Queen Mary University under fire as ‘hotbed for Islamic extremism’

Queen Mary University of London has been criticised for not doing enough to challenge extremism on c

Queen Mary University of London has been criticised for not doing enough to challenge extremism on campus - Credit: Archant

New research has warned a “culture conducive” to non-violent extremism has emerged on campus at Queen Mary University of London, leaving students vulnerable to the influence of radical preachers.

Student Sohail Ahmed, who is a former Islamic radical, outside Queen Mary University of London

Student Sohail Ahmed, who is a former Islamic radical, outside Queen Mary University of London - Credit: Archant

The university has been singled out as among the “worst offenders” for hosting events involving extremist speakers at its campus in Mile End Road.

Our investigation has shown the list includes Dr Abdul Wahid, the chairman of the executive committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain, the pan Islamist movement which presses for restoration of the caliphate and introduction of Sharia law. It is banned by the National Union of Students and many student unions across the country.

The epicentre of activity is reputedly through a Queen Mary student group called the Ideological Society, described as a “front for Hizb ut-Tahrir”.

Islamist activists linked to the banned terrorist organisation Al-Muhajiroun also targeted the university in March 2014, appearing outside its Mile End campus and attempting to disrupt academic events, while in 2012 atheist students were threatened by Muslim Brotherhood supporters during an event on Sharia law.

The data on intolerant speakers was compiled by Student Rights, a group dedicated to monitoring extremism on campus, in a report called Preventing Prevent? Challenges to Counter-Radicalisation Policy on Campus.

Student Rights director Rupert Sutton said: “Queen Mary had a particularly active group of students who are involved in inviting these individuals onto campus and the university itself tends to take quite a laissez faire attitude towards them.

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“Queen Mary will often respond by saying ‘Our students are smart enough to judge these ideas for themselves’, but the problem is they’re assuming these events are taking place as debates and too often they’re not, they’re just speakers presented as religious authorities.”

It is feared students may be at risk of radicalisation, especially as preachers often appear at single platform events unchallenged by opposing speakers.

'We don't believe in democracy' - video host outside Queen Mary University during the protest involv

'We don't believe in democracy' - video host outside Queen Mary University during the protest involving an Al-Muhajiroun linked group in 2014 - Credit: Archant

The report shows the number of events at Queen Mary rose significantly in 2014 when it hosted the highest number of “extreme or intolerant” speakers of any university in the country, including some who advocate virulent homophobia.

There were 24 talks from 2012 to 2014, the second highest number after the University of Westminster, which topped the list with 25.

Queen Mary hosted eight extremist preachers in 2012, five in 2013, 11 in 2014 and Student Rights has already logged seven events this year.

Mr Sutton said the epicentre of activity was around a group called The Ideological Society, described by Queen Mary student and former Islamic radical Sohail Ahmed as a “front for Hizb ut-Tahrir”.

The 23-year-old physics student, who claims he considered carrying out an Islamist attack against the UK as a teenager, said: “Everything that Hizb ut-Tahrir believes in, The Ideological Society will be saying the exact same stuff.

“The reason why this Ideological Society was set up is as a cover for the Islamic Society.”

He believes the activities of the university’s Islamic Society, of which he was a member before he left Islam and came out as being gay, place undergraduates at risk of radicalisation.

He claims one of his friends, a student of Palestinian origin, disappeared after going to Syria with a charity convey to provide relief to refugees and is instead believed to have gone to fight with Isis.

Preacher Haitham Al-Haddad, who advocates virulent homophobia, was among the 'extreme or intolerant'

Preacher Haitham Al-Haddad, who advocates virulent homophobia, was among the 'extreme or intolerant' preachers invited onto campus at Queen Mary University of London - Credit: web screen grab

“It poses a very serious risk,” said Mr Ahmed. “I know a good few people who were not radical at all when they entered university but they end up talking about some very radical views once they’ve listened to a few talks and got riled up and impassioned by fiery speeches.

“There would be discussions about jihad, about fighting the kuffar and establishing the khilafah (Arabic for caliphate), talk about ‘the West is evil and is trying to destroy Islam with their evil secularism’, really fiery speeches during Friday prayers.”

In 2014 members of a group called Need for Khilafah, later recognised by the government as an alias for the proscribed organisation Al-Muhajiroun, were filmed approaching students outside Queen Mary and criticising democracy.

The university insists it has “stringent checks” in place around external speakers.

A spokesperson from Queen Mary said: “We take our responsibility to protect our staff and students against the risks that some organisations and individuals pose very seriously and have clear processes in place to meet this responsibility.

“We have a Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech that reflects national guidance for universities. All events that take place on our premises are subject to stringent checks to ensure they adhere to these regulations.”

Queen Mary Students’ Union and the Islamic Society did not comment when contacted by the East London Advertiser.

The issue is a pressing one as from July 1 this year public bodies, including universities, have a new legal duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act.

Rupert Sutton, director of Student Rights

Rupert Sutton, director of Student Rights - Credit: Archant

This will include implementing the government’s Prevent strategy to counter radicalisation.

Yet there has been opposition from within Queen Mary Students’ Union.

In January this year a motion was proposed declaring the union should “not engage with Prevent and cut any links it indirectly has with the programme via the university”.

It was put forward by a student involved with The Ideological Society.

Student Rights’ has called on universities and student unions to make Prevent training compulsory for elected student union officials and to ensure radical preachers do not speak unopposed at single platform events.

Mr Ahmed said much tougher measures are needed at Queen Mary to counter radicalism.

“I think it’s completely crazy that the government or the university or the authorities are doing nothing to stop this national security threat,” he said.

Student Rights found that events involving radical preachers were most likely to take place at London universities.

Who were the speakers invited onto campus at Queen Mary University of London?

Speakers who appeared at Queen Mary from 2012 to 2014 included:


The radical speaker was the orator most prolifically invited onto university campuses across the UK, according to the Student Rights data. Tzortzis is a senior member of the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), which is banned from operating at University College London after attempting to segregate students by gender. He has said: “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom.” He spoke three times at Queen Mary in February 2012, February 2014 and December 2014.


The Palestinian scholar, founder of the Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF), spoke in March 2014. He has expressed virulent homophobia referring to “the scourge of homosexuality” which he calls a “criminal act”. In February the University of Westminster cancelled a talk by al-Haddad when it became known that Isis killer Mohammed Emwazi was an ex-student. 3,000 Westminster students had signed a petition to ban al-Haddad from campus.


Ali is a lecturer at al-Haddad’s MRDF organisation and has claimed “for a woman, it is best for her to stay in her house, because her home is a natural form of hijab”. He appeared at an event in January 2014.


The radical preacher has been banned from the University of East London after likening being gay to having a “disease”. The former rapper, who calls himself Dawah Man, is reputedly linked to iERA. He has blamed “filthy Western culture” for impulses which should be suppressed” and claimed homosexuality comes “under the category of ‘obscene, filthy, shameless’.” He appeared twice at Queen Mary in October 2014.