Islamic studies funding on the hot seat

JENNIFER O’BRIEN, QMI AGENCY

LONDON, Ont. – A UWO-affiliated college is caught in the crossfire of a decision to accept money from two Muslim groups — one local, one international — to help fund a new chair in Islamic studies. Critics contend there’s a link there to violent jihadism and that the $2 million in funding could influence the school’s courses and selection of its chair. Huron College insists neither is true.

WHAT CRITICS SAY

“The main crux of our concern is not that they are establishing a chair in Muslim studies — in fact, we think it is urgent for the students at Western and the general public to have a better understanding of Islam. Our concern is for the particular funding of this chair,” said Rory Leishman, a freelance journalist acting as a spokesperson for the UWO alumni and friends who signed a letter written by UWO professor John Palmer, urging Huron to turn down the funding.

According to 26 people who signed the letter, the problem is the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) supports a vision of Islam first outlined by a man named Hassan Al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 and advocated jihad against those who don’t follow Islam. This is based on a statement posted on MAC’s website, which says “MAC adopts and strives to implement Islam, as embodied in the Qur’an, and the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and as understood in its contemporary context by the late Imam, Hassan Al-banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al-banna has also been quoted as saying Islam will “obliterate” Israel. Opponents are also concerned about the association between MAC and London’s Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, whose president Assem Fadel, was also the head of a former charity that had its licence revoked over reports it had funneled money to “known terrorist associations.”

Based on the assumption those who provide funding for the chair will have influence over the type of courses offered, the group has even more urgent concerns about the $1 million that will be provided by the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT). Those concerns are rooted in investigations, including a 2003 U.S. probe when a U.S. Customs Service agent said he believed the IIIT president and vice president were ardent supporters of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas. The organization has never been convicted of any terrorist links and still supports and provide funding for Islamic courses at universities and seminaries across North America. In 2008, Temple University University in Philidelphia declined a $1.5 million offer to fund a chair in Islamic studies after concerns were raised, similar to those raised by Palmer in London.

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