Queen Mary ISOC accuses university of failing in duty of care to students

Queen Mary University

Queen Mary University Islamic Society has accused the university and the students’ union of failing in its duty of care to their students.

The accusation comes after Queen Mary suspended the ISOC at the end of last year following allegations that it had breached “agreed protocols and procedures.”

In an open letter the ISOC says that Muslim students are “unable to do anything without some members of staff treating them as suspects.”

The statement says that “the Islamic Society and its members are consigned to proving their innocence over some perceived guilt, rather than being dealt with fairly.”

It adds that “what is most worrying of all, following the Students’ Union decision to suspend the Islamic Society and subsequent national media publicity, is that the University or the Students Union did not at any point feel it necessary to consider the welfare of its students. This is a clear failure in its duty of care.”

The statement concluded: “recent events have given the Islamic Society and many Muslims on campus the distinct impression that the welfare of all its Muslim students is not equally important to the wider campus community.

“Many have drawn upon recent trends with what is happening in other campuses and colleges in London: in the University of Westminster, the use of CCTV cameras in prayer rooms to monitor Muslim students; in City University, the banning of Friday prayers. In addition to this, Greenwich University and Kingston University are also facing issues regarding the Prevent strategy, not to mention the denial of many Muslim students the right to pray in their colleges such as William Morris Sixth Form and the London Academy of Excellence.

Queen mary ISOC
Queen Mary University ISOC

“There is a climate on campus that is very disturbing, quite, unspoken yet insidious which allows for the Islamic Society to be suspended on spurious allegations.

“What guides these actions is an increasingly permissive environment in which the government’s Prevent strategy increases fear and distrust between students and their educational institutions. In their zealousness to avoid being ‘named and shamed,’ management have created an environment in which students find it increasingly difficult to participate in student related activities.”

At the time of the suspension in December a spokesman for the university told the Daily Mail: “Queen Mary University of London students’ union has suspended the Islamic society while it investigates claims that ISOC breached agreed protocols and procedures.

“These include the use of university facilities, room bookings, and event promotion. Further information will be available following the conclusion of the investigation.”

And Carolina Mantzalos, the student union president, added: “The students’ union is currently looking into claims that ISOC has broken some of the rules associated with running a Students’ Union society. The Students’ Union is keen to resolve this investigation quickly to ensure that ISoc are able to resume their activities for their members.”

5Pillars has contacted Queen Mary University for a comment on the ISOC statement.

Here is a copy of the ISOC statement in full:

The Islamic Society has played an active role within the Queen Mary student community for many decades. During its time, it has established an active role in promoting the rights of Muslims, catering to their spiritual and educational needs on campus.

A main feature of the Islamic Society has been its charitable endeavours for orphans around the world, raising a monumental £48,567.13 in this academic year, building on last year’s total of £45,968.39. This has been achieved because the Islamic Society has engaged a diverse group of students on campus. These noticeable accomplishments have happened in the face of considerable difficulties.

In Queen Mary, Muslims have become accustomed to a new reality. In recent times appropriate space for Friday prayers on campus has been withheld. This lead to our successful “Right to Pray” campaign in 2013, with the backing of the Students’ Union. Most recently, the unprecedented suspension of the Islamic Society for 3 months on unfounded allegations, detailed below.

Thus, Muslim students, seemingly, are unable to do anything without some members of staff treating them as suspects. The Islamic Society and its members are consigned to proving their innocence over some perceived guilt, rather than being dealt with fairly.

What is most worrying of all, following the Students’ Union decision to suspend the Islamic Society and subsequent national media publicity, is that the University or the Students Union did not at any point feel it necessary to consider the welfare of its students. This is a clear failure in its duty of care.

Many Muslim students approached the Islamic Society worried about the media attention and the great psychological stress this was causing them. Muslim students make up more than 25% of the student population at Queen Mary University, contributing to the diversity of experiences on campus. However, recent events have given the Islamic Society and many Muslims on campus the distinct impression that the welfare of all its Muslim students is not equally important to the wider campus community.

The Queen Mary Islamic Society was suspended by the Students’ Union on November 11th 2015. It took several weeks to clarify what the allegations were against the Islamic Society and finally, 8 weeks later, we had the opportunity to defend ourselves.

The allegations levelled by the Students’ Union that were deemed worthy of suspension included:

1. Intending, but not actually having, food in a classroom

2. Using the prayer room for a religious event, the religious “event” being the sunset (or Maghrib) prayer

3. Not having one poster stamped by the Students’ Union

4. Not returning the tables and chairs to their original place on one occasion

5. Verbal altercation with a staff member and a member of the Students’ Union

6. Multi Faith Centre users using the room to socialise with friends, use their phones or their laptops

7. Fundraising for an UK registered charity

8. Inviting a speaker without approval

9. Allowing a voluntary space for students to sit with people of their own gender

Universities now have a legal duty to look out for radicalisation
Universities now have a legal duty to look out for radicalisation

The Islamic Society accepted that it had not stamped a poster with the SU’s approval (something that was quickly corrected at the time) and that it had not returned the tables and chairs to their original place following an event.

When the Islamic Society pressed the Students’ Union on the other allegations, no evidence was put forward. The allegations were not taken any further and dropped. Some of the allegations raised (yet unproven) were tantamount to collective punishment.

The fact that many of the allegations were considered legitimate and called for a suspension is a sad reflection and an indictment on those that put these allegations forward. Additionally the fact that no apology was offered raises questions and concerns about the original intention of banning the Islamic Society during its most active period.

The Students’ Union found themselves in disagreement with the Islamic Society regarding point number 9. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guidance on Gender Separation explicitly allows individuals who freely choose to be able to sit with members of their own gender. The Students’ Union provided no credible evidence claiming that the Islamic Society had done otherwise.

Many have drawn upon recent trends with what is happening in other campuses and colleges in London: in the University of Westminster, the use of CCTV cameras in prayer rooms to monitor Muslim students; in City University, the banning of Friday prayers. In addition to this, Greenwich University and Kingston University are also facing issues regarding the Prevent strategy, not to mention the denial of many Muslim students the right to pray in their colleges such as William Morris Sixth Form and the London Academy of Excellence.

There is a climate on campus that is very disturbing, quite, unspoken yet insidious which allows for the Islamic Society to be suspended on spurious allegations.

What guides these actions is an increasingly permissive environment in which the government’s Prevent strategy increases fear and distrust between students and their educational institutions. In their zealousness to avoid being “named and shamed”, management have created an environment in which students find it increasingly difficult to participate in student related activities.

To our members: we say that the Islamic Society needs you more than ever. Your continued support and faith ensures that we continue to serve you as a Society. Your diversity and steadfastness is a source of strength for us.

To the University and the Students’ Union: It cannot be sustainable to deal with a quarter of your student population with fear, suspicion and bureaucratic procedures. The University cannot take the tuition fees of so many Muslim students while on the other hand provide inadequate care and facilities.

There is no doubt that the Islamic Society has made missteps of minor nature in the past. After all, we are all students, often learning for the first time on how to organise events and campaign effectively, and shortcomings are possible as with all other activities.

With this in mind, we conclude by welcoming a dialogue in which we can explain our beliefs and concerns with the Prevent strategy while also understanding the concerns of the University and the Students Union as the best way to move forward.

The Islamic Society of Queen Mary, University of London

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