For Britain's increasingly assertive Muslim community, this year has got off to a rather turbulent start, for at least two reasons. First, there have been some hard arguments in the wake of a parliamentary vote on gay marriage, in which five out of the eight Muslim members of parliament defied many of their co-religionists by supporting a bill that will make it possible for same-sex couples to wed. The only Muslim to vote against the bill was Rehman Chishti, a Conservative; like many other Tories from the provinces, he felt the government had ignored a big segment of traditional and religious-minded voters. The most senior Muslim to vote in favour was Labour's Sadiq Khan, a member of the shadow cabinet who told his south London voters that the law was an important step forward for the principle of equality, and stressed that there were rock-solid guarantees against religious groups being forced to celebrate same-sex weddings.
Not only has Mr Khan received death threats, which must be a familiar occupational hazard for anybody in his ultra-sensitive position; both he and the four other Muslims who voted with him have been told publicly by an imam in Bradford, Muhammad Aslam Naqshbandi, that they have virtually stepped outside the ranks of the faithful and must renew their vows as Muslims. The language used was somewhat reminiscent of the scoldings dished out by Catholic bishops to politicians who vote in favour of abortion. The south Asian Muslim strongholds of northern England (Bradford, Bolton, Birmingham) have historically been staunch in their support for the Labour party, and it is Labour that has most to lose from an Islamically inspired backlash against gay rights. That may be one of the reasons why Labour leader Ed Miliband paid a pre-emptive visit to the prestigious Regent's Park Mosque in January.