There’s an interesting battle shaping up on university campuses over Islamic societies segregating their events. Today’s Guardian highlights the most recent example of this at the University of Leicester where men and women were directed to separate entrances for a lecture entitled ‘Does God exist?’

The speaker, Hamza Tzortis, is a member of the Islamic Education and Research Academy, a group which was itself banned from UCL last month after trying to segregate an event. This trend of segregating events in this country is a bizarre one. Even at Islam’s most holy site, the Grand Mosque in Makkah, entrances are not segregated nor is the pilgrimage performed inside. Indeed, all this is reminiscent of the bald warning from Dr Barham Salih in 2008 when he was Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, that some mosques in Blackburn are more extreme than those in Baghdad.

Herein lies the problem with so many Islamist organisations operating in Britain. Rather than promote a progressive version of the faith at peace with wider society they often promote even more doctrinaire views than those practised in the Muslim world. IERA’s chairman, Abdulraheem Green, has even warned Muslim parents against allowing their children to celebrate Christmas in schools. He told an audience:

‘You know very well what takes place in these schools … it is all about evolution, Christmas, Easter, St Valentine’s Day – a barrage. And you expect your children to survive? You think you live in a sewer and you come up smelling of roses?’

By contrast, Dubai now hosts an annual Christmas festival. That’s not to suggest the Middle East is home to progressive theology – far from it – but it is a remarkable fact we have organisations like IERA promoting a more austere version of Islam in Britain than even the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

During the latter stages of their administration, some Labour ministers began to understand the dangers of this. Ruth Kelly and Hazel Blears led a pushback against extremists operating in the public space by challenging them over their beliefs, and progress was made. Groups like the Muslim Council of Britain were dumped, funding for Muslim Brotherhood organisations was stopped, and new partners were empowered.

Universities consistently refused to play their part, allowing extremism to flourish on campuses around the country. Their concern over segregation now, however belated, is a most necessary first step in redressing this and tipping the balance in favour of genuine progressives.

Tags: Higher education