The Imam of the Canterbury Mosque has accused Boris Johnson of Islamophobia after he compared burqas to letterboxes.
Ihsan Khan says he is shocked by the contents of a newspaper article by Mr Johnson and believes it undermines efforts to integrate Muslims into British society.
Earlier this week the former Foreign Secretary wrote a piece for The Daily Telegraph in which he criticised Denmark’s proposal to ban the burqa and said it was “oppressive to expect women to cover their faces” before comparing them to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.
Mr Khan said: “As a British Muslim who has always been told this country exercises freedom of religion, I am shocked by what Boris Johnson has said.
“I understand the country also exercises the freedom of speech, but when the government is coming up with so many strategies to allow religious and ethnic minorities to integrate, comments like this just make all the efforts go down the drain.
“I mean had Mr Johnson said ‘I disagree with the burka’ that would have been freedom of speech.
“But the minute you compare my sisters to letterboxes, you have stepped in to the category of Islamophobia. I do think he owes an apology.”
Prime Minister Theresa May has also called on Mr Johnson to apologise for the article, which angered some readers.
However, some commentators have argued that calling Mr Johnson’s words a Islamophobic is an over-reaction.
Fraser Myers, a writer on the current affairs website Spiked, defended Mr Johnson’s right to air his thoughts.
He said: “That questioning this rare and obscure religious practice is deemed off-limits is telling. Criticism is forbidden merely because of the burqa’s association with Islam.
“In criticising what he sees as an oppressive religious practice, while refusing to ban it, Johnson is advocating for a genuine religious tolerance. True tolerance means allowing the expression of ideas and practices that you don’t like.”