Concerns were raised on 6th February regarding a speaker scheduled to partake in a lecture entitled ‘Shari’ah: A Moral Code’ organised for the next day by the London School of Economics (LSE) Students’ Union Islamic Society as part of the Discover Islam Week.
A member of the LSE Students’ Union Jewish Society approached the Students’ Union with apprehension about one of the two speakers, Haitham al-Haddad, an Islamic scholar who is qualified to deliver religious verdicts with a specialism in Islamic Jurisprudence. Al-Haddad is currently pursuing his PhD in Islamic law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). The representative of the Jewish Society claims that several members had approached him due to allegedly disturbing content of one of al-Haddad’s sermons.
“The alleged comments of Sheikh Al-Haddad are deeply insulting to Jewish students and understandably generated several formal complaints from our member,” said Jay Stoll, President of the Jewish Society.
On 4th February, an article was published on Harry’s Place, an online blog, claiming that al-Haddad has made antisemitic comments in a speech he delivered at the al-Muntada al-Islami mosque in London. The article claims to have translated the sermon which included such statements as “the devils of mankind are perfectly represented by these Jews” and that measures must be ensured to “prohibit [non-Muslims from] residing in the Arabian Peninsula.”
According to Stanley Ellerby-English, Activities and Development Officer, upon receiving the complaints, the Students’ Union “immediately contacted the Islamic Society to make them aware of the problem and come to a resolution. The Islamic Society contacted the speaker and provided us with a statement from him. However, it was felt that this did not fully address all concerns raised.”
The LSE’s website revealed that, as of 2pm on 7th February, “al-Haddad will no longer be speaking at the event.” The decision was taken in conjunction with the Islamic Society, who contacted al-Haddad to ask him to clarify the statements.
Nabeel Moos, President of the Islamic Society, explains, “Sheikh Haitham himself replied to the allegations, denying he believed in any of the accusations levelled at him. However this was not deemed conclusive enough by the Students’ Union and hence the Islamic Society agreed to postpone the event.”
“Due to the short notice it was felt that there was no opportunity to properly investigate the allegations before the event took place,” stated Ellerby-English. “Therefore, the decision was taken by everyone involved to bring in a new speaker and postpone the original speaker event until a proper investigation has been conducted.”
Both the Students’ Union and the Islamic Society questioned the factually of Harry’s Place, a blog that is known for its biased stance. The Students’ Union will further investigate the allegations with the help of the Islamic Society, stating that al-Haddad is not permanently barred from speaking on campus until a conclusive decision has been made. “The speaker was not cancelled,” said Alex Peters-Day, “merely delayed.” Peters-Day reiterated that the “complaints around the event were not at all to do with the fact that it was on Sharia law – it was entirely due to the allegations made by Harry’s Place.”
Moos further argued that this incident should be resolved internally and not influenced by unquestioned sources: “the decisions we make regarding events are wholly dictated by the needs and requirements of LSE students – external parties are neither aware of the direct situation and context at LSE nor are they likely to be fully objective in their ‘concerns’. Given that, if it is clear that a speaker invited by any LSESU society is proven to have made discriminatory or racist remarks, the Islamic Society and the whole LSE community should all work together to ensure that these views are not espoused on campus.”
Stoll asserted that the Jewish Society was “pleased with how this issue has been resolved. As a Society we are pleased that this has been dealt with so swiftly and professionally by our SU officers. We have worked in cooperation with the Islamic Society through each stage of this incident and it goes without saying that we are completely convinced that his purported views do not reflect the views, or general ethos, of the Islamic Society.”