ."

As some MPs in the Chamber objected, he explained: "Actual swear words were used within that text."

Previously, only racial hatred was outlawed and the law protected Jews and Sikhs, because they are considered races.

But new laws were needed to protect people such as Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, said Mr Mahmood.

The MP said that the laws were not about banning criticism or jokes.

They would apply to everyone equally, including Muslim extremists, he said.

"Organisations such as the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism that deal with Islamophobia consider not people's ability to tell jokes about a religion, or criticise it, but the day-to-day effect on Muslim people living in this country.

"In the light of the recent events that we have all experienced, there is an affect on particular communities."