UCL know that there is one person who guarantees electoral success: the President of the Islamic Society (ISoc). In this year’s spring elections, five of the seven elected Sabbs had his endorsement.
It wasn’t always this way. ISoc began to mobilise in the late 2000s in response to what they viewed as a lack of support from UCLU towards Muslim students.
On 25 December 2009 Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a former President of UCL ISoc, attempted to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on Northwest Airlines Flight 253. UCLU were put under pressure by the Counter-Terrorism Unit at New Scotland Yard to provide the details of members of the Islamic Society.
Despite there being no legal obligation for them to do so, the Union handed over the names of all those who had joined the society between 2005 and 2009. In addition, this year, a senior figure in the university tried to expand the framework for PREVENT, the government’s controversial anti-terrorism programme. Last year, a Muslim student was stopped on campus, and searched.
The closeness of the community in ISoc contributes to their electoral success. Members have spoken of the strong fraternal and supportive bonds between members. The society has a WhatsApp group with over a hundred members.
Whilst some Union figures believe that the formidable election machine is now being used as a jobs-for-mates programme, Bilal Aziz, current president of ISoc disputes this.
He argues, “the reason why I would purport that Muslim students have taken a more politically active stance in recent years would be due to the increased political discussion of their religion, as well as the rise of the attacking discourse such as that of Donald Trump, and hence wanting to be part of that conversation.”
Correction: The version of this article which appeared in print incorrectly stated that the two sabbatical positions for which the ISoc President did not second a candidate were uncontested. This is incorrect. Three candidates stood for the position of Postgraduate Students’ Officer.
Additional reporting: Jason Murugesu and Thasmia Khan