More evidence has emerged that Islamic Societies at universities are continuing to host extremist preachers in front of segregated audiences. Last month, students at the University of Westminster invited Murtaza Khan, before replacing him with the equally reprehensible Uthman Lateef. At around the same time, Brunel University Islamic Society hosted Lateef and Dr Khalid Fikry as guest speakers.
Other university Islamic societies including Nottingham, Salford, Kingston, SOAS and Queen Mary have also hosted hardline preachers, despite concern that their sermons stir up sectarian hatred and sow social division.
The most recent instance was the University of East London (UEL), where the Islamic Society secured permission to hold its Annual Dinner on 17 April in the main lecture theatre of the Docklands campus. Two notorious Islamist advocates, Murtaza Khan and Uthman Lateef, were due to speak, and the event was advertised as ‘segregated’. Men and women who wanted to attend had to book tickets via two separate phone lines – one for ‘brothers’, and the other for ‘sisters’.
Counter-extremism group Student Rights pointed out that this could contravene the university’s own equality policies – and it could be against equality law for a public body, funded by the state, to facilitate gender segregation.
Uthman Lateef has stirred hostility towards non-Muslims and gay people, and denounced democracy and social integration. He has repeatedly referred to non-Muslims using the insulting word ‘kuffars’.
He has also condemned secular Islam, attempts to reconcile Islam with democracy and warned against Muslims integrating into British society. He told an audience at the East London Mosque in 2009:
‘If we are teaching the way of life of the disbelievers, of the kuffar, Allah will bring humiliation on us’ and that Muslims should not be misled by those advocating Islamic modernisation, such as ‘democratic Islam’.
Murtaza Khan has declared that homosexuality is ‘abominable’ and that it should be punished with death. He also endorses brutal punishments for sex outside of marriage, including flogging 100 times for unmarried persons and stoning to death for those who are married. He has denounced non-Muslims – especially Jews and Christians – as ‘enemies’ of Islam.
The Peter Tatchell Foundation lobbied staff, students and the UEL Vice-Chancellor, to block the Islamic Society event on the grounds that it was segregated and the speakers had a history of stirring hatred and discrimination. We argued that although the event was deplorable, the Islamic Society was entitled to hold such an event in a free society on its own premises or a privately hired venue – but not in a publicly-funded institution committed to equal treatment, social cohesion and good community relations.
We also stressed that we would take the same view towards a similar event organised by the British National Party (BNP). If they were inciting anti-Muslim hatred, or requiring Muslims to sit separately from non-Muslims, we’d want the university to deny the BNP a meeting space on campus. Just as there should be no toleration of anti-Muslim bigotry, there should be no toleration of bigotry espoused by Muslim extremists.
The UEL authorities said they were unaware of the hate and segregation issues when they accepted the Islamic Society booking. But once we drew these matters to their attention, they agreed the Islamic Society should not be permitted to meet on campus premises if its events featured hate preachers and gender segregation.
A good result. But why are other universities – supposedly places of enlightenment and liberal values – hosting Islamist preachers whose ideology is often more extreme than that of the far right BNP, which is banned from most campuses? Why the double standards when it comes to far right Islamists? Isn’t it ironic that some of the most vocal student radicalism today is not from left-wing activists, as in the 1960s and 70s, but bigoted religious fanatics?
Peter Tatchell is the Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation