London Met ‘alcohol ban’: Muslim students accuse vice chancellor of stoking Islamophobia

The Daily Telegraph draws our attention to an open letter to London Metropolitan University’s vice chancellor Prof Malcolm Gillies from the university’s Islamic and Shia Muslim societies in response to press reports that Gillies in considering a ban on alcohol on some parts of the campus.

Dear Professor Gillies,

We are responding to your recent comments regarding the proposed alcohol ban within the university on religious grounds.

London Met is a diverse and multicultural university with approximately 30,000 students representing over 150 different countries. We, as Muslim students, value democracy and respect diversity and multiculturalism and we also acknowledge that we are able to practice our faith more freely here in the UK than in many Muslim countries around the world. We find your recent comments regarding banning alcohol on university premises being based on religious grounds, as an attack not only on the values we hold, but also on the values of the wider non-Muslim community. Your comments clearly showed that the alcohol ban you proposed is based on gross generalisation about the views of Muslim students.

We hold the view  that such a proposal should have been put forward to all students regardless of whether they are Muslim or not. Your failure to consult the Students’ Union (a democratically elected body representing students’ views) and the two Islamic societies at the university raise the question of how you came to the conclusion that the Muslim population at London Metropolitan are calling for an alcohol-free campus. More importantly there has never been a demand for an alcohol ban on campus from Muslim or non-Muslim students. The Muslim population at London Met stands at approximately 20%, so assuming all Muslims at the campus were in favour of the ban, this could not be imposed as it would go against the fundamental principal of democracy i.e. imposing the will of minority on 80% of non-Muslim majority.

We are aware that the current leases for the student bar located at City Campus is due to expire in the near future. All indications show that the university does not have any plan to renew the lease or replace it with a permanent licensed bar. Muslim students are being used as a scapegoat because it is deemed an easier way out than to explain to those students who use the bar that to renew the lease would be costly, and having to face backlash from the students who are paying for their ultimate ‘university experience’. To use Muslim students to justify cuts is not acceptable and certainly immoral.  If the university finds that running the bars is not economically viable then you should put forward a ‘business case’ and not a ‘religious case’  to justify the closure of bars and the creation of an alcohol-free campus.

We find your argument to ban alcohol on religious grounds baseless, divisive and irresponsible and we are concerned about the welfare of the students.  Your stance has already had negative impacts both within the university and in the wider society.  Internally it has initiated the process of polarisation of the student body and creating resentments towards Muslim students.  For example, there has already been anti-Muslim remarks appearing on various social media websites and there have also been actual incidences of student confrontations which have been reported to the Student Union, and it is only a matter of time before a Muslim student is physically assaulted.

If you are sincerely concerned about the Muslim students’ experiences at the university then we like to know why you have removed the Muslim Imam from the chaplaincy, and have not even attempted to replace him.

The media has always portrayed Islam and Muslims negatively and they would use any excuse to escalate this further. Such an unreasonable proposal which clearly many non-Muslims view as an attack by Muslims against their way of life, is absolutely of no benefit to the Muslim students and the wider Muslim community at all. In fact it demonises them even more and it will be used as baseless evidence to show how Britain is becoming a ‘shariastate’, particularly by far right groups such as the EDL who have already capitalised upon this and added it to their campaign against minority groups.

Your remark to ban alcohol on religious ground does not only undermine community cohesion, which the Home Office, CLG and numerous non-governmental organisations work hard to build post 9/11, but it also adds to the growing hostility towards Muslims. This only gives rise to Islamophobia, and incites religious hatred towards vulnerable Muslim communities across the country.

Students look up to you as a role model and a learned scholar who regularly contributes to debates in the higher education sector. We did not expect such an intellectually dishonest stance from a person of such calibre. Your undemocratic, ill devised and misleading remarks have caused tension within the university campus and in the wider society; therefore we demand a retraction of your comments and an unreserved apology.

Yours Sincerely,

LMU Islamic Society & Shia Muslim Society