Last week, I became aware of a petition that was being circulated by students from the University of Westminster to ban homophobic and pro-FGM speaker Sheikh Haitham Al-Haddad from speaking. Al-Haddad had been invited to speak by the Islamic Society to deliver a talk entitled "Who is Muhammad?"
The petition cited the following quote that Haddad has said regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage:
"It is in this vein that I commend the many Christian bishops and ministers who have come out in opposition to the current proposals to allow homosexuals to 'marry', and I support them in their endeavour to dissuade the government from including LGBTs in current marriage legislation. We also appreciate the brave stance of the Nobel peace prize winner and president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in defending a law that criminalises homosexual acts and determinedly standing for higher moral standards."
The Islamic Society released a statement to address the claims regarding Al-Haddad that were cited in the petition and also clarified that he was not invited to speak on topics pertaining to LGBT individuals.
Despite this, I didn't hesitate to sign the petition and I began forwarding the link to my friends on Facebook urging them to also take action. As an LGBT individual and a feminist, I don't believe that Al-Haddad should be permitted to talk at the University of Westminster should he spread his homophobic and pro-FGM views further. I strongly believe that whilst debate and discussion should be encouraged, this cannot come at a compromise to the safety of students. LGBT+ students in particular may feel marginalised due to LGBTphobia which may be due to the views of their friends, family and peers, or as a direct result of lad culture on their campuses, and so we must take the steps we can to ensure they are safe.
Some individuals use the argument of free speech or an open platform policy for external speakers to University and college campuses to justify inviting controversial speakers, but I disagree with this, because this argument fails to account for the safety of vulnerable students who may be affected by LGBTphobia, Islamophobia, racism, transphobia, whorephobia, sexism and many other types of discrimination. This is not about censorship as very often, the speakers have access to other platforms such as national press.
Initially, the University of Westminster Students' Union maintained that the talk would go ahead and it seemed that they were not listening to the concerns of the LGBTI society. However, following on from yesterday's revelations that "Jihadi John" was an alumnus of the University, the University announced today that they would be postponing the talk.
I am concerned that the University will be working with other Universities in London to implement the government's Prevent strategy, as this has proven to make Muslim students feel unsafe, guilty by association, like outsiders and feel that they are constantly being monitored.
However, as well as being an LGBT individual, I am also a Muslim, and I am concerned for the wellbeing of LGBT Muslim students primarily at the University of Westminster but at other institutions who have experienced Islamophobia on the part of the LGBTI society or their committee. It is unacceptable to use the motive of the petition and the underlying cause to eradicate LGBTphobia to then perpetuate Islamophobia. You cannot fight one phobia with another. Some members of the LGBTI society have refused to acknowledge the impact their actions may have had on LGBT Muslims, and have stated that they have not been personally approached by any out LGBT Muslims on this matter. As an out LGBT Muslim, I would like the LGBTI society to know that my stance is clear on this issue: we can fight LGBTphobia without being Islamophobic.
As an LGBT person of faith, it is important to me to continuously build cohesion between the LGBT community and faith groups - and this extends to our campuses. It is not conducive for students who may wish to reconcile their LGBT identities with their faiths or are struggling with these two seemingly contradictory aspects of their identities to see the two groups at war with each other. I want to make it okay for individuals to accept both aspects of their identity should they choose to, because ultimately, you should not have to decide between the two. LGBT organisations and faith groups should be standing side by side with one another, supporting one another, and taking a strong stance against all kinds of discrimination each group faces.