Many of us in university and interfaith circles uphold safe spaces. We let students know that they are welcome in our spaces irrespective of their religious and political affiliations, gender expression, sexual orientation and other characteristics. Whether they sport traditional religious garb or express themselves with colour as LGBT persons, they are equally welcome.
University is a place where students can freely exchange ideas but equally feel safe to do so. Students should feel safe in the knowledge that whether they identify as religious, gay, atheist, etc. or as any intersection of these, they would not be subjected to derision and scorn. As such, a university has the responsibility to exercise caution and judgment in terms of providing a platform to speakers.
Just as we would not tolerate white supremacists, anti-Semites or Islamophobes to talk about human rights on university campus, we cannot tolerate extremists and homophobes to pontificate about religion on university premises. With scientific inquiry, we learn more about ourselves and try to accommodate people to the best of our abilities. This means using appropriate pronouns for transgender students, creating spaces for students with mental and physical disabilities, and treating both LGBT and religious students with respect.
All of this gets compromised when under freedom of religious expression we invite speakers who peddle extremist views. In such cases, we end up entrenching instead of challenging dogma. The choice of speakers for the Islam Awareness Week at the University of Alberta from January 18 to 22 is one instance of such an unfortunate reality. Of the four speakers scheduled to speak, Abdullah Al Andalusi, has been noted to have close ties with terrorist groups and promote extremist views. Another speaker, Jamal Badawi has been noted to support suicide bombings and espouse the view of establishing Islamic rule or order as a Muslim duty.
In this time of increasingly violent Islamophobia, can the Muslim community afford to have such role models promoted in any way by any institution, including the university?
Yet another speaker Abdullah Hakim Quick is well known for promoting the death punishment for homosexuality and for anti-Semitism. He was recently banned from speaking at the Toronto Police College due to the unacceptability of his messages of intolerance. His hateful videos remain online on the “Islam on Demand” YouTube channel. It is there that Quick has denigrated the LGBT community with name calling such as “weird looking” and “filthy disgusting thing,” continuing to expose vulnerable and marginalized LGBT youth — particularly Muslim LGBT youth, to hate.
Such speakers are immensely popular among conservative Muslim youth. Not all their messages are unhealthy. Some fill a spiritual void and include the importance of family, respecting elders and provide positive affirmation to Muslim youth, who are addressing identity issues.
However, by hosting such speakers, what message is the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and by extension the University of Alberta sending to Canadian citizens and more specifically vulnerable LGBT youth? In this time of increasingly violent Islamophobia, can the Muslim community afford to have such role models promoted in any way by any institution, including the university?
Islamophobia affects us all. It does not distinguish between progressive and conservative, Muslim and Sikh, South Asian and Arab, affluent and poor, it targets each and every one perceived to be Muslim. Yet, by inviting one exclusivist speaker after another, conservative Muslims seem to fuel this tide. Is this how they want to spread awareness about Islam?
This is not an isolated incident. In Calgary, concerns on such speakers have been consistently raised through 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Last year, concerns were raised in the U.K. about invitations to radical preachers by universities, schools and colleges.
There are plenty of Muslim leaders, like Dr. David Liepert in Calgary, Imam Mohamad Jebara in Ottawa, Dr. Timothy Gianotti at University of Waterloo, Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and others who could have been invited to speak to Muslim youth about faith-based issues. Why must we bear speakers, whose words cause division and hate?
The Muslim Student Association cannot speak for all Muslims. It certainly does not do so for Shias, Bohras, Ismailis, Ahmadis, and those who identify as progressives, liberals, or Universalists. Perhaps it is time for a diverse array of Muslims along with Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists, and people of colour in general, who are alarmed by such speakers, to band together and send a strong message, “Enough is enough!”
This is Canada. We should not have divisive, exclusivist and hateful speakers as community leaders. In Canada, the values of radical inclusion should trump salvific exclusivism and hatred for vulnerable minorities any time.
Rev. Audrey Brooks, Unitarian Chaplain, University of Alberta
Dr. Alvin Schrader, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta, Adjunct Professor, ISMSS
Dr. Junaid Jahangir, Assistant Professor, MacEwan University
Betty Marlin, active and committed Christian, Edmonton
Manwar Khan, Anti-Bullying activist, Edmonton
Rob Wells, Human Rights Activist
Gary Gilham, University of Alberta Alumnus, Civil Engineering, 1983
Saklain Khan, Student, Engineering, University of Alberta
Brent Kelly, B.A., Political Science, 2012 – 2014, Member, University of Alberta Board of Governors, 2014, M.A. (cand.), Political Science
Kevin Smith, Alumnus, University of Alberta
Maria Vicente, Alumnus, University of Alberta
Hannah Schlamp, Student, University of Alberta
Chevi Rabbit, Alumnus, University of Alberta, Advocate and Student
Rabea Murtaza, Muslims for Ontario’s new health and physical education curriculum