Islamic student head calls for co-operation

Nabil Ahmed

Nabil Ahmed

Jewish and Muslim students must work together to tackle antisemitism and Islamophobia and should embrace "reconciliation", according to the president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis).

Nabil Ahmed said students of all faiths were working together "for good" and to combat "injustice". But he added that "wise leadership with sincerity and courage" were needed to improve relations.

His comments received a mixed response from interfaith groups on campuses. Fosis has a record of inviting extremist speakers to British campuses, and was denounced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in November as "an umbrella organisation which has failed to challenge sufficiently terrorist and extremist ideologies".

Writing on the Guardian's Comment is Free site, Mr Ahmed said his upbringing in Alwoodley, Leeds, had shown him that Muslim and Jewish students shared "startling similarities".

He added: "The very existence of Holocaust denial in Britain beggars belief, and I have challenged first-hand a tiny minority of people from different backgrounds who think antisemitism 'is not real' and casually speak of Jewish conspiracy theories.

"Reconciliation is a road paved with love, respect and forgiveness."

Mr Ahmed claimed Fosis supported the National Union of Students' guidelines on hate speech in order to "rise above ugly debates" and "discuss issues maturely".

Lord Mitchell, chairman of the Coexistence Trust, said Mr Ahmed's "brave" article represented a "step in the right direction".

"He did not have to write this, and within Fosis I think he will get some degree of criticism. I can take several statements from the piece that we would agree with. I think it presents an opportunity to explore what his views are. I'm pursuing it with him now.

"It may not be a hand fully out-stretched but partially, and that creates an opportunity. You do not put your head on the chopping block without meaning what you are saying. He's been courageous and we should respond with a careful but positive approach."

But Hasan Afzal, director of Jewish-Muslim anti-extremism group, Stand for Peace, said Mr Ahmed could not be taken seriously and claimed Fosis was "trying to rewrite history".

He said: "The comments are extraordinary when you consider Fosis' history of inviting to British campuses hate speakers who promote antisemitism, suicide bombings and female genital mutilation.

"Nabil himself attended a Friends of Al-Aqsa group event last year. He is saving face after some of the embarrassment about people he has invited.

"There's one face of Fosis which makes out it's a lovey-dovey group and another which you only see when the doors are shut. It's to the everlasting shame of the Guardian that they published this."

Last updated: 3:25pm, March 1 2012