Muslim students are not being influenced by extremists

By Wakkas Khan, president of the Federation of Student Islamic (THE GUARDIAN, 21/04/06):

A Guardian Education article sought to attribute the increased participation of Muslim students within the National Union of Students to a rising trend of “extremism” (Adding their voice to the debate, April 4). In the post-7/7 age, it is unfortunate that such accusations are levied at the Muslim community all too easily.The allegations stem from the Federation of Student Islamic Societies’ (Fosis) support for the removal of Hizb ut-Tahrir from the NUS’s No-Platform for Racists policy. When the decision to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir was taken in 2004, Muslim students were under-represented in the NUS and there was a lack of proper debate. Many unsubstantiated accusations have been levied against Hizb ut-Tahrir in the past, but in reality the organisation works to advance the Muslim world by engaging in political work. It uses non-violent means and is opposed to terrorism, having condemned the terrorist activities of 9/11 and 7/7. Many Muslims may have disagreements with the organisation, but they unanimously assert that this does not render it extremist; and they defend its right to free speech.

To imply this demonstrates that Fosis, or Muslim students, are “influenced by a hardcore of extremists” or that this “represents a new and dangerous flirtation with radicalism”, is misleading and explicitly undermines the recent efforts of Muslim students to engage constructively within the NUS. There is also a failure to recognise that this opinion is held by the mainstream Muslim community – 38 organisations and individuals signed a statement last year against the proposed government ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir.

And this viewpoint is not limited to Muslims. Last year Middlesex University suspended student president Keith Shilson after he refused to cancel a debate with Hizb ut-Tahrir. He does not share the group’s views, but supports their right to free speech. Indeed, last summer the NUS itself came out in defence of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s right to exist – overlooked by the article.

As was correctly stated, 120 Muslim students, led by Fosis, were the largest organised group of students at this year’s NUS annual conference. After many years of under-representation, Muslim students are finally able to contribute confidently and play a pivotal role.

Unfortunately, they have faced constant obstacles. When Imperial College chose to ban the niqab (face veil), Muslim students raised this with the appropriate authorities. However, the college has refused to meet the students’ national representatives. In another incident, two Muslim students were expelled from Matthew Boulton College for speaking out against a campus ban on the formation of religious student groups. One could forgive Muslim students for feeling victimised – and yet they continue to partake in the democratic process.

The fact that the Guardian’s coverage of the NUS conference focused almost exclusively on the participation of Muslim students is testament to their progress and achievement. This shows what can be achieved through positive political participation. Rather than fearing or undermining them, these successes should be embraced by all.