That sound you hear ("chink - chink - chink") is the sound of Islamists chiseling away at Harvard's coed, secular culture. The other sound you hear ("thwump - thwump") is the sound of Harvard caving in to their fundamentalist Muslim students.
In case you haven't heard, Harvard is scheduling "women only" hours at one of their gyms, at the request of the Harvard Islamic Student Society. Below, I give My Five Reasons Why This is a Bad Idea. From a student newspaper:
"Harvard University has moved to make Muslim women more comfortable in the gym by instituting women-only access times six hours a week to accommodate religious customs that make it difficult for some students to work out in the presence of men."
"Men have not been allowed to enter the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center during certain times since Jan. 28, after members of the Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard Women's Center petitioned the university for a more comfortable environment for women."
"Harvard Islamic Society's Islamic Knowledge Committee officer Ola Aljawhary, a junior, said the women-only hours are being tested on a trial basis. The special gym hours will be analyzed over Spring Break to determine if they will continue, she said."
"Aljawhary said that she does not believe that the women-only gym hours discriminate against men."
" 'These hours are necessary because there is a segment of the Harvard female population that is not found in gyms not because they don't want to work out, but because for them working out in a co-ed gym is uncomfortable, awkward or problematic in some way,' she said."
Sorry, Ola and friends, you ladies need to put on your big-girl panties and deal with exercising alongside humans with penises. They won't bite.
Five Reasons Why This is a Bad Idea:
1. Harvard isn't just giving in to a group of Muslim students, they're giving into its most conservative Muslim students. This is a huge problem we see in our own government and at many universities. Harvard thinks that the most vocal Muslim student organization represents all their Muslims students. They're flat out wrong. They're listening to the fundamentalists. Plenty of female Muslim students already work out at the co-ed gym with no problem. It's the fundamentalist Muslims who insist upon a strict separation of the sexes and that women cannot be in the company of any males that they aren't related to. Why should Harvard accommodate such a misogynistic outlook?
2. It's sex discrimination, pure and simple. It would be unthinkable to announce that some men are "uncomfortable" working out alongside women, therefore Harvard is going to limit some gym hours to men only. It's likely against the law in a federally-funded institution. So how on earth is it acceptable to discriminate against men?
3. The Harvard Islamic Society hasn't provided much justification for the women-only hours. The reasons provided in the article above are vague: "working out in a co-ed gym is uncomfortable, awkward or problematic in some way, according to Aljawhary." Really? So what? These women can dress as modestly as they want. All sorts of women exercise in a co-ed gym without any difficulty at all. This is actually a golden opportunity for Oja and the sisters to expand their horizons and explode their prejudices about men. She'll find that guys at the gym will gladly help her with adjusting equipment or spot her if she's lifting weights. She'll find that the guys could care less about her being there, they just want to work out. Any akwardness that she and the sisters experience is in their heads, and it can be overcome, if they'd only try.
4. This is just the beginning of special demands. The campaign for women-only hours likely involved student advisers and other area Islamic groups, many of which are highly interconnected with Harvard. The college is being naive if they think they'll be appreciated for allocating six hours a week to their exceedingly modest Muslim students or that six hours will be enough. Already, the Harvard Islamic Student Society is encouraging women to show up during Spring Break, when college coordinators will evaluate the usage. I hope Harvard requires a student ID. Don't put it past the HIS to bus in female students from Wellesley and MIT to help out their sisters. Similar things have been done before. Ola Aljawhary is actively soliciting women who can't make the current women-only hours to contact her. Six hours won't do for long, rest assured. Soon enough, there will be calls for additional special treatment (no classes on Friday afternoon, foot washing basins in school buildings, etc.)
5. Muslim students at other colleges will want their special treatment too. Note that in the article above, Boston University Islamic Society President Mohamed Serageldin says women-only gym hours would be great for Muslim women at BU too. "Because the FitRec is co-ed, [a Muslim woman] would most likely be compromising her modesty. He said modesty can be compromised on both the part of the man and the woman when physical action is involved." And people make fun of the Catholic faith for being sexually repressed! I'm sorry, Serageldin sounds like a bit of a control freak who apparently can't control himself. Harvard has set itself up to to be the first to institute women-only gym hours, but all the local Muslim student groups (including MAS) are watching, and other schools will be demanding this too.
Harvard doesn't get that Islam is proselytizing religion, especially for the "devout" students. Every interaction with a non-Muslim is an opportunity for dawah (leading non-Muslims to Islam). Every request for a special accomodation by the Harvard Islamic Society is an attempt to insert Islam and sharia law (which governs interactions between the sexes) into Harvard. These students truly believe that they are "the best of peoples, sent forth for mankind, commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong" and bringing people to believe in Allah. It's not that these young women are shy and modest. They believe that men and women shouldn't mix and they want to eventually force that on the rest of us too. They can't make such wholesale changes now, but they're happy to chisel away and make incremental changes to promote their religious fundamentalism. Harvard should not give in to the radicals.
We believe in co-education and integration and equality of the sexes. That's not anything to overcome or roll back.
Suggestions for Students: Join the YWCA, join a Curves Club, exercise in your own room with videos. Or take some of that $20 million that Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal gave to Harvard and build your very own women-only gym.