By Zulfi Bukhari
This September a new intake of Muslim students will head towards the brave new world of university and they will be greeted by lurid newspaper headlines stating “Muslim Extremism on Campus!” and “Campus of Terror!” These stories will all be published within fresher’s week and will run in most of the national newspapers. How do I know this? Because this is what happened last year, and the year before and the one before that too.
It is simply the recycling of a report written in 2005 by Professor Anthony Glees called “Extremism on Campus”. Now why would a report published in 2005 still make headlines this year? The reason is that we now live in an age where there is a climate of fear being created through the media. It is designed to panic non-Muslims and fuel suspicion. And the subtext is to send a message to Muslims that you should keep your heads down – do not associate with any Muslim activists or groups on campus.
Who wants to be labelled an extremist? The reality is a long way from the lurid headlines, and there are a large number of organisations a Muslim fresher can join on campus. Many students gain invaluable experience and make life-long friendships through campus activism.
So what should the new fresher do? Each one of us has our own unique needs, be they spiritual, intellectual or social, and these groups offer a range of experiences. So look at the various groups and consider joining the one that appeals the most.
Don’t just join Muslim groups exclusively – become part of wider campus life and make friends with non-Muslims as well as other Muslims. Is there a Palestine Solidarity Group on campus? Have you considered getting involved with a Student Union equalities campaign, or getting elected as a delegate to the NUS Conference? Also create a balance in your life and join groups that fulfil your other interests such as sporting clubs.
However don’t rush to join every possible group. For many students it is their first independent step into the brave new world. Away from home, the fresher has to manage their whole life including, food, laundry, cleaning, budgeting, new friends and, oh yes, studying. Consider your workload and establish how much spare time you have before taking on too many commitments.
As for the much exaggerated threat of extremist recruiters there is no cause for panic. Discuss your experiences with family and friends. Stay away from any group that feels like a cult. If you disagree with the things a group stands for then stay away.
The worst thing any fresher could do is to live in fear, not join any group and live an isolated existence. Most importantly we mustn’t allow a climate of fear to exclude Muslims from participating in mainstream politics.
Finally remember we are all ambassadors for our faith and we should show those around us that they have nothing to fear - and a lot to gain - from the contributions of confident, active Muslim students.