Cardiff University, Muhammad Ibn Adam Al-Kawthari and freedom of expression
The challenge faced by universities in ensuring that their campuses are not utilised by those who would spread intolerance and hatred is one which presents a number of difficulties.
This Thursday will see an event called ‘Preparing for the Month of Mercy’ and organised by Islamic Relief Wales take place at Cardiff University.
Featuring Muhammad Ibn Adam Al-Kawthari, the head of the Leicester based Darul Iftaa Institute of Islamic Jurisprudence, the event will be held in the university’s Julian Hodge Lecture Theatre.
Al-Kawthari has been criticised in the past for answers that he has provided to questions submitted to the Darul Iftaa website, one of which asked him “if the husband calls the wife to bed, can she say no? Does the husband need the wife's consent to have Intercourse?”
He responds that “the wife must obey her husband in his request for sexual intimacy unless she has a valid reason” and quotes a Hadith stating that “it is unlawful (haram) for the wife to refuse her husband for sexual intimacy without a valid reason”.
An answer that he gave to a question asking “When Is Jihad an Obligation on Me?” also caused controversy as it appeared to suggest justification for Muslims to travel and fight overseas.
Al-Kawthari declared that “if the Muslims who are being attacked are incapable of defending themselves or they are neglectful, jihad becomes Fardh Ain [compulsory for the individual]for the Muslims nearest them and then those nearest them and so forth, until it becomes personally obligatory for all the Muslims of the East and the West”.
He continued by saying that “if the people of Kashmir, Chechnya, etc. are not capable of defending themselves or if they are neglectful, then Jihad will become personally obligatory on the Muslims nearest them, e.g. Muslims of Pakistan. If they are also neglectful or weak, then the Muslims nearest them, and so forth, until it becomes personally obligatory for all the Muslims”.
On the basis of these comments it would seem that Al-Kawthari’s presence on campus should be challenged by those who wish to ensure that UK universities do not play host to extremist speakers.
However, the chilling effect on freedom of expression that this could cause should be taken into account, as should the fact that universities have a legal duty to protect the right of visiting speakers to express their views.
Al-Kawthari has also provided clarification of his answer on marital relations, in which he pointed out that he had also said the Hadith quoted “does not in any way mean that the husband may force himself over her [his wife] for sexual gratification”.
Simply calling for this speaker to be barred from appearing on campus would therefore raise a number of difficult questions, and would be unlikely to succeed given many universities commitments to allowing ‘lawful intolerance’ on campus.
In this case Student Rights would instead call for students to attend the event to challenge Al-Kawthari’s comments on both women’s rights and the obligation to become involved in jihad.
In this way universities can remain a forum for debate whilst providing robust opposition to views which many people would find distasteful.