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?”
See also The Yorker, 13 February 2011
It might be noted that Sam Westrop’s views on freedom of expression are somewhat contradictory, to say the least. Last year he condemned the exclusion of Douglas Murray, director of the Civitas-funded Centre for Social Cohesion, from the platform of a fringe event at NUS conference following complaints by FOSIS. According to Westrop, Murray should have been welcomed as a speaker because of the “importance to uphold freedom of speech”.
Murray, it may be recalled, addresed the Pim Fortuyn Memorial conference in 2006 on the subject “What are we to do about Islam?” He demanded “Why is it that time and again the liberal West is crumpling before the violence, intimidation and thuggery of Islam?” and offered the following solution: “It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop…. Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board.”
More recently, Murray welcomed the formation of the EDL as “a grassroots response from non-Muslims to Islamism”.
Westrop, it seems, is in fully in favour of free speech for anti-Muslim hate preachers like Murray, but not for socially conservative Deobandi scholars like Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari.
It is also interesting to see Westrop putting himself forward as a defender of women’s rights. In May 2009 he invited UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom to address the university’s Freedom Society, despite Bloom’s notoriously reactionary views on that issue. Bloom is on record as stating that “no self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age”, that he doesn’t think women “clean behind the fridge enough”, and that his role as MEP is “to represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you get home”.