September 1, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1274

Saudi Historian: Muslim Student Organizations in U.K. are Rife With Extremism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination Against Women

September 1, 2006
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 1274

On August 21, 2006, the online Saudi daily Al-Iqtisadiyya published an article by Saudi university lecturer Dr. Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi titled "The Extremism of the Muslims in the West and Our Responsibility." In it, she wondered how it could be that the Muslim students on U.K. university campuses conduct, along with the usual student activity, Islamic activity that is rife with racism, separatism, extremism, and discrimination against women.

The following are excerpts from the article: [1]

"Manchester... was Jam-Packed With Young British-Asian Muslims Who Realized That Education was the Way to Fight... Marginalization"

"... In my previous article, I wrote about the elements of the identity of the Muslim community [in the U.K.], that range from British racism and socio-politico-economic marginalization [of the Muslims], to the winds of [Muslim] extremism that have reached from the [Arab] deserts to the island [of Britain] and begun [to sweep over] the Muslim youth that is in constant search of its self.

"In the 1990s Manchester was - and still is - jam-packed with young British-Asian Muslims who realized that education was the way to fight this marginalization, and we began to see them in not insignificant numbers at Manchester's four universities. Furthermore, [the Muslims] maintained a strong presence [at these universities] by establishing Islamic associations under the [general] students' unions at each of the universities. This enabled them to hold many Islamic, humanitarian, and social activities, such as breaking the fast [i.e. banquets] for the fasting students, holiday celebrations, etc.

"[The participants in these activities included] many male and female students, who succeeded in attaining a high level of coordination among the Islamic associations at the universities... By means of democratic struggle, these associations managed to obtain a permanent place allocated to prayer at the university, which the male and female [Muslim] students took care to use constantly, not only for prayer but also for holding religious study groups and Koran study... Fridays presented a wonderful picture, as the Muslim students of this city answered the call [to prayer, and prayed] before they scattered to eat lunch at the kebab and shawarma restaurants in the area, or returned to the lecture halls and the library..."

"I Don't Remember a Single Week in Which I Didn't Sense Provocation Rising From the Friday Sermons"

"But perhaps here I need to fill in the picture with what was happening on the sidelines on Fridays, and especially in the sermons. I don't remember a single week in which I didn't sense provocation rising from the Friday sermons. There was usually a different preacher every week, in accordance with whoever was available.

"Rarely, one of the students would take it upon himself to deliver the sermon. But in most cases the person giving the sermon was someone considered to be capable and successful in public speaking. Because people like this are hard to find, we were witness to sermons that dripped with the smell of racism, separatism, extremism, and discrimination against women. Since most of the worshippers were young people with no religious experience, such as, for example, the [experience] provided by our [Saudi] environment, they accepted these statements submissively and thought that Islam advocates discrimination against women, against every Muslim who disagrees with us, or against 'the People of the Book' [i.e. Jews and Christians] among whom we live...

"Only rarely did the preacher address the women, whom he couldn't see during the worship; the sermon was meant only for the men. The situation reached the point where the preacher would [sometimes] deliver his sermon in Arabic, and say that every Muslim should know Arabic thoroughly, and if he did not, this would detract from his religion. This made the Western Muslims [feel] a permanent sense of inferiority to the Arabs, who present themselves as the only ones bearing [the message] of the true religion, while [in fact] they ignored the true call of Islam, to whom it was addressed [i.e. to all humanity], and who raised its banner. Many statements [in the sermons] were, in my opinion, loaded with racism and one-sidedness - and I try to clarify to women... that the preacher was expressing his personal opinion, and not the religion of Islam in all its wide scope."

Despite University Regulations Against Discrimination, "Women Heard [the Lectures] From Behind a Partition"

"Gradually, we found that the activity of the Islamic association was characterized by an extremist character, which is in fact contradictory to its status [as a student organization], as well as to the places where these activities were being held. For lectures to which speakers from outside Manchester were invited, two halls were allocated - one for women and one for men, such that the women heard [the lecture] from behind a partition, or through a microphone [i.e. speaker], because closed-circuit TV technology had not yet reached them. Or else you would find them allocating seats in the back for the women, as though we were worshipping at a mosque. Or, they were fearful of the presence of women, and didn't know what to do and how to act with the British women - who in no way accept the discriminatory positions against women that were taken at such events. And then, [because of our objections,] the event's organizers would retract their statements - thus entering into [a state of] internal contradiction.

"What was even stranger was that all these activities were carried out on the university campus, one of whose statutes forbids discrimination among students on the basis of gender, race, or religion, and where all these [male Muslim] students studied together with their Muslim sisters at lectures, morning and evening, as well as with the non-Muslim [female students]...

"On the sidelines of these meetings, one could find religious pamphlets with fatwas on issues of how to act towards a non-Muslim, towards a woman, and other matters of controversy in day-to-day life, translated into every language, and especially into English. These pamphlets bore the imprimatur of councils of the most prominent 'ulama in Islamic countries, which, as far as [these students] were concerned, constituted the source of authority on [proper] behavior and religious law."

Before These Youth Understood Islam’s Spirit, Morals, Tolerance, and Lofty Message… They Had Already [Absorbed] Hatred of Non-Muslims and... of Anything Coming From Western Civilization

"Before these young people have understood the morals of Islam, its tolerance, its spirit, and its lofty message that led people far and near to embrace it... they already diligently [absorbed] hatred of non-Muslims and hatred of anything coming from Western civilization - or even from [non-fundamentalist] Islamic civilization, and have already discussed controversial issues such as veils for women, music, and even photography, as part of the religious guidelines that they receive from the sheikhs who occasionally visit from [Saudi Arabia], Pakistan, and other countries, where they have this same dogmatic [system of] single-sex schools...

"I saw many young people, men and women, who are sick to death of the activities of their colleagues, which are contradictory to their European environment and even to their Pakistani or Indian environment. Some of them have begun to withdraw and to try to ignore anything having to do with Islam, while others find extremism to be [a tool] by means of which they can benefit from an authority that they do not have in their regular surroundings."

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