Muslim education leaders and academics have urged UK universities to maintain links with Islamic institutions amid fears that the current political climate may cause some to end partnerships to avoid negative publicity.
The Muslim Council of Britain has expressed concern over Lampeter University's decision to cease validating courses for the European Institute of Human Sciences, an Islamic college that trains imams and conducts most of its teaching in Arabic.
Abdul-Hayee Murshad, deputy chair of the council's education committee, told The Times Higher there was "grave concern" that other universities could take similar action.
He warned that such moves could play into the hands of extremists by pushing institutions such as the European Institute out of the mainstream education system, a message echoed this week by Islamic college heads and Islamic studies academics.
Dr Murshad also called on UK universities to keep their doors open to visiting Islamic scholars - even those with radical views - in the interests of academic freedom and understanding between people from different faiths and cultures.
"It would be of grave concern to us if universities begin to break these links, like Lampeter has," Dr Murshad said, "because we feel strongly that young Muslims should be educated in the mainstream and should not have to go abroad to learn what they want to learn."
Lampeter has said that its reasons for not continuing to validate the European Institute's courses are purely academic.
But the institute's principal, Kadhem al-Rawi, a founder of the Muslim Council, said he thought Lampeter was "trying to avoid negative publicity" after claims that his college had links with the Qatar-based scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has defended suicide bombings in Israel.
Dr al-Rawi said: "When we heard the news from Lampeter, we were shocked because our students are very moderate and very excellent. Probably now other Islamic institutions will have a similar problem. We will have to look for another university partner."
Nizam Mohammed, registrar of Markfield Institute of Higher Education in Leicestershire, whose Islamic and Muslim studies MA programmes are validated by Loughborough University, said Lampeter's move was worrying because "there could be negative publicity about any organisation that has any relationship with Islam".
He said: "Any negative publicity around that could tarnish us because some people are less concerned with what you do than with who they think you are."
Loughborough plans to stop validating Markfield courses from 2008 because, it said, it will "no longer have the relevant staff expertise to continue with this service".
Jorgen Nielsen, professor of Islamic studies at Birmingham University, which has links with several Islamic institutions including Markfield, said he thought there were "two sides" to Lampeter's move and that "negative publicity will have been the final trigger".
He added: "I suspect there may be some universities that are getting nervous about links with certain types of institutions."
Professor Nielsen said he was concerned about the impact on academic freedom of Home Office plans to use a list of "unacceptable behaviours", such as giving lectures justifying terrorism, to exclude or deport non-UK citizens.
Dr Murshad said universities should be prepared to defend their right to provide a platform for lectures and debate by scholars such as al-Qaradawi.
He said: "As long as people are willing to have a civilised debate on differences of opinion, that should be fostered and encouraged.
Only that way can we keep people from being marginalised and limit growth of the radical element."
MAINSTREAM TIES TO ISLAMIC INSTITUTIONS
Until recently it validated Arabic and Islamic studies degrees at the European Institute of Human Sciences. It has just ended this validation service.
Loughborough validates courses at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education. But it intends to cease validating in 2008.
It validates the certificate of higher education in Islamic studies at Muadh Centre in Birmingham. It is also involved in an academic collaboration with the Markfield Institute. Birmingham plans to maintain both links.
Aberdeen accredits seven higher education programmes at Al-Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Dundee. The university plans to review the accreditation agreement in three years.