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The real story behind Melbourne University’s gender segregation case

The fallout from an event at the University of Melbourne where women and men were asked to sit separately has been intense. The media coverage so far has focused on the issue of segregated seating in a…

A university event where women and men were asked to sit separately raises more questions. Islamic women image from www.shutterstock.com

The fallout from an event at the University of Melbourne where women and men were asked to sit separately has been intense.

The media coverage so far has focused on the issue of segregated seating in a public space, with many using raw and emotive language to denounce the university and the Islamic community group involved.

It’s clear that the university should be considering its role as a public institution and pay closer attention to communicating its guidelines for venue hire. But the university should be reproached for another reason.

Seating and equality

Gender segregation is contested amongst Muslims worldwide. In Australia, a Muslim who walks into a gender segregated room instantly decodes the “culture” of that room. You can stay, you can leave, or you can argue. Freedom of choice exists. But if you want to join a club, you are obliged to play by club rules.

In the case of events at the Copeland Theatre on 13 April, no-one was forced to sit anywhere against their will. Seating was suggested with two signs, one pointing to an entrance for “brothers” and the other towards an entrance for “sisters”.

The event organiser, Hikmah Way’s preferred seating arrangements raise questions about gender differentiation in public settings and whether it is respectful and empowering, as they would argue, or backward and “humiliating” as others believe.

The university should have been aware that this group was likely to have specific guidelines for gender-mixed gatherings and provided clear directives on the matter. But alarm bells should have also rung for the University of Melbourne over the premise and content of this meeting.

Violent rhetoric

The promotional material for the event “Islamic rulings on Jihad in Syria” refers to Islamic scholars of great note. One is 13th Century scholar Ibn Taymiyyah who is credited with founding the Islamic political movement known as “Salafism”. Adherents to this movement seek a return to the Golden Age of “Al Salaf Al Saleh”, the first generation of Muslim leaders.

Ibn Taymiyyah’s teachings champion universal Islamic Sharia Law and urge any action that is Islamically possible against non-conformers to this vision. His fatwas explicitly promote violence to purge infidels - Christians, Shia sects, and Sunni Muslims who do not agree with Salafist objectives.

Salafists in Australia garner support for violent jihad in Syria by reference to the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah, collecting donations for humanitarian aid for Mujahidin (Islamic rebel fighters) in Syria.

The Salafist modern era voices are Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, an Egyptian now based in Qatar, and Sheikh Adnan Al Arour, a Syrian now based in Saudi Arabia. Both are outspoken in their call for violence in Syria.

Qaradawi pronounces that the death of one third of the Syrian population is a small price to pay for the downfall of the “infidel” government. Arour encourages killing not only people who actively oppose, but also those who do not support, the fight against the Syrian government. Last year he infamously pronounced that such “infidel” corpses should be minced and fed to the dogs.

The religious agenda of combatants in Syria is at odds with activists and the broader population who had hoped for a newly imagined democratic Syria achieved through peaceful means.

So when Hikmah Way’s promotion arrived in my inbox, it was not its content that surprised me. It was the venue.

Promotion of pursuit of an Islamic state ruled by Sharia Law at whatever cost - even through the slaughter of non-conforming humans - has no place at an Australian university.

The invitation sent earlier this month to the Hikmah Way event at University of Melbourne. Author

It is analogous to permitting a right-wing Christian group to promote a Crusade to Syria to “rescue” it from non-Christians. Or permitting a radical Christian group to promote ethnic cleansing of Israel to make way for the Messiah.

The role of the university

The event title alone should have alerted University of Melbourne venue hire. Ignorance of Islam and of politics in Syria is the real story here.

The University of Melbourne campus has been used as a cover of “legitimacy” for an Islamic political movement on the premise that universities aspire to be accessible to a full diversity of ideas. But the university shouldn’t be used in this way by these kinds of groups.

Ironically, prior to the rapid disintegration of Syria in the past 12 months in particular, Syrian schools and universities enrolled as many women as men, and all classes were mixed. But if the supporters of Hikmah Way and sectarian-based fighters in Syria get their way, gender segregation will be enforced.

Of course, we need discussion about gender segregation and whether it has any place in universities, even within external groups who use the facilities. But public commentators also need to look more closely at groups like Hikmah Way and what they’re espousing in our universities.

Join the conversation

41 Comments sorted by

  1. Darren Parker

    logged in via Facebook

    No Christian group would bother trying to use a university facility. Their request would be denied and they'd be laughed at for the impertinence of their attempt.

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    1. In reply to Mike Hansen

      Comment removed by moderator.

    2. In reply to Sean Lamb

      Comment removed by moderator.

    3. Adam Richards

      Teacher

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      No, just a professional victim.
      I love how the Animal Appreciation Society is under the Spirituality heading by the way.

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    4. Darren Parker

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Nah, I just made an incorrect assumption. As the religion of the dominant white patriarchy, I assumed it'd not be made welcome on the campus of any university worth its wymyn's studies department.

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  2. Anthony Nolan

    Ruminant

    Thanks for this clarifying article. Chalk up a big mistake for university management and the way it continues to dumb down the institution.

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      To be fair, Anthony, while this case was pretty obvious (once you have the not-entirely-obviousinformation provided by the article's author) there are always going to be grey areas and difficult decisions. Nobody would be happy for a university to be rigidly secular and disallow any kind of religiously-affiliated activity (just look at Darren Parker's pre-emptive, evidence-free complaint above!) so they're forced to try to decide, case-by-case, whether a particular group is on the acceptable side of the line or not...and which line or lines...and based on what judgement or evidence...

      In short, it will neve be simple and, though I think they got it wrong in this case, I'd still prefer a university to err on the side of pluralism and default to allowing an event unless there was a strong case against it.

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    2. Adam Richards

      Teacher

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      I think all groups should be allowed to use university facilities to share their opinion. However, in turn every discussion meeting should be filmed. This would be a valuable resource for universities in teaching various subjects. Material to debate, analyse etc.

      If there is radicalisation, sexism, racism etc, it is all there for the world to see. Personally as long as people aren't preaching violence (though the line between violence and violent rhetoric is often very thin), they are free to say what they want. The advantage of having everything recorded is that others are then free to see and listen, then respond to what they say.

      The answer is more freedom, not less.

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    3. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Adam Richards

      " Personally as long as people aren't preaching violence (though the line between violence and violent rhetoric is often very thin), they are free to say what they want."

      looks like you do not have to travel to Syria to taste the violence.. I read this story this afternoon and you talk about thin line.. What about the old saying "Where there is smoke there is a fire"

      http://www.theage.com.au/nsw/juice-bar-owner-suspected-of-backing-assad-forced-to-sell-20130429-2ios0.html

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    4. Adam Richards

      Teacher

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      No. The problem is you only hear about the smoke that results in fire. The false alarms never make the news.

      However, smoke does sometimes result in fire. This is why I suggest that all groups be allowed to use public facilities for their meetings, as long as they are recorded. Maybe it would be possible to compare those that result in a roaring fire, to those that are nothing but a puff of smoke. The more we understand something, the better we can combat it.

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    5. Anthony Nolan

      Ruminant

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Well, yes, erring on the side of pluralism and free speech is an excellent default position. However, in this circumstance, the institution has lent its free speech cred to an organisation that is fundamentally opposed to the exercise of free speech. being generous to such organisations doesn't pay dividends.

      You might enjoy reading Benhabib on the matter of pluralism and cosmopolitanism:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seyla_Benhabib

      Following her I would argue that organisations that oppose civil rights for their own members ought not to be afforded those same civil rights that they would deny others.

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    6. Stephen Cook

      Consultant at Clan Consultants

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      The Juice Bar incident is evidence to support what many have feared ie the troubles between the various forms of Islam would start to be experienced in Australia. While it seems that eventually the law supported Mr Issawi it does not take away the trauma the man suffered.

      Is it time for Australia to develop laws to take these sort of things into account and to be able to respond with significant penalties, penalties that fit the crime eg in this case perhaps the forced closure of the bookshop…

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  3. Juan Vesa

    student

    " But if the supporters of Hikmah Way and sectarian-based fighters in Syria get their way, gender segregation will be enforced."

    in al nusra controlled parts of syria they already are.

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  4. Joseph Bernard

    Director

    wow.. talk about missing the point..

    Poor people of Syria are the real losers and nobody seems to care

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  5. Jane Maree Taylor

    Teacher

    Thank you for this article. I did as you suggested and read about Hikmah Way and note that they use university venues across Australia. I agree with you:
    "Promotion of pursuit of an Islamic state ruled by Sharia Law at whatever cost – even through the slaughter of non-conforming humans – has no place at an Australian university."
    I support One Secular Law For All and am opposed to Sharia law being recognized in Australia. Segregated seating and sexual apartheid is a notion embodied in Sharia…

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    1. Hugh McColl

      Geographer

      In reply to Jane Maree Taylor

      Jane Maree Taylor, I get it that you support One Secular Law For All and are opposed to Sharia law being recognized in Australia. The question is, are you prepared to allow others to discuss or promote other attitudes or positions even if they are diametrically opposed to yours? For instance, during the 1990s, the Australian Law Reform Commission studied and reported at length on the recognition of Aboriginal customary laws. Seminars, debates and high-powered legal conferences were convened around…

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  6. Miles Ruhl

    Thinker

    Thank you for the information Ms. Hill, always something else to it.

    And as usual, the MSM missed the point entirely.

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  7. Paul Richards

    integral operating system

    Fiona Hill wrote; "Of course, we need discussion about gender segregation and whether it has any place in universities, even within external groups who use the facilities."
    Well Fiona we actually do not, precedence has been set in law. There is no need to allow this level of thinking. The mistake our culture makes is projecting our value system onto others. The less evolved cultural context of Islam does the same, anyone understanding of the values is fully aware of its implication. They mean to convert us to their system or exterminate us. Realistically our forebears behaved like this during Australian history and the less evolved cultures see this a legitimate behaviour. Rewarding bad behaviour with tolerance is asking for trouble ask any parent and we are dealing with an earlier stage of human development.

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    1. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Paul Richards

      @Paul

      "precedence has been set in law. There is no need to allow this level of thinking. "

      As a parent i agree boundaries must be clearly defined, however there needs to be active discussion that then helps establish the values behind these boundaries. Otherwise we run into "rules are just meant to be broken", and children cannot be forced to comply!

      So, now with this specific discussion, there are so many other issues here that are far more of concern than simple segregation. Is…

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    2. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      Joseph Bernard quoted;"....Syrian population is a small price to pay for the downfall of the “infidel” government..." Given the stage of development this dogma persistes during this time of transition. Encouraging this level of thinking with the tolerance of the relatively minor issue of segregation just encourages it.
      Joseph Bernard quoted; "....should we just tolerate these views?" No.
      Should not tolerate the views that justify thousands of drone strikes on the Islamic countries killing indiscriminately?
      Draw your attention to a current graphic in "The Economist", the Islamic world is torn between evolving to the next level and remaining stuck in first tier thinking.
      http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/04/daily-chart-20?fsrc=scn%2Ffb%2Fwl%2Fdc%2FShariadolikeit

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    3. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Paul Richards

      Paul

      "Should not tolerate the views that justify thousands of drone strikes"?

      Are you justifying the violence rhetoric by the violence of the "drones'" which in turn seems to justified by the violence of Taliban, which in turn is justified by some other logic!

      I think each issue has to be discussed in context of their separate circumstance otherwise we have no way to attempt to make any sense of this at all.

      referring back to the blog you offered. At least we have a degree of freedom…

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    4. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      Joseph Bernard wrote: "Are you justifying the violence rhetoric by the violence of the "drones'" which in turn seems to justified by the violence of Taliban, which in turn is justified by some other logic!"
      "Are you justifying violence rhetoric...? No.
      Hatred breeds hatred, segregation breeds segregation. The context of what was written is about the centre of gravity of the Islamic world and their stage of human development. Making assumptions this 'group' see the world as the Anglo American Block…

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    5. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Paul Richards

      re "Hatred breeds more Hatred" .. unless you break the chains of the past and work out how to build some bridges.

      It order to build a bridge we have to be in the now, and look at the picture as it is rather than how we would prefer it to be.. We have to see where people are and accept that they may have a totally different way of looking at the world.. There is nothing wrong with this article as it states, or attempts to clarify, what the undercurrents of thinking behind the organizers. If what Fiona states is true then gender segregation is the very least of the issues.

      I know that there are many examples of different failings around the planet but if we cannot deal with this one case in front of us here then what chance do we have of dealing with any others?

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    6. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      Joseph Bernard wrote; "......... if we cannot deal with this one case in front of us here then what chance do we have of dealing with any others? Very little. Currently all we have is one group imposing it's culture on another. At some point values must be adhered to, this article highlights our arena, our chance to 'deal'.
      Joseph Bernard wrote "..... how to build some bridges." Good point.
      Were our society runs into trouble is believing the 'other side' want to be bridged. They do not, except to overrun and envelope our culture. Anyone with any depth of knowledge of Islam, as a group, faction, sect, development and direction would appreciate the 'terms' demanded for the 'bridge'. Given the centre of gravity is SDi Red, their values have little room for being bridged.
      If they were at the same stage of development as our culture, yes it would be right and proper. Best we can do is be strong hold the values and not lower ours to suit.

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    7. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Paul Richards

      "Given the centre of gravity is SDi Red, their values have little room for being bridged"

      yes it is a challenge but not impossible. Our biggest problem is that there is a very large percentage of people on the planet that believe in a God.. but in the public arena in the west there is a war against God and the use of "God" in any argument.. Where as, on the other side we have groups that have no problem with using God as their their partner and they have effectively stolen God and claim that…

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    8. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      Joseph Bernard wrote;"...... brave enough to discuss these concepts rather than sit in a corner and smugly" Brave enough to be aware these cultures need to evolve and be encouraged to do so. That does not mean being 'smug', because each stage of human development and its level of thought is appropriate and essential for humans to evolve.
      Joseph Bernard wrote;"To build bridges we should start with Accepting that there is an Higher Authority and adopting God and the language of God to bridge the…

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    9. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Paul Richards

      Paul wrote "That does not mean being 'smug', because each stage of human development and its level of thought is appropriate and essential for humans to evolve."

      yes, but how many are even aware of the rungs of consciousness and that each step is necessary to climb to reach a world view? There is a human tendency to be comfortable and sit smugly because there is no need to move. That light at the end of the tunnel? what about it? who cares if it could be a locomotive heading this way!

      Regardless…

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    10. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      Joseph Bernard wrote; "Well i would love to say that we should never lower our values.."Our evolved human understanding of the levels / stages of development or AQAL is key here. Anyone experiencing an emotional trigger that spirals them through to an earlier stage will recognise the appropriate response. Our development has a a protective quality, we descend into SDi Beige with any life threatening trigger, bolstered by adrenaline to survive. This happens with any trigger. Accent or decent to the level appropriate for the situation, in your senario survival wins out, SDi Beige is the right mindset.
      What a great segway, as this is exactly what the Universities response to 'segregation' was. A descent to an inappropriate level or stage to deal with the values of another culture. As a core principle of Clare Graves work and Spiral Dynamics this is exactly why it was developed. As a tool of understanding or human development, reacting and regressing values helps no human. Literally.

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  8. David Menere

    part-time contractor

    Thank you Ms Hill, for providing us with the key facts behind the events at Melbourne University- something that the mainstream media has so abysmally failed to do.

    How long will it be before the MSM are presenting these facts as the product of their own 'research'?

    It is indeed ironic that should Hikmah Way and their sectarian allies fighting in Syria get their way, gender segregation will become the norm.

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  9. Belal Haniffa

    Medical Student

    Nobody seems to be calling out Ms. Hill on the factual inaccuracies in her piece. Ibn Taymiyyah founded Salafism? And Yusufu al Qaradawi is a Salafi? Where does she get her information from? MEMRI? This article is not even worth being minced and fed to the dogs.

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  10. Fiona Hill

    Anthropologist

    Salam alaykum Belal. My work is always evidence-based and I welcome contribution from all sources. Your comments on the use of Ibn Taymiyyah's teachings to promote support for greater jihad in Syria, and the immense popularity of Qaradawi and Arour who promote violence to establish an Islamic Emirate in Syria are welcome, should you wish to offer them.

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    1. Irfan Yusuf

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Fiona Hill

      I am not an expert on these matters, though I did spend much of my teenage years and 20's exploring various forms of classical and 20th century Islam. I think Salafists would balk at the notion that Yusuf al-Qaradawi is one of them.

      I also think that claiming Ibn Taimiyya as the founder of Salafism is also quite inaccurate. Ibn Taimiyya's work has been championed by all kinds of Muslim denominations.

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  11. Fiona Hill

    Anthropologist

    Thanks Irfan. My sources tell me that Ibn Taymiyya promoted the idea of emulating Al Salaf Al Saleh, and Qaradawi is closer to the Muslim Brotherhood. Regardless of how the two scholars intended their pronouncements to be interpreted, both encourage an Islamic Emirate in Syria and both are put forward by many Muslims, including Australians, to promote violent jihad in Syria. It is this fact that remains interesting to Australians and this that prompted my response to the meeting of Hikmah Way at Uni Melb.

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    1. Irfan Yusuf

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Fiona Hill

      Fiona, emulating the Salaf as-Salih in piety and faith is something that all Muslim religious authorities, Sunni and Shia, encourage. They disagree on how this emulation is translated into specific rulings. The Salaf are the first 3 generations of Muslims who lived during the 7th and 8th centuries AD.

      The scholars referred to in the Hikma Way brochure include Imams Qurtubi and Nawawi, who are classical jurists. I read the brochure to be a discussion on how the successors of the Prophet (the khulafa) dealt with fitna (a word which can also be translated as terrorism or security threats against the state).

      The word 'jihad' can scare the hell out of readers because it has so frequently been associated with acts of mindless violence. But regarding jihad as only a military or violent form of struggle is a position held by a small fringe of Muslims.

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  12. Fiona Hill

    Anthropologist

    Precisely, Irfan. And that 'fringe of Muslims' exists in Australia and promotes violence in Syria. The word jihad can spook people who do not realise there is a greater and lesser jihad. The proponents of the lesser, violent jihad in Syria promote their cause by reference to Ibn Taymiyya in particular. I welcome discussion of the merits or otherwise of this in the framework of what is transpiring in Syria and, most importantly, in reference to the basis of this article which is about the Hikmah Way meeting at Uni Melb. My comments deal with the specifics of this and I urge your responses to do the same.

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  13. David Wright

    Electrician

    Pathetic, University of Melbourne.

    I consider the university one the greatest lights of learning and liberty that western culture has produced.
    Now we are being reverse-colonised by our do-gooding leftists, who always know what is best for us.
    Our values are clearly under threat.
    We can be tolerant, for sure, but not when that tolerance in the present threatens the application of our tolerance in the future, as what will happen if we allow Islam to gain a foothold in Australia.

    As a matter…

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  14. Fiona Hill

    Honorary Fellow at Deakin University

    Matthew, with respect, this meeting at University of Melbourne was a peaceful event with information delivered in a manner befitting an academic environment. Attendees may have included international students, but it can be expected the majority were Australian Muslims. Their rights to their views on the ascendancy of Sunni Islam cannot be denied. The concern for Australia is the implication that these views and actions based on them hold for another sovereign country - in this case, Syria.
    Australia…

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    1. David Wright

      Electrician

      In reply to Fiona Hill

      Hello Fiona,

      Thank you for responding to my view.

      I would hope we could discuss this amicably, and I reply because I feel passionately that you should acknowledge a few points, and to realise the implication of some of your statements in your previous post.

      Ok. I think that this whole conference - gender segregation aside, was about a highly unpalatable subject; Jihad; and I think you agree. The subject was the main issue, but it was much easier to mention the threat of the Muslim gender…

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