Patel’s organisation, SREIslamic, was established eight months ago to encourage Muslims to respond to the Government’s consultation about whether to make SRE compulsory and extend it to five-year-olds. Since then, the organisation claims, it has held 40 workshops across the country and collected tens of thousands of signatures from Muslims opposed to the measures.
But Patel is not only a concerned parent and campaigner. According to his website, he is also a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist organisation that Tony Blair considered banning in 2005. Patel’s brother, Jalaluddin, is the former UK head of the political party, which is barred in countries including Germany, Russia and Egypt. Should we be concerned that, like other far-right or religious groups in Britain, SREIslamic might be using a sensitive community grievance to pursue a wider political agenda?
Although Hizb ut-Tahrir says it does not advocate violence, it is opposed to Western-style democracy and believes in establishing a global caliphate under sharia law. There is no evidence of its involvement in terrorism, but some of its members have defended terrorist acts abroad, most recently when a member described Pakistani militants as “brothers”.
Hizb ut-Tahrir keeps membership figures secret, but it is active in the UK, particularly on student campuses. In terms of education policy, its website states its belief in the segregation of the sexes. The group also supported the case of Shabina Begum, a 16-year-old girl who fought in court for the right to wear her jilbaab to school. The National Union of Students gives it no platform, however, and many British mosques bar the group from campaigning on site.
After the workshop, Patel declined to answer questions about his political beliefs. In a subsequent email, he confirmed his membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but denied any formal link between the party and SREIslamic, as did Hizb ut-Tahrir’s press officer. In the workshop, it was hard to tell whether Patel is constructively engaging in local democracy or stirring up tension. “As a community, we have a right to express our concerns but we have been labelled,” he said. “Parents have concerns within their minds about speaking out. ‘How will teachers see us?’ and ‘What are the repercussions for my child?’.”
While talking, he held up examples of classroom materials used to teach students about homosexuality ? “King meets King” and “Tango makes three” drew sniggers from the audience. “We believe in the primacy of marriage ? that is the only way to create a family. That’s the only way to complete half our religion, and it is under attack,” he added. “We don’t believe homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle choice.”