Students at Westminster University are initiating a last-minute campaign to stop a controversial preacher who described homosexuality as a “scourge” from speaking on their campus only 24 hours before it is scheduled to host a national gay pride event.
Nearly 2,500 people have signed a petition launched by the University’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) society which opposes Haitham al-Haddad’s presence at the University’s Islamic Society (ISoc) “Who is Muhammad?” event on Thursday.
Haddad has said that “godless homosexuals” engage in a “criminal act”, and has also been accused of commenting on the “proper way” to perform female genital mutilation (FGM). He has also argued that there is no need for intervention in domestic disputes, suggesting that “a man should not be questioned why he hit his wife, because this is something between them.”
Members of the Westminster University student community are particularly concerned about the timing of the preacher’s presence on their campus; on Friday, the institution is set to host the 10th National Student Pride event, which will be attended by thousands of students from more than 120 universities. Among the confirmed speakers are Bethany Black, a transgender comedian and Channel 4 celebrity, writer Owen Jones, and BBC Newsnight’s Evan Davis.
In their recent petition, which accuses Haddad of encouraging damaging homophobia, the LGBTI society states:
“The event is taking place just one day before the University of Westminster welcomes National Student Pride for the second year. How is it possible to create a safe space for thousands of LGBT students if an anti-gay preacher is allowed on campus a day before?”
National Student Pride spokesman Jamie Wareham commented to The Independent that he feels the University of Westminster’s ISoc could have invited a less controversial speaker to Thursday’s event, yet emphasised that the LGBTI event’s organisers do not wish to stop the ISoc function or appear Islamaphobic.
Another spokesperson for Student Pride said:
“Considering Westminster is a Stonewall Diversity Champion and is such an advocate of our event it is disappointing that on the eve of our tenth anniversary such an anti-gay speaker has been allowed to speak on campus.
“Homosexuality is not a scourge, and Student Pride has been fighting views like this from its foundation, it’s clear and unfortunate news that there is clearly much work to do.
“We are going ahead with the event at Westminster, because we need to highlight homophobia and transphobia on campus.”
A spokesperson for the University of Westminster commented: “The University of Westminster is committed to maintaining freedom of speech and a range of views as set out in the Education Act 1986. As a diverse community of local and international students of many faiths, respect and tolerance is our foremost concern and we will be monitoring the event carefully and any student concerns.
“The University has a strict speaker policy which means that all speakers are required to give their agreement to abide by a code of practice. Speakers who do not comply with this policy while on campus will not be permitted to speak at the University in the future.”
Haddad, who last year added his voice to appeals for the release of the British Islamic State hostage Alan Henning, has defended himself against a number of the accusations levelled against him, yet remains a divisive figure.
On the Islam21C.com website, Haddad denied being a “hate preacher”, claiming that his views were “legitimately-held religious views.”
“There are many who have objected in the recent past to the government’s rush to legislate on same-sex marriages; are all these ‘hate preachers’ too?” he wrote. “The members of parliament, the Catholic church and the Tory party faithful? The claim is as specious as it is ridiculous.”
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