Segregated Seating at University College London Debate Between Islam and Atheism Sparks Controversy

11 March 2013

 

A debate held on the campus of University College London (UCL) and hosted by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) between Professor Lawrence Krauss, a leading atheist, and Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a lecturer on Islam, sparked controversy when event organizers instituted a gender-segregated seating policy, though the specifics of this policy are contested. The debate was held on 9 March and was entitled, “Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?”

 

Reports indicate that Professor Krauss, upon seeing women directed toward the back of the auditorium and three men being removed from the women’s section, threatened to walk out of the debate. This apparently prompted event organizers to abandon the seating policy and the event was held as scheduled.

 

Accounts differ as to the nature of the seating policy, with one member of the iERA claiming that women attendees merely had the option to sit in a women’s only section and were not forced to do so. The arrangement was instituted to respect those Muslim women who desired to “adhere to orthodox Islamic principles” by sitting in their own section. The member further emphasized that the seating arrangement, consisting of one all-male section, one all-female section, and one mixed section, was approved by UCL representatives prior to the debate.

 

For its part, UCL has launched an investigation into the issue to determine whether any university policies had been violated.

Muslim Medical Students Boycott Lectures on Evolution

28.11.2011
An increasing number of Muslim biology and medical students as well as trainee doctors at the University College London (UCL) are boycotting lectures on evolution, claiming they clash with ideas established in the Quran. As the Daily Mail reports, similar to the beliefs expressed by fundamentalist Christians, Muslim opponents to Darwinism maintain that Allah created the world, mankind, and all known species. Yet, Professors at UCL are increasingly concerned about the students’ boycott of lectures, as Darwinist theory forms an important part of the syllabus.

Huron University College Appoints Chair in Islamic Studies

Oct. 14, 2011

 

Huron University College in London, Ontario has appointed Dr. Ingrid Mattson as the inaugural London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at its Faculty of Theology. Dr. Mattson will begin her appointment on July 1, 2012.

Dr. Mattson was born and raised in Kitchener-Waterloo and earned her PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago. She is the first convert to Islam and the first woman to lead the Islamic Society of North America. Before accepting the Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College, Dr. Mattson was Director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford Connecticut. She has also been an Advisor to both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

UK Universities Asked to Report “Vulnerable” Muslim Students

29.08.2011

As part of the government’s revamped Prevent strategy, British universities have been ordered to inform the police about Muslim students who may be vulnerable to radicalisation due to feelings of depression or isolation. According to the new guidance for countering Islamist radicalism, students reported at being “at risk” will then be monitored and Scotland Yard will assess any terrorist threat. However, the students will not be made aware of this investigation. The backdrop to this new focus on universities is the realisation that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabhad, who has come to be known as the “underpants bomber” of Christmas 2009, had studied at the University College London.

The new guidance has resulted in discomfort amongst both lecturers and student unions who are concerned about the infringement of students’ civil liberties. As the Guardian reports, the National Union of Students, for instance, instructed their officers to not provide the police with details about students unless they presented a warrant. Similarly, James Haywood, president of Goldsmiths college student union, said he was appalled to be asked to spy on Muslim students. The University and College Union criticised the new strategy for risking to damage the relationship between staff and students. Similarly, Ted Cantle warned of the risk to stigmatise Muslims. Despite these criticisms, however, the Home Office defended the new strategy and expressed the expectation on universities to play their role in achieving its objectives.

Questions surround Islamic Chair position at Huron University College, affiliate of University of Western Ontario

The National Post: May 13, 2011
This article chronicles critics of a proposed Islamic Chair position at Huron University College, an affiliate of University of Western Ontario (UWO) Southern Ontario. Huron offers post-baccalaureate and professional degree programs in theology. The College recently accepted a $2-million endowment for a new Chair in Islamic Studies within the College’s historically Anglican Faculty of Theology. About half the money is to come via fundraising facilitated by the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), and the other, matching half from the Virginia-based International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).
On April 5, 26 self-identified “alumni, friends and faculty” of the university signed on to a letter written by UWO associate professor of economics John Palmer, protesting acceptance of the endowment. In it, Palmer contends that although MAC and IIIT claim they are moderate and democratic organizations, their approach is influenced by Imam Hassan Al-Banna, founder and even decades after his death still ideological guru of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), who, according to the MAC website, “best exemplifies [a] balanced, comprehensive understanding of Islam.”

Abdulmutallab’s struggles highlight line between piety and extremism

Before Abdulmutallab traveled to Yemen to train with al-Qaida and wrote off his family, tensions existed with his father over his alleged “immoral, un-Islamic ” choices to become a wealthy banker. This is apparently a common struggle in Kaduna, Nigeria, where Abdulmutallab was raised. He also spent a lot of time unsupervised, a common issue in wealthy Nigerian families, and was exposed to the radical ideas that circulate the region.

Researchers also note his loneliness and isolation as a factor in his radicalization. “He is a total teetotaler,” said Adulmutallab’s uncle. “He doesn’t do what his peers used to do. He is always indoors reading his Quran.”

By the time he reached University College London, the transformation to radical Islam had occurred. “He had changed; he was saying ‘Islam, Islam, Islam;’ Aminu Baba-Ahmed says.

Yemen claims Abdulmutallab recruited for al-Qaida while in London

While Britain has confirmed Abdulmutallab had contact with Islamist radicals during his time at University College London, authorities deny he was recruited into al-Qaida from the UK. The Yemeni government claim otherwise.

Guesswork on Abdulmutallab’s potential radicalization in London

From December 25, 2009, there has been ample news coverage in the UK on the attempted terrorist attack on a flight to Detroit, as the alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had formerly been a student at University College in London. News reports try to uncover whether Abdulmutallab had always held fundamentalist views or whether he adopted them in London, during his studies 2005-2008 or only afterwards while in Yemen.

Some claim that Abdulmutallab had reached out to extremists that were under MI5 surveillance during his studies. On the other hand he served as president to the Islamic Society of University College, with the majority of such societies being very mainstream, cooperative and pursuing inter-faith dialogue. Then again, this particular Islamic Society organized some events with controversial speakers during Abdulmutallab’s presidency, for instance a strong homophobic speaker, and had disputes with the university’s Jewish society over the definition of anti-Semitism. The Federation of Islamic Societies has expressed their shock about the incidence, but also demanded that Islamic Societies at universities not be condemned across-the-board.

In London, Abdulmutallab also attended a mosque in central London, Goodge Street. This is run by the Saudi-based organisation Muslim World League, which promulgates a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, but has repeatedly condemned terrorism. It is most probable that a variety of sources for Abdulmutallab’s radicalisation will be found, and that some of them are British, while their actual influence has been underestimated by security services.

Who is Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab?

23-year old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to bomb a Northwest Airlines Flight en route from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.

Abdulmutallab was educated at an international British school in Lagos as a youth, and received a degree in engineering and business finance from University College London from 2005-08. His father was a banker and government official in Nigeria.

Abdulmutallab’s father reported him to authorities after he showed interest in radical Islam, cut ties with his family and disappeared. His recent past includes two trips to Yemen and moves to both Egypt and Dubai.

His 2005 posts to the Islamic Forum (http://www.gawaher.com) reveal a lonely young man desperate for a better social life, love life, success on standardized tests, someone to “consult” with, and respite from depression. “I have no one to speak to. No one to support me, no one to consult, and I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems.” He was also conflicted about eating meat not slaughtered by Muslims with his parents, and experienced difficulty in finding a balance between working to understand the Koran, and relaxing without becoming too listless.

He also wrote about a 2005 trip to Yemen to study Arabic, where he seemed to be having a happy experience. He described how many American and British people were in Sanaa, and excitement over the availability of Pizza Hut and KFC.

Abdulmutallab had 287 Facebook friends; pictures posted to his profile show him smiling with friends.

A fellow student of his at University College London said he showed no signs of radicalization, but described him as quiet and reserved, and frequently prayed.

Did time in London radicalize Abdulmutallab?

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab spent 2005-08 living in a 3-bedroom apartment in London’s West End as an engineering and business finance student at University College London. Experts wonder whether those years, characterized by anger over the Iraq War and the 2005 London subway/bus bombing, could have played a role in radicalizing Abdulmutallab.

While London is an exciting city for Muslims from other countries with its higher education options, jobs, and distance from family home, it is also described by Mamoun Fandy, International Institute for Strategic Studies as “a mecca of jihad.” The years Abdulmutallab spent there saw a spike in the spread of radical Islamic ideas.

Today, Muslims still have access to many different interpretations of Islam in London, including “intense Koranic views.”

“I’ve felt for a long time that if radical Sharia law comes to the rest of the world it will start on the streets of London,” says a Pakistani expert on militant Islam. “Too many clerics today, even moderate ones, don’t talk on Muslim life in a secular state. Young Muslims are smart, raised as British citizens. If they come from abroad, many have great hope and are often disillusioned. They live between worlds, in the cracks. When they go home to their families they are often more radical than their friends.”

“There remains in London a problem of assimilation for outsiders. The society is closed. The city is open, but the people are not,” Fandy said.

At this point in the investigation, his background and path to violent jihad is still unclear. One source claims he was recruited to militant Islam while living in London. Another claims he was already espousing radical views while still in boarding school in West Africa, before he ever went to college. But the US is now questioning whether Britain is posing a major threat to national security.