A Radio 4 Woman’s Hour interview with a leading female Muslim was “strikingly hostile” and perpetuated “damaging and prejudicial tropes” about Islam, according to an open letter signed by more than 100 prominent figures.
Zara Mohammed, the first woman to lead the Muslim Council of Britain, appeared on the BBC show earlier this month and was quizzed by presenter Emma Barnett.
In the interview, Mohammed was repeatedly asked about the number of female imams in Britain.
The letter, whose signatories include Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi and Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Naz Shah, states: “Despite Mohammed’s repeated claims that religious adjudication was not within the parameters of her role leading a civil society organisation, Barnett asked the question about female imams four times, each time interrupting Mohammed’s answer.
“The framing of the interview and clipping up of the ‘female imam’ segment for social media mirrored the style and tone of an accountability interview with a politician, rather than authentically recognising and engaging in what this represented for British Muslim women.”
According to the letter, which was also signed by journalist Afua Hirsch and pop star Jordan Stephens, “numerous complaints online and in private” to the BBC led to the broadcaster removing a clip of the interview from social media.
It added: “Whilst the removal of the clip is welcome, this response is insufficient. The tone and framing of the entire interview must be seriously assessed. There is an important difference between a style of questioning that undermines a woman’s voice and one that holds her to account.”
The letter also criticised a “lack of representation” within the BBC.
It called for the broadcaster to release a public statement “recommitting to engaging with Muslim women” and recruit Muslims in leadership positions.
A BBC spokesman said: “This is a topic we’ve been responding to already and now that we’ve received this letter we will reply to it in due course.”
Barnett took over the presenting slot on Woman’s Hour last month.
In her first week, actress Kelechi Okafor pulled out of an appearance after alleging she heard Barnett talking about her to producers before the show went on air.
Barnett said she was discussing issues surrounding the interview.