The invitation of Islamic Scholar Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari to speak at the University on Wednesday has sparked controversy across campus.
Several campus societies, including StandforPeace, Amnesty International, Jewish Society, Freedom Society and York Conservatives, have collectively launched an official complaint, claiming that al-Kawthari “poses a threat to social cohesion at York” and that “his views are out of place in a civilised, free and equal society.”
The concern is centred on a report by the thinktank CIVITAS, profiling the Mufti, which explicitly states: “he places severe restrictions on male doctors treating female patients; he rules that women may not swim (even for medical reasons) where a male lifeguard is present, or where there are non-Muslim women; using tampons is ‘disliked’; a woman may not travel beyond 48 miles without her husband or a close relative accompanying her; a female is encouraged to remain within the confines of her house as much as possible; polygamy is permissible.”
Sam Westrop of StandforPeace, who has led the campaign against him speaking at York, has also pointed out that al Kawthari “legitimises rape” in his claim that “the narrations of the beloved of Allah clearly signify the importance of the wife obeying her husband in his request for sexual intimacy. It will be a grave sin (in normal circumstances) for the wife to refuse her husband, and even more, if this leads the husband into the unlawful.”
Speaking to Nouse, Westrop added: “It is a terrifying state of affairs that persons such as al-Kawthari are allowed to propagate their views on university campuses, and that the Union and University should so blithely approve such a speaker. We would all be up in arms if the far right popped up on campus stating that homosexuals have no rights and that capital punishment is suitable for adultery; so why should we hold back with people such as al-Kawthari? We urge the Islamic Society to change the speaker for this event, to someone far less disgusting.”
However, Dinah Salah, President of the York Islamic Society who organised for al Kawthari to speak at York as part of Islam Week, has spoken out against the allegations.
She stated that the societies had been “recklessly sensationalising” his views and that they are being taken “bizarrely out of context.”
Salah continued: “It is important to note that socially conservative views should not be confused with violent extreme views. We find it deeply problematic that individuals seek to tarnish the good name and reputation of Muslim scholars under the premise of ‘extremism’ and ‘islamism’ based on misquotes of a very serious issue.
“We feel that such an approach is not cohesive to good campus relations and seeks to alienate Muslim students from engaging properly in their Students’ Union and hindering their development of a strong Islamic identity. The Islamic Society stands in favour of freedom of expression, with the only exception being when it incites hatred or violence. How can there be meaningful progression in our society, when individuals seek to restrict opinions and prevent constructive challenges of diverse views?“
The protests have also garnered interest from parties outside of the University, who also object to the religiously conservative viewpoints of al Kawthari.
Julian Sturdy, MP for York Outer, stated his concern: “I believe in the absolute importance of freedom of speech, but I am not happy that this vile speaker is using the university as a platform to create tension in the community.”
Hasan Afzal, communication officer for the Middle East Insitute, also added his voice to the fray, commenting: “With less than a week since the Prime Minister made his speech in Munich condemning violent and non-violent preachers, it’s to the lasting shame of York ISoc if they welcome this preacher of hate.”
The University has released a statement in the wake of the rising number of complaints, saying “YUSU has a protocol for visiting speakers and we have been assured that these procedures have been followed. The University has a clear and unequivocal position on issues of human rights, gender equality and religious toleration.”
They continued to state that, to ensure caution, the Pro Vice Chancellor for Students will attend the speaker’s presentation on Wednesday to “monitor its contents carefully”, adding “if we decide that the contents of the presentation are incompatible with the University’s position on these issues, or if we conclude that the speaker is preaching a message of hate, we will not hesitate to take this up with YUSU and the Islamic Society.”
YUSU would not provide a comment till they had addressed the matter with all parties involved.
Nonetheless, Salah was keen to emphasise that “the whole aim of our Islam Awareness Week is to create dialogue and understanding with all students in University in relation to Islam and promoting interfaith communication. All our events are open to all individuals from the University; not only do we extend our invitation to faith societies on campus, but also the wider community including the York Interfaith Forum.
“We invite all societies to come along to the talk on the 16th of February from 6:30 till 8:30 at PX/001 and raise these issues in an open and friendly debate.”