Anti-gay Muslim cleric's Reading university talk cancelled

A talk by an Islamic cleric who has called for gay people to be punished with death has been cancelled at the University of Reading.

The student-run Muslim Society had organised for Abu Usamah at-Thahabi to speak at an event designed to promote understanding of Islam as a faith.

But the university and society said there was a threat of violence from outside "extremist groups".

They said in a statement safety concerns had led to the cancellation.

Mr at-Thahabi is an American national who converted to Islam in Saudi Arabia.

He was caught on camera in 2007, on the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, suggesting homosexuality should be punishable by death.

There was a peaceful protest planned on campus by some student bodies, who said they were disappointed it had been cancelled.

Opposed to censorship

Adam Goodkin, of the Atheist Humanist Secularist Society at the university, which had planned to protest, said: "We're firm believers in freedom of expression and free speech.

"We feel that if there's a speech or action that we oppose then the best option is counter speech. So we'll say why that's bad and what we think is better.

"But we don't believe that censorship is ever a useful or moral tool for stopping a speech that we oppose."

In a joint statement, Reading University Muslim Society, Reading University Students Union (RUSU) and the University of Reading said they agreed the event had been "undermined by the increasing threat of violent protest from extremist groups outside the University community".

"A careful assessment of the threat to the events on Wednesday and Thursday evening have led all three organisations to reluctantly agree to the cancellation of these talks.

"Our priority is to the safety of all those who had planned to attend, or to peacefully protest outside the talk, and we are very disappointed that we have had to take this course of action.

"However, the safety of our students, members, staff and visitors is of paramount importance."

Other events in the Discover Islam Week were going ahead as planned, they said.

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