“Forced marriage and FGM are not condoned by the Holy Quran. Pakistan gave women votes 24 years before Switzerland.”

Forced marriage, female genital mutilation and exclusion from the labour market were among the issues tackled at a high-level conference in Brussels addressing gender equality and Islam.

Held in the European Parliament, the event was organised by Amjad Bashir MEP and brought together experts, religious leaders, politicians and diplomats from across the globe.

Mr Bashir, Conservative MEP for Yokshire and The Humber and a consistent campaigner for human rights, opened the discussion by raising the question: “Is Islam the reason behind oppression and discrimination – or is it deeply entrenched backward practices dating back thousands of years?”

Speakers included Tunisian-born Italian MP Imen Ben Mohemed, gender equality lawyer Seyran Ateş, Imam Qari Mohammad Asim MBE of the Makkah Mosque in Leeds, Egyptian campaigner Nouran Salah, and Souad Adnan, a lawyer who has worked with charities around the world on gender equality issues.

After the conference, Mr Bashir said: “Media coverage and general perception of Muslim women in the West is often associated with oppression and discrimination.

“I wanted this conference not only to show examples of highly enlightened thinking and practice within the Islamic and Arabic world – but also to examine the abuse, oppression and denial of opportunity which does exist.

“I want to explore exactly how it has come about and how it can be addressed – rather than making the lazy and inaccurate assumption that it is all down to Islam.

“Forced marriage and FGM are not condoned by the Holy Quran. Pakistan gave women votes 24 years before Switzerland.

“I hope we have given people more insights on best practices in promoting gender equality and individual freedoms in the Muslim communities everywhere in the world,

“We want to encourage furthering community cohesion and inter-faith cooperation in Western societies, and we will continue to promote the emancipation of Muslim women and greater access to the world of work and business.”