Segregation on campus: Is it discrimination or inclusiveness?

The segregation by gender of Muslim students has been in the news this week, after a pressure group claimed the practice was widespread. Reyhana Patel, herself a Muslim, believes that gender segregation can actually be empowering for her and her sisters

A report published this week by the group Student Rights argued that student Islamic societies (ISOCs) are promoting discrimination by encouraging segregated seating at university events. The study showed that 46 segregated events were promoted at 21 university campuses across the country between March 2012 and March 2013.

Segregated seating is a practice that is encouraged in several faiths, and at ISOC events across the country this ritual remains voluntary with many of those attending opting to sit with their gender counterparts.

Does voluntary segregation promote gender discrimination, as argued by Student Rights, or does it provide a more inclusive society as counter-argued by many Muslim women? And should institutions have the right to force mixed seating?

When looking at audience separation, three factors need to be considered.

Firstly, Islam, in general, is against the gratuitous mixing of men and women without good reason. As a result, most Islamic student societies accommodate voluntary segregated seating because for many of those attending such events it is a customary practice and would expect the option of separate male and female seating.

The second point to note is that even on the rare occasions where an ISOC may insist upon separation, we should remember that those responsible for implementing the policy would have been democratically elected by their peers to run the society and its practices, including, presumably, issues around segregation.

Perhaps Student Rights wants not only to counter these democratically expressed membership preferences - but also to force participants to sit in mixed assemblies against their will?

And, thirdly, for me as a Muslim woman, having the choice to sit amongst my sisters is all about my own space and empowerment. All women, Muslim and otherwise, regularly feel the pressure of living in an over-sexualised society that demands continual performance from women. Cue the obesity, anorexia, and general panic among a lot of young women I know. Muslim women love being able to withdraw into their separate space or modest clothing and, thereby, opt out of this perpetual rat race and commoditisation of their bodies and looks.

Voluntary segregation

Voluntary segregation promotes inclusiveness and contributes greatly towards Muslim women participation in British Society - by allowing Muslim women to participate in campus activities without compromising their religious beliefs. As one undergraduate student at Oxford University told me:

“I avoid mixed events if I can as it makes me feel uncomfortable as a Muslim woman. Having the option of segregated events allows me to participate more in university activities. What is undemocratic about giving everyone a choice of where to sit and with whom?”

It appears that Student Rights is now using gender as the new cloaked dagger to bash the Muslim community in an increasingly intolerant attempt to prove that Islam is incompatible with western society.

What the group also failed to highlight in their so-called ‘expose’ was that at the heart of ISOCs across the country, females are the driving force to the operational success of these groups with many at the fore of empowering other Muslim students. Take for example, a recent women-only empowerment workshop, organised by FOSIS and the NUS, which provided training to equip female students with the skills needed to establish real change in their university and wider community.

The sad fact is that the more groups like Student Rights continue to complain about Muslims doing things ‘differently’ and being ‘the other’ – they only serve to convince others of their own intolerance and illiberal ways.

The down side of all the above, of course, is that segregation and the ‘disappearance of women’ actually got a lot worse in Muslim societies during the period of European colonisation – when the colonial master (having defeated the armies) demanded access to the most intimate parts of their conquered society – the family and the women.

How ironic that that the trendy lot in Student Rights should be carrying on with this noble colonial impulse. I’ll leave Raheem Kassam and his fellow colleagues to ponder on this.

Reyhana is a journalist and researcher specialising in issues surrounding Muslim communities, community cohesion, radicalisation and counter-terrorism policy. You can follow her on Twitter here.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Engineering Design Manager (Mechanical)

£35000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: ENGINEERING ...

Year 3 Welsh Teacher vacancy in Penarth

£110 - £120 per day + Travel Scheme and Free training: Randstad Education Card...

Male Behaviour Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

SEN Learning Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star