Page last updated at 18:24 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 19:24 UK

MP defends Muslim wedding walkout

Elderly Muslim men in Whitechapel
Mr Fitzpatrick's constituency is home to a large Muslim community

A government minister has defended his decision to walk out of a Muslim wedding in east London because he was told he must sit apart from his wife.

Jim Fitzpatrick, food, farming and environment minister, left a ceremony at London Muslim Centre, Whitechapel.

The MP for Poplar and Canning Town told the BBC the segregation showed a degree of intolerance in the East End.

But a spokesman for the centre said the segregation was at the request of the couple getting married.

Mr Fitzpatrick, whose constituency is home to a large Muslim community, blamed the tough stance on the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) - an organisation that calls for Sharia law - which is based in the same building.

The vast number of my Muslim constituents who've contacted me have expressed sympathy
Jim Fitzpatrick MP

He told the BBC's Today: "This is a very exceptional occasion, it's a new occurrence.

"It perhaps demonstrates that there is a degree of intolerance - certainly exclusion rather than inclusion, which we are trying to build in the East End.

"Certainly the vast number of my Muslim constituents who've contacted me have expressed sympathy that I was placed in this predicament."

Mr Fitzpatrick is the local MP and a family friend of bride Mahbuba Kamali and groom Bodrul Islam.

Jim Fitzpatrick said he was taking a stand against a hardline Islamic group

The couple said they decided on a segregated wedding out of respect for some of their elderly relatives.

Mrs Kamali said: "It was a private party so if we want to make these requests we are not imposing it and saying we want it to go nationwide and for everyone to be segregated.

"If we wanted to we could have had a fancy dress party and ask all our guests to come this way, and I'm sure he would not refuse."

Mr Islam said he was "upset and embarrassed" by the incident.

"I don't think anyone deserves to have their wedding hijacked for political purposes, or any other purposes," he said.

Mohammad Shakir, a spokesman for the centre, said: "Segregated weddings have always been popular in the Muslim community - the London Muslim Centre has facilitated them for over five years.

"It is part of the attraction for Muslim families so they can celebrate their happy day in a religious atmosphere.

"We have always allowed non-Muslim guests to be seated together without segregation, but this is entirely at the discretion of the families who hire the halls."

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