Why I... believe fears that campus Muslim groups foster terrorists are unfounded

July 29, 2005

I am a Muslim woman who has worked and studied in universities and colleges for the past 13 years. I have witnessed the extreme views held by a very small minority of Muslims who form some of the radical groups on campus.

Their seminars were rife in universities during the Nineties.

When I use the term "extreme", however, I do not refer to debates about bombing Western countries or committing any form of terrorist act. The extreme views to which I refer are those that focus on not integrating into British society, for example, and not studying in Western higher education institutions. But these groups at least encouraged debate about the ways of Islam, and student life is all about debating.

Within universities and colleges, Muslim students are keen to join religious groups so that they can take part in religious events such as Jummah (Friday prayers), discuss Islam and observe Ramadan. The problem I experienced, along with many of my Muslim peers, was that many of the religious events were organised by extremist groups. But it is important to remember that the vast majority of us simply ignored these people - we were there because we had no other option.

During the mid to late Nineties, some universities banned certain groups, some closed prayer rooms and stopped religious gatherings. This was hard for, and was indeed unfair on, most Muslim students who saw themselves as a part of British society. Universities need to be discerning in such situations - perhaps a student union or university member should sit in on debates and gatherings so that, if any radical discussions are taking place, the people involved can be banned or even thrown off their degree courses.

There is a media frenzy surrounding recruitment to radical groups at universities. But this simply does not happen, particularly since universities have taken steps to ban radical groups.

During my five years as a student and seven years working for the Institute of Education, I have never seen or heard of any group trying to recruit British Muslims to commit terrorist acts against Britain or other Western countries.

Those recruiting people and those recruited to carry out terrorist atrocities such as the London bombings comprise a small minority. The majority of Muslims abhor such ideas, and any such activity in an open place would mean recruiters would be reported to the authorities. It must therefore take place in closed, organised and private places off campus.

The media have been irresponsible in fuelling the fears of the public, and this has led to tension between racial groups. Unfortunately, a minority of non-Muslims seem to think that all people who belong to the Islamic faith are terrorists. The glares and insults experienced directly after the Twin Tower attacks are happening again.

There are no more Muslim terrorists than there are racist thugs. Wearing an Islamic symbol does not make someone a terrorist, just as not all those who wear football tops are hooligans. I have seen comments in the media that Muslim women who wear the full Islamic robe could hide a bomb. These are irrational thoughts that create discord among Britain's integrated cultures.

Most prejudiced views among Muslims and non-Muslims are held by men. It is therefore ironic that Muslim women - who have very little to do with extreme politics - have to shoulder the onslaught of abuse. There are people with extreme views at both ends of the spectrum, and it is our duty as British citizens to eradicate extremism from all racial groups.

Tamjid Mujtaba
Research officer
Institute of Education
University of London

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