LONDON // A Muslim chef is suing Britain's largest police force, claiming he suffered religious discrimination because he was expected to cook bacon and pork sausages for breakfast. Hasanali Khoja is due to put his case against the Metropolitan Police to an employment tribunal, which starts a 10-day hearing in London tomorrow. The case has caused outrage in the British press and has been seized on by far right political parties, being branded "the madness of multiculturalism" by the British National Party.
Mr Khoja, 60, whose claim is being backed by both the Association of Muslim Police and the National Black Police Association, says he was refused permission not to handle pork when he took a job as catering manager at a police headquarters in west London. Instead, he said his supervisor suggested he wear gloves when preparing a "999 breakfast" - a policeman's favourite that includes bacon, pork sausages and black pudding, which is made from pigs' blood.
"I felt very unhappy about it. I was very upset and angry because it is not permissible in my religion," said Mr Khoja, who is an adviser on Muslim food issues on the government's Foods Standards Agency. "I was threatened that management would sack me if I did not follow instructions. But I never enrolled to cook pork. I refused to do it. I never did it and I never would. "I had a letter from the human resources department saying that I would not be required to cook any pork. But this was not exactly what I wanted as a guarantee.
"The Met has shown no sensitivity towards my religion. Their response has been ill-thought and discriminatory." Prior to moving to the west London headquarter, Mr Khoja worked at Hendon Police Training College, where he was not required to handle pork products. "My original contract did not include any kind of cooking. I was hired as a senior catering manager," he said. "I protested at the move [to west London] and at having to cook pork.
"I was placed on paid, special leave for a year. No Muslim in my position should have to face such harassment." However, his plight has generated little sympathy in the mainstream of British society. Richard Littlejohn, a columnist for the Daily Mail, wrote: "There are some stories which are so preposterous on so many levels that it is difficult to know where to start. "Whoever heard of a chef being excused pork? Naturally, he now wants a large sum of money by way of compensation. The Met has a long and undistinguished record of grovelling to this kind of opportunist bullying.
"What astonishes me is that he ever applied for a job cooking for policemen in the first place. What, precisely, did he think they serve up in a police canteen - vegetarian samosas? "If he had a fundamental objection [to cooking pork], he should go and work somewhere else. Hiring a chef who won't cook sausages to work in a police canteen is like hiring a lifeguard who can't swim. "Typically, I would imagine, the police were so terrified of being accused of 'racism' that they took him on regardless."
But Khalid Sofi, Mr Khoja's lawyer, insisted there was "an important issue of principle at stake" in the case, with ramifications for the police and wider society in Britain. "He has genuine and strong religious beliefs and expects that they will be accommodated," he said. "'The Met is a very large organisation and could easily have met his demands. "Mr Khoja's case raises the general question of the Met accommodating the needs of the Muslim community at a time when there is a lack of confidence in the police among Muslims.
"We are confident that we have a very good claim. Religious discrimination law obliges employers if possible to accommodate genuine religious needs. "This case goes in to wider issues of diversity and I think it raises significant issues in the current climate." A spokesman for the National Black Police Association said: "It was suggested that he could wear gloves to cook bacon and sausages. This, of course, was no good because it is the principle involved and not about just handling the meat.
"It was all very, very nasty. They were telling him to do something that was against his faith." The Metropolitan Police has had an uneasy relationship with Muslims in recent times. Tarique Ghaffur, an assistant commissioner with the force and the UK's highest ranking Muslim police officer, last year accused the force of racial discrimination. He retired last November after receiving compensation.
Additionally, the National Black Police Association has urged people from ethnic minorities not to join the force, saying they would not be treated fairly. firstname.lastname@example.org