Students given discounts for retreat with extremist preacher
Whilst many students will be heading back to their studies next week nursing bank balances damaged by Christmas excess, some students are likely to be returning having spent the festive season with the extremist preacher Haitham Al-Haddad.
Unfortunately this is unlikely to have spared their finances, with the event’s £120 price tag advertised as a discount for the time spent with Haddad.
Despite this high price though, it appears that Sabeel, the organisation set up by Haddad and behind this event, is specifically targeting student attendees, hardly a demographic known for its disposable income these days.
On the 17th December a message from a Sabeel volunteer was shared on the Facebook page of the Queen Mary Ideological Society which read:
“Dear ISoc Ameers / Ameers [leaders], Shaykh Haitham Al-Haddad has requested that all ISoc Ameers / Ameers attend the next retreat due to the importance of the topic. To encourage you to attend he has said to offer the whole retreat at HALF PRICE. If you wish to fulfil the Shaykh's request, please message me NOW”.
Further evidence of the organisations attempts to target students could be found on the Sabeel Facebook page, which advertised “Last 15 places left for the next Sabeel Retret [sic] - Remember, ISoc Presidents / Ameers get Half-Price on the Retreat, ISoc Executives gete [sic] £50 off”.
It also stressed to readers earlier in the month that “Shaykh Haitham said that out of the 9 Retreats of the 3 year Sabeel Retreats Programme. The most important retreat is this one”, again utilising Haddad’s religious credentials to promote sales.
Student Rights have highlighted the targeting of students by Sabeel several times in the past, most recently in September when a retreat featuring Haddad called ‘Leading Proactive Lives’ was promoted via the London Metropolitan University Islamic Society Facebook page.
In June 2012 another of the group’s retreats called ‘The Divine Sciences’ was publicised to students at both City and Queen Mary Universities by a Sabeel activist profiled as ‘City University Student 1’ in the Student Rights ‘Challenging Extremists’ report.
The activist also shared a status update in which he claimed that Islamic Societies from City, Kingston, Queen Mary, Brunel and Hertfordshire universities would also be attending, along with students from the University of East London.
With this event costing students who attended £90 each, the question must be asked as to whether these events are more concerned with exploiting a new revenue stream than providing spiritual enlightenment, especially with Sabeel posting an annual loss of £20,586 in October 2012.
Compounding this, given that Haddad’s views include the belief that the execution of apostates in Muslim countries is “perfect sense”, that homosexuality is a “criminal act” and a “scourge”, as well as rhetorical support for Hamas, that students are being encouraged to pay to spend time with him is deeply concerning.
However, there appears to be very little that can be done by universities to prevent the promotion of such events via student society social media, leading to an unhappy situation in which students can potentially be taken advantage of.