Letters: No gender apartheid in British Islam

These letters appear in the Saturday 14th December edition of the Independent


I am writing with reference to Downing Street’s belated intervention on the subject of university segregation. The emerging scourge of gender apartheid within British institutions of higher learning must be eradicated.

This supposedly traditional sexual segregation within Muslim society has no foundation in Islam. Indeed, the Qur’an explicitly sanctions the concept of legitimate social intermingling in Chapter 24:61. The distorted dogma of sexual segregation is an archaic pre-Islamic patriarchal throwback that is now in vogue in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. This non-Qur’anic custom is currently gaining traction in the UK because of uncontested Wahhabi-Salafi propaganda. Religious zealots are imposing their contagious sexist doctrines upon ill-informed British Muslims to promote the belief that the tribal separation of the sexes is intrinsic to Islam.

This trendy gender apartheid is peddled by ideological militants who are financed by Saudi petrodollars to recreate a mythical 7th century Utopia. But this anachronistic male chauvinism is not what pristine Islam teaches. Indeed, Qur’anic Islam actively champions an erudite, enlightened and egalitarian way of life that embraces dignity, justice and parity for everyone. 

Liberal and progressive Muslims must campaign to restore gender equality on our campuses and to rid Britain of this primitive blight. Right-thinking Muslims must not allow a foreign-inspired ideology and local fundamentalists to poison the content and character of British Islam.

Dr T Hargey, Director and Imam, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford


What Mandela  was up against

During my Merchant Navy career with Cunard between 1966 and 1979 my ships called at numerous ports in South Africa, where apartheid seemed as permanently embedded as Table Mountain itself.

The proud, friendly, downtrodden black majority had few rights in their own country. I recall visiting a popular whites-only hotel bar in Durban with fellow officers. It was general election time and both the main local candidates and their supporters were shouting at each other across the bar. President Botha’s Nationalist candidate repeatedly used the same derogatory term (“black b*****s”) in front of the black bar staff, who showed no reaction at all.

As purser I was required to prepare documents for customs and immigration officials. At one port, four of these officials going through my paperwork were conversing in Afrikaans and there was much laughter. I asked them what was amusing them. One spoke in English and told me about a news item regarding two youths playing about on a makeshift raft on a river when one of them was taken by a crocodile. I must have looked puzzled because he said, “It’s all right, he was black,” and they all laughed again.

I do not possess the ability to forgive the South African political class who inflicted apartheid on a whole race, in the incredible way Nelson Mandela was able to do, so his country could move on. He once wrote: “I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate. I sought always to defeat my opponents without dishonouring them.”

I feel deep shame that our own political leaders, especially Prime Minister Thatcher, lifted hardly a finger to shorten the 27 long years of incarceration this unique man tolerated with such dignity. Unlike her, he has truly earned the state farewell he is receiving, and his rightful place in history.

Ken Callanan, Godalming, Surrey


Congratulations to Godfrey N Holmes on finding a sentence to crowbar “lachrymation” into (letter, 11 December). But, c’mon, comparing Mandela to the Queen Mother is almost akin to finding tearful comparisons between Aung San Suu Kyi and Imelda Marcos. Get a grip. I nearly micturated myself laughing.

David Quinn, Glasgow


Small steps in the right direction

Two steps, painfully slow and small, but significant, have been taken recently which give encouragement to UK supporters of Palestine.

One is the new report from the UK government on Israeli settlements. This reiterates the government position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Golan and East Jerusalem, which is that they are unlawful.

The report also advises that there may be legal and financial risks involved in doing business in the settlements, also risk to the good name of British business, including association with abuse of the rights of Palestinians.

The other is that the Israeli government has announced that it is going to shelve the Prawer plan, which involved demolishing about 40 “unrecognised” Palestinian Bedouin villages and driving over 50,000 people off their land and putting them into townships. This was described as “concentrating the Bedouin” by the Israeli government.

These developments deserve far wider coverage than they have so far received in the mainstream British media.

Brendan O’Brien, London N21


Flood warning ignored

It is encouraging that there is now a widespread knowledge of the causes of storm and tidal surges, such as the recent event on the east coast of England. Had such awareness existed in 1953, a timely warning could have been given to the population of Canvey Island and the loss of life prevented.

While a member of the Thames Barge Sailing Club I was told that there had been a barge alongside, at or near Canvey Island, on the day before the flooding. The crew noticed that the afternoon ebb tide had failed to run, and that there was effectively a tidal stand. They reported this to the local police station, where sadly the implications were not understood and the crew were sent about their business.

Overnight, the flood tide came in on top of the tide that had failed to ebb and the disastrous flooding ensued.

Frank Donald, Edinburgh


Fear and anger on the streets

Discussions on cycling are concentrating too much on the recent deaths. It was not the (statistically low) chance of fatality that made me finally give up, but the realisation that I got to work every day in a state of anger or fear – depending on just what the motor traffic had been up to that morning. 

When, in a single week, I literally picked up three cyclists who had been forced off the road by drivers (each time I saw the incident, and each time the cyclist was not infringing the rules of the road), I decided that I’d be calmer taking the bus. 

So please, don’t focus on the extremes, but consider the everyday experience of what it’s like to cycle on our roads – even in Oxford, a bike-aware city.

Lesley Smith, Oxford


This writer was  no ‘silly myth’

“Don’t create silly myths about yourself,” writes Terence Blacker of Colin Wilson (“Eternal Outsider”, 10 December). He declares himself unimpressed by the photograph of the writer with “swotty polo-neck and specs” which appeared on the back cover of Wilson’s book The Outsider. 

Yet the “silly myth” of a provincial taking a sleeping bag to Hampstead Heath and reading Kafka and Nietzsche in the reading room of the British Museum proved to be an inspirational one. The nobody from nowhere who had attended a technical school showed he had something original to say, and – even to this day – many members of the Oxbridge-educated literary establishment have never forgiven him for that.

Ivor Morgan, Lincoln


Not much competition in the energy market

It is no wonder people are not switching their energy suppliers (report, 13 December) if my recent experience is typical.

A direct comparison with my current supplier’s charges for dual fuel, online billing, monthly direct debit payments, fixed price etc, showed a possible saving of £25 a year. By the time I have paid my current supplier’s cancellation charge, savings would be minimal. Competition? What competition?

Colin Attwood, Lingfield, Surrey


A choice of  divinities

It is a suitably mad world. Christmas Day is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, so why are our party leaders sending out selfie Christmas cards? Is this a coded message about their divine status? I feel better now that, thanks to the Supreme Court, I can turn to the Church of Scientology for some uplifting religious sustenance.

David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent


Royal rebuke  to the hungry

If the Queen was “irritated” by police officers at Buckingham Palace eating the nuts left out, would she have let them eat cake?

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln

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