That was the title of my lecture at East Anglia University, but the controversy had already started before I even arrived.
The I.soc amir Kalleemullah phoned in something short of a panic, expressing his concern over my speech and its contents, explaining how they had been working for some time on their activities and Islamic awareness on campus. I don't like being put in a corner and having restrictions put on what I can and can't say, but the dean of the University had sent him an email and I asked him to forward that, and would I respond.
The dean wrote:
..... On another matter, I have heard that there has been an anonymous
complaint that Abdur Raheem Green may be someone who promotes positions
against homosexuality and other matters that would not be in accordance with
our policy on equal opportunities. These complaints may not be
justified, and in general I do not respond to anonymous complaints but I
have noted that he was recently prevented from entering Australia on a
public speaking tour.
I know that you, as I am, are trying to help promote greater
understanding and tolerance of Islaam, and in that spirit I would like
the Islamic Society's reassurance that the talk to be delivered by Abdur
Raheem Green on 1 June at UEA will be respectful of the principals of
equality and equity of this university and of our commitment to allow
those of diverse faiths and lifestyles to live together in an atmosphere
of mutual respect and tolerance.
That seemed all quite reasonable, and perfectly polite so I wont include Kaleemullah's lengthy appeal, but here is my response:
Thank you for informing me about the dean's concerns.
Please reassure the dean that although I may hold views on certain issues that are normal for orthodox adherents of traditional religions, I encourage all Muslims to abide by the laws of the counties where they live and to promote a good and true image of Islam.
That is what I hope to achieve through my lectures also.
As for my being prevented from entering Australia, I should make it clear in my defense that press told clear lies about the nature of the lectures I was to be delivering, and twisted certain things that I had written out of context. In fact the whole controversy, I have been lead to understand, was initiated by a Muslim parliamentarian who belongs to a cultish sect about who I had in the past made some criticisms.
I hope this goes someway to alleviate any concerns the dean my have and reassure the dean that I will fully respect the atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance.
yours in Isalm
East Anglia University is a listed building, or rather a complex of listed buildings, a classic example of monstrous concrete architecture, preserved presumably for posterity so no-one should make the same mistake again! Actually, I quite like it. There is something almost purposely grim about it, that is refreshingly stark and real, reflecting an altogether more pessimistic view of the world. I suppose one day it might look "old and grand", but I doubt it!
Normally any visit by me to Norwich would entail a diversion via Thetford forest to ride the excellent mountain biking trails there, but I didn't have that much time, and anyway I had just completed a grueling 15km route in Bedgbury forest with some of my kids, that entailed pushing my 7 year old daughter's bike (as well as mine) up the worst hills. So no great loss. The drive is quite scenic through some classic English landscapes. Passing through a village called Elveden I had images of Hobbits and Elves and the Lord of the Rings, and the scenes and places that must have inspired Tolkien to write his masterpiece.
On arrival at the University I am greeted by Kaleemullah and the Muslim Chaplain, Masoud Gadir. I raise and inquiring eyebrow at this title, but before I can say anything he tells me "Don't ask! Its a long story!"
Anyway, I'm taken for a coffee and am told about the trials of the Islamic Society. He seems really worried about what I am going to say, and I listen and try to be reassuring.
The talk is quite well attended by Muslims and non-Muslims, including a member of the Police force.
Afterwards the Muslim chaplain is delighted. "Better than I could even have imagined!"
We go the prayer room, and are given a sumptuous dinner, and I talk to Jack, who is studying Philosophy, heads the debating society, and is member of the Green party. At the moment he calls himself a Buddhist, but is very interested in Islam. He prays with us. Shortly afterward I leave and head home through the night.
I've been inited for the Islamic Week in October. Hey, maybe I'll even get to ride those trails then! Inshallah.
You can download the lecture here.
And listen here.