The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) is appalled to learn of the Bristol University Christian Union’s ban on women speaking at its main meetings and events. The sexist policy, which demonstrated a blatant disregard for gender equality, has now been reversed after an ensuing uproar.

Whilst the CEMB congratulates those involved in the successful campaign to uphold basic principles of equality in the face of religiously-inspired misogyny, we remain concerned that the same treatment handed out to women by Islamic societies is routinely ignored, creating a double standard.

Whilst questions are now rightly being asked about the policies of Christian Unions elsewhere in the country, no one has yet dared publicly inquire as to the treatment of women by Student Union Islamic Societies, in Bristol or elsewhere. It appears that the likely findings may prove too awkward for many, fearful that legitimate questioning may be met with unfounded but nevertheless problematic accusations of racism and intolerance. The result is an unequal treatment with regards women under Islam as opposed to Christianity, which undermines the very same principle of universal equality that vocal opponents of the Christian Union policy endeavoured to defend.

Assessments of equality must be applied to all groups without prejudice, without excuses and without the malignant adoption of cultural moral relativism and exceptionalism. Gender segregation, bans on women fully participating and leading meetings, the absence of females from positions of authority, as well as more insidious pressures towards social conformity with regards dress and behaviour would rightly be intolerable to many if they were found to be the formal or informal policies of Christian groups, but the reaction to this very same treatment of female Muslim students is ominously muted.

We urge universities, unions and individual students to openly inquire as to the practice and attitude towards equality of all bodies, including Islamic ones, and to respond in accordance with the fundamental principle that all people, regardless of their religious belief or lack there of, have equal rights which must be upheld and defended with equal vigour and intensity.

For more information, contact:
Christopher Roche
Public Relations
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
BM Box 1919, London WC1N 3XX, UK
tel: +44 (0) 7719166731

Company limited by guarantee and registered in England and Wales under company number 8059509.



  1. @AlanFlynn … the problem is that until now, the ‘approach’ to this kind of question has been to largely ignore it. Look where that is getting us. I just read a long but thoroughly interesting article by Marieme Hélie-Lucas of the group ‘Secularism is a Women’s Issue’ (I’m sure Maryam knows of this article and may have blogged on before) and if you read that you get a clearer idea of what women are up against.
    The ‘other side’ in this does not ‘play fair’ and does not care at all about women’s rights or the rights of men that don’t follow their own interpretation of Islam. They attack the women first but that’s just the first stage in a more general assault on the idea of a secular society .
    Therefore, in my humble opinion, we can worry all we like about the implied lack of tolerance in ‘persecuting’ religions by forcing them to accept decent standards for treating others, but that’s all we should do … worry, and be careful that our actions are not excessive. But what we must do is strongly oppose this kind of thinking in every way possible at every opportunity otherwise we will end up with a society that very few will want to live in.
    I think a democratic secular society is justified in defending the core values that make it a democratic secular society and if that means calling out these bigots or taking steps to cut off any funding they have managed to beg, then we should do it and not waste time hand-wringing over it.
    I strongly recommend the article I linked to above. It is long but excellent.

  2. For me, this raises the broader question of the extent to which a democratic secular society is justified in imposing egalitarian rules on the structures of organisations which oppose equality. Is it right to insist that religious groups end all discrimination against women & gay people? I deplore the prejudice at the very heart of religions, but should secularists order the removal of the proscriptions which prevent the appointment of lesbian popes & ayatollahs?

    1. If we desire an equitous society and wish to avoid hypocrisy, we either require such organisations extirpate these baseless prejudices from their doctrines or we refuse to acknowledge the organisations as legitimate entities. You either include everyone, or you take your business elsewhere.

  3. While I agree wholeheartedly, there is a difference between the BUCU directives and those of Islamic organisations. Misogyny is not something associated with Jesus. It was invented by the Catholic Church and is maintained by traditionalists within Church of England and Catholic congregations.

    However, the belief that women are second class seems to have been enshrined into the Islamic religion from the very beginning. That Mohammed reportedly instructed women to dress modestly when so many were being raped, rather than issuing a condemnation of the behaviour of men, speaks volumes. Further diktats from leaders within the religion have emphasised that belief.

    The BUCU caved in to reason relatively quickly. There have been, and continue to be, many attempts to change the attitudes of Muslim men, regrettably without much success. Without that change in attitudes it is doubtful if there will be much of a change in the fortunes of women.

    Another problem is that many in the West still think of Muslims as being a repressed minority who, because of racism, should be allowed to believe what they want. Even those who claim to support equality for women close their ears to the plight of women in Islamic societies.

    Yet another problem is that while BUCU members tend to argue academically there is always, hovering in the background, the suggestion of violent reaction if the equivalent Islamic organisations are targeted, particularly by non-Muslims.

    Frustrating as it is, I fear the only way of changing attitudes and behaviour will have to come from within Islam itself.

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