Monday, December 17, 2012

Opposition to evolution and Islam debate at Imperial College?

by Salman Hameed

I had earlier posted about a discussion over Islam's take on evolution in London on January 5th. Now The Independent is reporting that the organizers wanted to host the event at Imperial College, but that they had to change the venue because of opposition from a Muslim student group at the college:
The initial plan was to hold the event next month at Imperial College London, one of the country’s foremost universities for scientific exploration and debate, in cooperation with the local Islamic student society. But the Deen Institute said it was forced to pull out when it became clear that opposition to the event from supporters of creationism began mounting. It is now being held without input from any Muslim student society at Logan Hall, a conference centre owned by the University of London.
Couple of things here. We have to be careful in how we interpret this news item. First, we have to know what the opposition is for? Is the Muslim student group opposing this simply because it deals with evolution or if they want to avoid controversy (however, they perceive it). Second, we have to know if the majority of Muslim students at Imperial College oppose such an event. We have to be careful about a confirmation bias, i.e. it is only news when Muslim students reject evolution - and not when they accept it (and many indeed do - as we found out in our interviews from last year). Some of this has to do with the specific coverage of such items in British newspapers (for an example, see last year's case of London Times). The January 5th event is now taking place at Logan Hall, a conference center owned by University College London. The headline of The Independent, however, is more dramatic: Debate on Islam has to called off after revolt by student societies. And as per queue, this headline provides fodder for websites like Jihad Watch, which started it'd article with the following: "Intimidation and thuggery shut down academic inquiry".

By listing out these caveats I don't mean to imply that an outright hostile reaction to evolution is not possible. We saw that last year in the case of Dr. Usama Hasan - when he received veiled threats in response to his evolution talk in his mosque.

In any case, the event organized by the Deen Institute is taking place on January 5th in London (see this website for more information). It will be an interesting forum and I am planning on attending it. In the mean time, I would like to know more about the opposition of Imperial College Islamic society. If you have more information, drop me a line.

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