Written by Student Rights on 27 June 2012 at 6pm

Student Islamic Societies attend Sabeel retreat with Haitham Al-Haddad

The way in which off-campus organisations can be used as a vehicle to bring students into contact with extremist preachers was detailed in our recent report ‘Challenging extremists: Practical frameworks for our universities’.

This weekend sees one of these organisations, Sabeel, hosting a residential retreat called ‘The Divine Sciences’ which provides “extensive group discussions” and “character and spiritual development” as part of a programme of “student-centric learning”. 

A “flagship development project” of the Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF), Sabeel runs similar events on a regular basis and, as our report highlighted, often uses student activism to promote them. 

Haitham Al-Haddad, the founder of the MRDF, has been the focus of a number of stories by Student Rights and has been denied entry to several universities this year.

He will be the key speaker at the event this weekend despite his having been filmed defending Hamas, stating that the reason that they are opposed by the West is because “there is a high level of enmity and hatred against Hamas as a Muslim group”.

He has also been accused of extreme anti-Semitism and has written that homosexuality is a “criminal act” and a “scourge”.

A judge for the Islamic Sharia Council, Haddad has also supported the idea of Islam as a socio-political system, writing that “it is obligatory for those Muslims living under the shadow of man-made law to take all the necessary steps and means to make the law of Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer, supreme and manifest in all aspects of life”.

While this event takes place off-campus, at Thriftwood Spurgate Scout Centre in Brentwood, it has been publicised to students by City University Islamic Society, as well as to students at Queen Mary University by a Sabeel activist profiled as ‘City University Student 1’ in our report.

Since then, London Metropolitan University Islamic Society has posted on the Facebook page of the event, stating that they will be attending.


In response to this, the Sabeel activist shared a status update in which he claims that Islamic Societies from City, Kingston, Queen Mary, Brunel and Hertfordshire universities will be attending, as well as students from the University of East London.

He was joined by a student from the London School of Economics (LSE) who implies that there will be students from that institution attending, saying “partial LSE ISOC Inshallah”.

This suggestion that large numbers of students will be attending talks by Haitham Al-Haddad at an off-campus weekend camp highlights further the difficulties faced by universities in attempting to fulfil their pastoral care duties.

In this case there is little they can do, as the event does not talk place on university grounds, although we would recommend that they meet with any Islamic Society that may have publicised or facilitated such a trip to discuss their concerns.

Ultimately, this issue highlights the need for greater relationship-building between universities, student-unions and student societies, and the development of civic opposition to speakers with a record of lawful intolerance amongst students themselves.