Sairah Yassir shares her thoughts on an event she attended at the University of Manchester, where two prominent anti-Muslim speakers were invited to discuss Shariah law.
On Wednesday, infamous Islamophobes Charlie Klendijan and Anne-Marie Waters were invited to partake in a panel discussion on “Shariah law in the UK: Women’s rights, free speech and universities” by the “Free Speech & Secular Society” at the University of Manchester.
From inception, this event was met which much criticism. How could the university accept two hate preachers, especially when Muslim speakers who have been accused of much less have been prohibited from speaking on campus in the past and no doubt will most likely be prohibited for much less in the future? Why did the “Free Speech & Secular Society” not invite an expert on Shariah who had relevant qualifications and understanding of what exactly Shariah entails and consists of? Free speech as a friend recently underlined, is not necessarily informed speech. Having a panel discussion on Shariah in a diverse campus, in a diverse city and in a diverse country without an expert on Shariah is akin to having a panel discussion on police brutality towards the Black community without having a Black representative present. Or, a panel discussion on homosexuality without a homosexual/bisexual representative present. Or, a panel discussion on women’s liberation and having no women present.
Speakers such as Abdullah al-Andalusi, acclaimed Activist, Thinker, International Speaker, Debater and member of the MDI (Muslim Debate Initiative) were approached and agreed to partake in the discussion, yet were uninvited even upon suggestion. When the Free Speech & Secular Society was questioned on this harmful ellipsis of Muslim agency, objectors were met by Klendijan and Waters with dismissive comments such as “Until the ISOC (Islamic Society) invites Tommy Robinson to their debates, why should we invite anybody to ours?” Withstanding the fact that Muslims and the subjects under discussion are not just matters affecting those in ISOC. One could not also help but think that the Tommy Robinson mention was a grand Freudian slip on Waters behalf- saying a lot about who Klendijan, Waters and the so-called “Free Speech & Secular Society” may well regard as their ally.
The themes of the evening were unsurprising to anybody who has had to endure Klendijan and Waters speak previously. Whether it was a panel discussion is debateable as the accusations and insinuations seemed better fit for the EDL and other right-wing fascist groups than university students. Seeing as Waters announced herself as a “proud UKIP candidate”, some may well argue that she is not far off. After all statements such as:
“I rather often wonder if we shot one “poofter” (GLBT whatever’s), whether the next 99 would decide on balance, that they weren’t after-all? We might then conclude that it’s not a matter of genetics, but rather more of education”  and “Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable”  were not statements made by Muslims, but her fellow party members.
The usual buzz words of “segregation”, “extremist speakers”, “curtailing free speech”, “returning jihadis”, “homophobia” and “misogyny” were of course regurgitated at any and every opportunity. It is interesting to point out though that neither Klendijan nor Waters have received formal education on what Shariah stipulates regarding these matters, Klendijan admitted that he is yet to read the Qur’an fully and neither have any grasp whatsoever of the Arabic language. Deriving understanding of the Shariah and the Qur’an are not quick Google searches, despite Waters’ misinformed mention during her presentation. Rather, studying the Islamic sciences and the Arabic language is a lifelong process with scholars whose teaching chain can be linked back to the Prophet Muhammad’s (may peace be upon him) time. When a PhD candidate, whose thesis is based on Shariah courts in the UK and also acts as part-time Khateeb (deliverer of the Friday sermon), highlighted the fact that Shariah courts in the UK are solely for Muslims, are voluntary and do not include any penal system or punishment, Waters sneered and mentioned singled out examples and case studies equating the whole Shariah court system in the UK as inherently misogynistic.
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One survey Waters kept directing the audience to view was that conducted by the Pew Research Religion & Life Project in 2013 entitled, “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society” . What Waters failed to mention was that Pew Research itself explicitly outlined the following disclaimer prior to presenting its findings:
“Overwhelming percentages of Muslims in many countries want Islamic law (sharia) to be the official law of the land, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Centre. But many supporters of sharia say it should apply only to their country’s Muslim population. Moreover, Muslims are not equally comfortable with all aspects of sharia: While most favour using religious law in family and property disputes, fewer support the application of severe punishments – such as whippings or cutting off hands – in criminal cases. The survey also shows that Muslims differ widely in how they interpret certain aspects of sharia, including whether divorce and family planning are morally acceptable.”
This is all irrelevant though, as Waters suggested, because she is not concerned on the “intricacies of Shariah, rather its application”. “I am concerned about the young women and girls” she repeated incessantly. As if Muslim men and women are beyond concern for their own people and all aspire to partake in cultural exploitation packaged in misattributed verses and rulings laid out in the Qur’an and the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). It is important to note also, that practices such as FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and non-consensual marriage are indeed cultural, not religious practices as one audience member highlighted during the Question and Answer session.
These assumptions that every Muslim man may well be a closet misogynist or every Muslim woman may well be a victim are no different to views perpetuated under colonisation when indigenous men of colonial pursuits were referred to as “savages” and indigenous women were depicted as “victims”. The same colonisation which saw ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples worldwide. The same colonisation which attributed to the superiority complex of the coloniser (during and post colonisation) and the inferiority complex of the colonised (again, during and post colonisation). The same colonisation which is argued to be the cause for many of the problems the Global South faces up until this day. “We are tired of fighting and speaking out against things Muslims should be” Klendijan concluded, well guess what, with all these centuries passed and our people are still treated as inferiors when dealing with our own struggles and our own emancipation, we are tired of hearing it.
Sairah Yassir is a graduate in French and International Politics who currently works in research of alternative civilisations contributions to science, technology and civilisation. She is active in local community campaigns in Manchester and has a keen interest in social and political affairs.
 McCormick, J. P. (2014). Eight of the most homophobic things UKIP candidates and supporters have said. Available: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2014/05/22/eight-of-the-most-homophobic-things-ukip-candidates-and-supporters-have-said/.Last accessed 5th December 2014.
 Bloodworth, J. (2014). 15 reasons women shouldn’t vote for UKIP.Available:https://leftfootforward.org/2014/05/15-reasons-women-shouldnt-vote-for-ukip/.Lastaccessed 5th December 2014.
 Pew Research (2013). The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society.Available:https://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-overview/.Last accessed 5th December 2014.