One of the Church of England’s most senior figures today risks a row with the Muslim community by suggesting that Islamic women should not wear veils in public.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Mail, Dr John Sentamu warns that ‘no minority’ should impose its beliefs on the rest of society and that the veil causes Muslim women to ‘stick out’.
The Archbishop of York—who ranks second in the Church’s hierarchy—also says the BBC is biased against Christians because Anglicans don’t threaten to ‘bomb’ the corporation.
And in a strongly-worded analysis of the state of modern Britain, the Uganda-born cleric makes a passionate defence of the Queen, family values and faith schools.
The Archbishop’s comments on veils follow Jack Straw’s revelation that he asks Muslim women to remove their niqabs before speaking to him at his constituency surgery.
Dr Sentamu said: ‘Muslim scholars would say three questions: 1. Does it conform to norms of decency? 2. Does it render you more secure? 3. What kind of Islam are you projecting by wearing it?
‘I think in the British context it renders you less secure because you stick out and it brings unwelcome attention. On the first question, I don’t think it does.’
His views put him at odds with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams who has said it would be ‘ politically dangerous’ if society did not allow visible signs of faith.
Dr Sentamu goes on to reveal that he removes his cross when he visits Mosques. ‘I am going into someone else’s home,’ he says. ‘And I can’t simply say: “Take me as I am whether you like it or not”.’
His attack on the BBC reflects growing unease over the corporation’s pro-Muslim agenda. Dr Sentamu said: ‘We get more knocks, they can do to us what they dare not do to the Muslims. We are fair game because they can get away with it. We don’t go down there and say we are going to bomb your place. It is not within our nature.’
He also launches a strong defence of faith schools and rejects Government attempts to impose quotas.
Dr Sentamu warns that materialism is destroying family life and urges a return to Victorian family values. ‘We have become a society where we all gather round the microwaves, or the television. Even while you are eating, the television is blaring.’ He also calls on people to take more pride in Britain. ‘When I was in Uganda, everything that was British was best. If you went to a shop to buy a ruler, you looked for one that said “Made in Britain”. But now this country disbelieves in itself in an amazing way.’
Launching a defence of the monarchy, he says: ‘The Church of England reminds the nation that in this country the Queen is the defender of the faith, the head of the Commonwealth and the head of state.’
The Archbishop also calls for more restraint at Christmas. ‘I would suggest this Advent eating less and not spending so much.’