Letter to The Sunday Times regarding Andrew Gilligan’s article on Sadek Hamid and Tahir Abbas, by UK academics specialising in the study of Muslim Britain

Below is a letter sent to The Sunday Times on 7th May regarding a recent artcle about two academics who specialise in the study of Muslims in Britain. The newpaper declined to publish it on the basis that the article in question is currently the subject of a complaint. We have reproduced the text here in full. One of the two academics, Tahir Abbas, has also written a response to the article here.

The letter is written in a personal capacity and the views expressed do not reflect any higher education institution’s position or that of the Muslims in Britain Research Network as an organisation.

Academics who specialise in the study of Muslims in Britain face a difficult choice whether or not to engage with government bodies, especially those concerned with the subject of extremism. Many leading figures in the field – and not only those who hold politically radical views – opt not to do so as a matter of principle, due to the government’s record of narrowing the terms of reference to the point where speaking truth to power becomes impossible. This has been exacerbated by sections of the British broadsheet and tabloid press, which have consistently sought to delegitimise Muslim organisations, activists and scholars. From Andrew Gilligan in The Telegraph and The Times to Rod Liddle in the Spectator and Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun, it has become routine for prominent journalists to cover Muslim civil society organisations and public figures in a way that is selective at best and often straightforwardly dishonest.

Sadek Hamid and Tahir Abbas’s recent publications include some of the most important, insightful and thorough research on the subjects of British Islam and Islamist movements. This is reflected in their recognition by colleagues in the field and the fact that they have been supported and funded by, inter alia, the University of Oxford, the British Academy and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Andrew Gilligan’s research, by contrast, typically amounts to little more than trawling Muslim individuals’ twitter timelines for key words which can be spun into ominous-sounding headlines. His most recent article in The Sunday Times with Richard Kerbaj (‘Muslim advisers hit by anti‑Semitism row’, May 5 2019) seeks to delegitimise these two scholars on the basis of a few tweets, most of which simply shared headlines verbatim without endorsement. The article’s further suggestion that these scholars should not be at liberty to express dissenting views or criticise state securitisation policy represents a worrying affront to academic freedom.

In sharing this material, Hamid and Abbas may have been guilty of failing to read and publicly criticise content that included themes that bordered on anti-Semitic. This pales in comparison, however, to Gilligan’s long record of selectively quoting and wilfully distorting the statements of British Muslims. Our objection is not to criticism of those publishing or sharing material that promotes anti-Semitism. Rather, it is to a double standard in British public life. If the standards that Gilligan applies to Hamid and Abbas were applied to his, and some other Times journalists’, dishonest coverage of Muslims he would have been ostracised by major media outlets many years ago.

Dr Stephen H Jones , Lecturer, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham

Dr Khadijah Elshayyal, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh

Dr Jan Dobbernack, Lecturer in Sociology, Newcastle University

Professor Jorgen Nielsen, Professor Emeritus, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham

Dr Carl Morris, Lecturer in Religion, Culture and Society, University of Central Lancashire

Professor Tariq Modood, Director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, University of Bristol

Dr Mohammed Elshimi, Research Fellow, RUSI

Ayesha Khan, doctoral candidate, Cardiff University Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK

Dr Rob Faure Walker, UCL Institute of Education and Prevent Digest

Dr Maryyum Mehmood, Research Associate, University of Oxford

Dr Rehana Parveen, Lecturer, University of Birmingham Law School

Dr Azim Ahmed, Research Associate, Cardiff University

Neelam Hussain, Chair, The Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies (TIMES) Post-Graduate Forum, University of Birmingham

Shahnaz Akhter, doctoral candidate, University of Warwick

Dr Asim Qureshi, Research Director, CAGE

Dr Tarek Younis, Honorary Research Associate, UCL

Hanan Fara, doctoral candidate, University of Birmingham

Dr Michael Lavalette, professor of Social Work and Social Policy, Liverpool Hope University

Huda Jawad, intersectional feminist activist

Humera Khan, educator and activist

Mark R D Johnson, Emeritus Professor of Diversity in Health & Social Care, De Montfort University

Hind Elhinnawy, doctoral candidate, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent

Samantha North, doctoral candidate, University of Bath

Yahya Birt, doctoral candidate, University of Leeds

Dr Rukhsana Farooqi, Independent Social Work Consultant, Director of Empowering Black Children and Families LTD

Dr Adis Duderija, Lecturer in the Study of Islam and Society, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University

Dr Nighet Riaz, School of Education, University of the West of Scotland

Dr Mansur Ali, Lecturer in Islamic Studies, Cardiff University

Dr Marta Bolognani, Research Affiliate, Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, University of Bristol

Dr Richard McNeil-Willson, Research Associate, Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies, European University Institute

Dr Shamim Miah, Senior Lecturer, University of Huddersfield

Dr Sadia Habib, PGCE

Walaa Qisay, Visiting Research Fellow, Şehir Üniversitesi

Professor J.A. Koops, Scientific Director & Chair of Security, Institute of Security and Global Affairs

Tufyal Choudhury, Associate Professor, School of Law, Durham University

Professor Hugh Goddard, Honorary Professorial Fellow, the HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, University of Edinburgh

Tahir Abass (no relation), doctoral candidate, University of Leeds

Erum Dahar, doctoral candidate, SOAS, University of London

Naureen Whittinger, Clinical Psychologist, London

Professor Robert Moore, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Liverpool

Professor the Baroness Haleh Afshar OBE, University of York

If you wish to sign this letter please contact me at stephenhowardjones[at]hotmail.com.