Bishop receives death threats after backing Islamic call to prayer

By staff writers
March 13, 2008

The Bishop of Oxford has said he has been sent death threats after backing plans for a Muslim call to prayer in the city.

In January the Rt Rev John Pritchard, who also studied at Oxford University, backed the Muslim loudspeaker call, Adhan, which would take place every Friday in Oxford.

But he said the "dark underbelly of British society" made a number of threats against his life.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "I received extraordinary mail. One said, 'resign' six times in a large font. One called for me to be beheaded and another said: 'I wish I lived closer so I could spit on you.' The dark underbelly of British society was coming out."

The Telegraph claims that a spokesman for the representatives from Oxford's Central Mosque has repeatedly stated their wish to be able to play the muezzin's (caller's) traditional message to the Muslim faithful from speakers on a minaret. But the Anglo-Asian Association for Friendship in East Oxford told Ekklesia that "this is the total opposite of what the two authorised representatives of the Central Mosque said at the meeting [to discuss the issue]".

A letter sent by the Association to the newspaper, correcting the claim, has been received but not published so far.

Dozens of residents near the mosque, in Manzil Way, have urged the council to reject the plan, claiming it will turn the area into a "Muslim ghetto".

"I believe we have good relationships with the Muslim community here in Oxford and I am personally very happy for the mosque to call the faithful to prayer," the bishop had said in an interview with the local Oxford Mail.

"Faith is a very important factor in the lives of 80 per cent of the world's population and a public expression of that faith is both natural and reasonable," Pritchard commented.

"I would say to anyone who has concerns about the call to prayer to relax and enjoy our community diversity and be as respectful to others as you would hope they would be respectful to you," he added.

There are concerns that selective media coverage of the threats against the bishop will be used to whip up unnecessary anti-Muslim feeling.

A local resident deeply involved in the issue told Ekklesia of his dismay at the "dangerous misunderstandings and mishandlings that this episode has caused here in Oxford."

On 10 March 2008, Bishop John Pritchard added: "My interview with the Oxford Times in January elicited a huge response. I received hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls on the subject, both positive and negative.

"At the extreme end some of the comments were certainly unpleasant, and I did receive a death threat. This is a subject that clearly touches a very sensitive nerve in British society.

"Obviously it is never pleasant being on the receiving end of abuse, but at no stage did I feel it necessary to involve the police.

He concluded: "This sort of thing clearly comes from the extreme fringe. On the ground in Oxford, I am glad to say that Christians and Muslims enjoy good relationships, and I am in regular contact with leaders of other faiths."


Full text of the letter sent to the Telegraph newspaper on behalf of the Anglo-Asian Association For Friendship in East Oxford:

Your article entitled 'Bishop's death threats over mosque plan' reports accurately what Bishop John Pritchard said to the meeting of our Anglo-Asian Association for Friendship in East Oxford, but, as its Co-Chairmen, we must point out that your summary of what the representatives of our Central Mosque said is seriously misleading.

Both the members of the Mosque Committee who spoke about the call to prayer insisted that the approach to the City Council had never been properly authorised. The General Secretary said that what had started off the whole discussion was 'basically a romantic idea of something that people wanted to share without any intention of asserting a theology or imposing a culture on anyone'. The Chairman of the Mosque then offered an apology for the way in which the matter had been mishandled and made it clear that no further steps towards a public call to prayer would be taken without consulting local residents.

So we are astonished at the way you report this sensitive matter. We note that no name is given for the author responsible and ask that this letter be printed as a clear statement of the true facts.

(Councillor) Sajjad Malik
(Dr) Martin Conway
Co-Chairmen, Anglo-Asian Association

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