FOSIS is the problem, not the solution

The Federation of Student Islamic Socities in the United Kingdom is more of an impediment than a solution to peaceable campus relations. Here's why...

Muhammad al-Kawthari spoke at last week's FOSIS conference
Hasan Afzal
On 24 June 2011 10:39

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies is the umbrella organisation that claims to represent over 90,000 students. However, this can’t be further away from the truth.

There are ‘progressive’ commentators on the left, such as Mehdi Hasan, who think differently. To my surprise, Mehdi goes out of this way to defend the problem rather than the solution to tackling extremism in the Muslim community, namely the Federation of Student Islamic Societies. His defence of FOSIS is unforgivable.

Time and time again, FOSIS have been found to have a lax view on Islamic extremism which in turn affects how student Islamic societies are run across the country. Here are a few examples:

In the FOSIS conference over last weekend, speakers included Muhammad al-Kawthari, who has told his audience that a woman shouldn’t travel beyond 48 miles without her husband or a close relative, al-Kawthari prescribes death by stoning if you should have sex before marriage. He considers it ‘a great sin’ should a woman not consent to having sex with her husband as it may lead the husband ‘into the unlawful’.

In the very same conference, Hamza Tzortis also spoke. Tzortis told his audience that “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom”.

FOSIS expressed outrage when a man who told his audience that ‘Jews are our staunchest enemy’ was rightly banned from entering this country.

When authorities began investigating the Christmas Day bomber, and former UCL Islamic Society President, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, UCL Islamic Society and FOSIS obstructed police investigations.

Recently, its President, Nabil Ahmed, attended a Friends of Al-Aqsa event, an organisation founded on fanatical anti-Israel hatred.

The group also hosted former Guantanamo Bay suspect, Moazzam Begg, who told a FOSIS audience that resistance facing allied forces in Afghanistan was justified and described the war in Afghanistan as a ‘foreign occupation’.

In its annual conference, FOSIS invited, Haitham Al Haddad, who told an audience in a meeting he found it “very funny”, someone would call him an extremist for supporting Hamas.

FOSIS invited Riyadh ul Haq, a speaker whose advice on integrating to British society is “do not befriend the kuffar [unbelievers]”. On Jews, he complains “they’ve monopolised everything: The Holocaust, God, money, interest ...” and calls New York, ‘Jew York’.

When Presidents of Islamic Societies affiliated to FOSIS are convicted of terrorism, its leaders deny any wrong doing whatsoever.

As a student, I have seen the effects hate-preachers have on young Muslims. Many times, preachers have been ushered from one Islamic society to another and FOSIS have enabled this to happen.

Fighting Islamist extremism is not a left verses right conflict. The stakes are too high to turn this into a partisan bust-up.

There will be those who say ‘What about freedom of speech?’ but this isn’t a freedom of speech issue. This is a decency issue. Is it decent that we allow such vitriolic and hateful speakers to stand on unchallenged platforms to poison the minds of students and use them for their religious and political means?

Would we tolerate a hard-line Christian preacher telling students that Christians should avoid Muslims for fear of being caught in a terrorist act? Very unlikely.

I’ve met many liberal and secular Muslim students who feel their Islamic society has shut them off from any kind of religious activity on campus as it has been taken over by fringe and hard-line members. Who will defend their freedom of speech?

It should be natural to all progressive people that to defend our multi-faith, multi-ethnic society, we mustn’t tolerate the intolerable. There’s nothing ‘liberal’ about that.

Hasan Afzal is the Director of Stand for Peace, an interfaith campus organisation, campaigning for human rights, moral clarity and anti-extremism.

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