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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Qatar University postpones ‘Women in Islam’ talk over controversy


Qatar University
Qatar University

Qatar’s national university has said it will reschedule a lecture that was supposed to be held today after its keynote speaker came under fire for her views.

Saudi scholar Dr. Hatoon Al Fassi, a Qatar University faculty member, was slated to talk about women in Islam at the school this afternoon.

But this week, several students and community members launched a Twitter campaign demanding she be sacked for challenging Qatari and Islamic values.

Hatoon Al Fassi
Hatoon Al Fassi

Al Fassi is a well-known commentator on Gulf women’s rights, championing for women’s ability to vote and drive in her home country.

The scholar has been part of QU’s faculty for the past six years, and teaches women’s and Middle East history in the Department of International Affairs.


QU President Hassan Rashid Al-Derham announced the lecture postponement on Twitter yesterday.

First, he stressed the importance of open discussion and ideas in academic settings, saying:

“Academic and scientific topics are discussed at Qatar University with a concise scholastic framework inside lecture rooms and auditoria where professors and researchers interact with students in an open discussion for ideas to be exchanged. This is how a scientific or intellectual issue takes shape and evolves even with diverse and conflicting opinions.”

But then he added:

“The university has decided that a vitally important and sensitive topic like women in Islam should be comprehensively discussed through its various dimensions: the religious, social and academic. It, therefore, cannot be put up for a debate that only represents the viewpoints of the people participating in it.

Thus, the debate has been postponed to a later date in this semester for a broader seminar to be organized where different speakers can tackle the various aspects of the topic.”

Al-Derham also said that the university is currently reassessing how it teaches students, in order to better train them to debate critical issues.


Earlier this week, many people expressed support of Al Fassi, calling the online campaign against her a witch-hunt and criticizing her detractors for advocating censorship.

That said, several community members lauded the decision to postpone the talk.

Translation: We thank you, Dr. Hassan, for this sound decision – but we hope that the event will be also cancelled.

Translation: Regardless of postponing the event, why is the door left open for a discussion with the likes of her (Hatoon Al Fassi)? Why can’t you have a male scholar who is respectful and mindful of religion to lead this discussion? He’d more knowledgeable of the situation of women in Islam.

However, others expressed concern and outrage about the decision:

Translation: Why haven’t you informed us of the time and place of the postponed event? Or has it actually been cancelled?

Translation: The decision to cancel or “postpone” the debate shows how fragile the university’s policies are. Why the fear of this debate? This move is an insult to students.


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