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EXCLUSIVE: London School of Economics Islamic Society holds segregated dinner with a curtain across the room to separate male and female students

  • LSE Islamic society held its annual dinner at a banqueting hall on Sunday
  • The event had separate tickets for ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ while the room was divided by a 7ft screen separating the groups
  • Those attending the dinner insisted it was ‘comfortable and relaxed’
  • London Islamic societies accused of failing to crack down on extremism

The Islamic society at a top university has come under fire for holding a gala dinner where men and women were segregated from one another by a screen running down the middle of the room.

Muslim students from the London School of Economics had to buy separate tickets to the society’s annual dinner depending on whether they were a ‘brother’ or a ‘sister’.

When they turned up at the event, held at a banqueting hall in Central London, there was a large screen separating the men’s tables from the women’s ones, stopping the attendees from even looking at each other.

Tickets to the Islamic society dinner at Grand Connaught Rooms, near the university in Holborn, sold out after being advertised online for £20 each.

This pictured from the LSE Islamic society's annual dinner shows how the room was divided with a large screen separating men and women. There is no suggestion that anyone attending the event was an extremist

The tickets were sold separately to ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, with two different phone numbers to call for men and for women.

At the dinner on Sunday night, each table was either male-only or female-only, and a 7ft screen divided the two groups of tables from one another.

Photographs taken at the event and posted online by the society showed only the men’s side, with the all-male crowd laughing and smiling for the camera.

One attendee even made a joke of the segregation, posting a picture of himself peering round the screen to talk to a female friend with the caption, ‘Hello from the brothers side’ – a reference to Adele’s hit Hello.

Nona Buckley-Irvine, the head of LSE’s student union and a self-professed feminist, attended the dinner and insisted that the atmosphere was ‘comfortable and relaxed’ despite the gender divide.

One of the pictures taken on the male side of the curtain during the party on Sunday night: There is no suggestion that anyone who attended the event on Sunday night was an extremist 

‘I had a lovely time at the dinner and barely noticed the separation between men and women,’ she told MailOnline.

‘The event was hosted by both the brothers and sisters and I welcomed the opportunity to dine with my colleagues and friends in an environment that felt comfortable and relaxed.’

She added: ‘Where groups would like to organise themselves in a way that fits with their religious, cultural and personal beliefs, both genders consent, and there is no issue I have no problem.

‘It is not for me to decide what is right or wrong with our Islamic society and they are one of the most inclusive societies I have ever worked with.’

However, other students have spoken out against the segregation – saying it has ‘intimidated’ some Muslims who want to celebrate their faith without the strict gender divide.

Row: The London School of Economics is one of the most highly rated universities in Britain
Row: The London School of Economics is one of the most highly rated universities in Britain

‘It’s been going on for quite a while,’ one LSE undergraduate said. ‘I don’t think it’s ever been brought to the university’s attention.

‘I have a friend who says she’s really intimidated because she doesn’t believe in gender segregation at all so she stopped going.’

The Islamic society said in a statement: ‘Our annual dinner was checked and approved by all necessary staff within the student union.’

One of the students attending the dinner, Rayhan Uddin, was recently embroiled in an anti-semitism row after he claimed that ‘leading Zionists’ were trying to take control of an election.

Mr Uddin, vice-chair of LSE’s Labour society, urged another candidate to withdraw in order to avoid handing power to students who ‘want to win back LSE and make it right wing and Zio again’.

The word ‘Zio’ is short for Zionist, and is often used as an anti-semitic slur. Mr Uddin apologised for his use of the term.

The incident is the latest in the string of controversies relating to Islamic societies at universities in London and elsewhere in the UK.

Last year students at Goldsmiths tried to shut down a talk by a human rights activist because of her ‘bigoted’ views, while a number of institutions have hosted speakers who have expressed extremist beliefs.

In addition, concerns have been raised about how several London students, including the ISIS executioner known as ‘Jihadi John’, apparently became radicalised during their time at university.

The segregated dinner at LSE could be a violation of the university’s policy on gender equality, which states that any form of segregation must be ‘entirely voluntary’.

The policy says: ‘We regard gender segregation at events organised in or by LSE or the LSE community as contrary to the law, except for certain exceptions such as occasions of religious worship or where segregation is entirely voluntary.’

The Islamic society, which is funded by a number of outside organisations promoting Islamic-oriented education and Arabic learning, claims to have hundreds of members at LSE.

Members attend lectures, social events and sporting gatherings, including a recent conference debating the rise of ISIS in the Middle East.

LSE, whose alumni include Mick Jagger, Ed Miliband, Stelios Haji-Ioannou and 16 Nobel Prize winners, is considered one of the leading universities in Britain, and was recently ranked as the best in the country other than Oxford and Cambridge.

The university has come under fire in recent years for allegedly restricting its students’ free speech – the rugby society was disbanded for being sexist, some tabloid newspapers were banned from the campus, and the atheist society was reprimanded for wearing T-shirts showing Jesus holding hands with Muhammad.

A spokesman for LSE said today: ‘This dinner was a private function, off-campus and organised by a society of the Students’ Union, which itself is a legally separate body to LSE. The School is raising this issue with the society and Students’ Union.’

The company which runs Grand Connaught Rooms declined to comment.


Alumnus: Mohammed Emwazi, known as 'Jihadi John', went to the University of Westminster

Alumnus: Mohammed Emwazi, known as ‘Jihadi John’, went to the University of Westminster

Islamic societies at London universities have repeatedly come under fire for allegedly doing too little to crack down on extremism among students, while also inviting hardline speakers and holding meetings segregated by gender.

Several Islamic terrorists, including Jihadi John and Lee Rigby’s murderer, studied in London in the years before carrying out their horrific crimes.

The University of Westminster is the alma mater of Mohammed Emwazi, the British extremist who became notorious as ISIS’ main executioner, starring in a series of slick videos which show him killing Western hostages.

After Emwazi was unmasked, an independent report found that the Islamic society at the university was run by conservative hardliners, some of whom refused even to speak to women.

Officials ignored complaints about the society – even when they were made by other Muslims – because they were afraid of appearing to be Islamophobic, the report said.

Gay students claimed that their concerns about homophobia on campus had also been ignored by university staff.

University College London, one of the country’s most prestigious universities, came under the spotlight when former student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a plane using explosive hidden in his underwear on Christmas Day 2009.

He was president of the university’s Islamic society, and arranged a paintballing trip with an imam who told students that dead jihadists would be in paradise.

Three years ago, an academic who was giving a talk at UCL had to intervene to desegregate the lecture theatre when he saw that it had been divided into male and female sections.

Equalities activists hit out against the University of East London in 2014 when the Islamic society invited two Islamist speakers, Murtaza Khan and Uthman Lateef, to its segregated annual dinner.

Khan has previously described all non-Muslims as ‘enemies of Islam’, while Lateef criticised ‘democratic Islam’ and said of homosexuality: ‘We hate it because Allah hates it.’

Disrupted: Maryam Namazie had a talk at Goldsmiths interrupted by students in December last year

Student turns off projector when Namazie shows ‘Mo’ cartoon
  November last year, the School of Oriental and African Studies hosted a talk by HHUGS, a group that funds the family of convicted terrorists.

The charity has raised money for relatives of ISIS fighter Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, who fled to Syria and posed for pictures holding a severed head.

Another jihadist, 19-year-old Mohamed Amoudi, was arrested in Turkey days after he watched a talk by controversial human rights group Cage at Queen Mary in February 2015.

Amoudi heard former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg accuse the West of supporting jihadist movements, while a preacher who has called for the execution of apostates was also at the event.

Cage has been accused of being an apologist for terrorism after its director described Emwazi as ‘a beautiful young man’.

Three months ago, protesters at Goldsmiths shut down a talk by Maryam Namazie, an Iranian exile who campaigns against Islamic extremism.

Students unplugged the projector when she showed a cartoon of Muhammad, and one attendee claimed to have received a death threat during the lecture.

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