As UCLU’s election results were announced, there were cheers, sighs and shouts of victory from winning candidates and tears of disbelief, exhaustion and disappointment from candidates who were unable to secure their position in office for the academic year 2015/16. The results followed two weeks of campaigning from all candidates; very few walls in UCL were safe from the plastering of posters, slogans and manifestos as candidates and their campaign teams tried their utmost to secure the positions in their students’ union for the upcoming year.
But as I sighed with satisfaction at many announcements that informed me of the victory of candidates I’d supported, I started to hear things that made me feel uncomfortable. Several students seemed to be rather disturbed by the fact that all of the Muslim candidates who had been supported by members of the Islamic Society (ISoc) had secured their positions.
“This is just an ISoc election”…”This is ridiculous, how can all these ISoc people win?” were just some of the questions that I have heard since the results were announced. That ISoc candidates winning a union election can be an issue at all, bothers me. In short: yes, a lot of the candidates are Muslim. Yes a lot of those Muslims won. Yes, their campaign teams were made of Muslims. But, so what?
Had all the candidates who had won been members of sports societies, I doubt very much that there would be this level of uncertainty, criticism or cynicism. Likewise, if a lot of the candidates had been of the Left in the political sphere, would anyone say, “this is ridiculous, this is just a Leftie union”.
Perhaps they would, but for some reason, and maybe I am being a cynic, I don’t believe that the undertones of (let’s be honest) fear and distrust would be present to this degree. For whatever reason, be it the current level of misrepresentative media reporting of Islam (although I most certainly believe UCL students are smart enough to critically analyse what they read, see and hear), or an irrational fear that more “ISoc” officers means a lifelong ban on alcohol in union bars, something about Islamic Society members being officers in the union does not sit well with everybody.
UCLU Islamic Society annually host a week to educate students about Islam. Credit: ISoc
I am not painting UCL students with a brush of racism or Islamophobia. I am simply confused as to why it is such a problem if candidates campaign fairly, secure votes fairly, and then won positions, that their identity or societal affiliation should be brought into question. Surely candidates with such strong campaign teams as those who won should be commended, and learned from, rather than scrutinised and criticised. Politics aside, I believe it’s also important to identify exactly what the problem is with the Islamic Society.
Are people afraid of officers suddenly enforcing gender segregation on every lecture, union event and graduation ceremony? Given that there are Muslim union officers across the UK, and none of them enforce segregation on their unions in any way shape or form, it seems an irrational fear. Are people afraid that suddenly the call to prayer will resound from the cloisters 5 times a day, and all infidel UCL students will be killed, or worse…expelled? (Harry Potter reference, please appreciate.)
I know that UCL students are (thankfully) open-minded, intelligent and inquisitive individuals, and the fears I have mentioned here are irrational and probably don’t exist. What then, is the problem?
Following recent claims of fraudulent behaviour on the part of certain candidates, let me say that this is not a response in order to refute such claims – I strongly believe (in line with Islamic principles that justice should be firmly fought for) that such claims should be thoroughly investigated, and anyone who has felt coerced or bullied into voting should be listened to.
However, while I won’t pretend that the Islamic Society is in any way perfect – and neither are any of us as students or people – I also strongly believe that such claims of fraud, if deserved by individuals, is certainly not to be attributed to the society or group as a whole.
I’m not providing a defence of ISoc, instead I’ll provide the reasons why ISoc is a society that should inspire us all, rather than instigate fear and suspicion. Take for example, Charity Week. For 12 years, the Islamic Society’s principle campaign; a week in which students collaborate to raise as much money as possible for orphans and children in need worldwide. Last year, the Islamic Society at UCL raised just over £78,000 for the amazing cause, while enabling students of all faiths and none to unite for this charitable aim.
Furthermore, the Islamic Society has for a few years been running a weekly food drive for the homeless, cooking food in student halls and delivering and distributing in Lincoln’s Inn Fields on Friday evenings. The aim of the project is to feed the hungry, and while they may not be able to solve the country’s problems, it’s one step of many. To further praise the Islamic Society’s successes, it has been the recipient of the Best Society award at UCLU, has won accolades for best campaign, and has generally contributed greatly to the UCL community.
Of course, like every student society, it has its flaws. This article isn’t meant to talk of the Islamic Society as one of spotless sunshine. The point of this article however is to point out that when looking at candidates with Islamic Society backgrounds and Islamic Society support, why is it that we too often look at Islamic Society flaws, and not all the successes that the UCLU Islamic Society has achieved?
Neither union politics nor student societies are perfect, but the reason I love UCL is that it gives us all the opportunity to be the best we can, and give the best we can. I wish all the winning candidates (Islamic Society-affiliated or not) the best term in office. And if there is ever reason to question them, may they be accountable for their own words, actions and promises.