GRIFFITH University vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor has defended a $100,000 grant from the Saudi Arabian embassy, rejecting accusations the money was given to propagate a hardline Muslim ideology espoused by al-Qa'ida.
Professor O'Connor insisted there was nothing untoward about the Queensland university asking for donations from the Saudis, and pointed to similar arrangements at other universities around the world such as Harvard and Georgetown in the US, and Oxford.
While Harvard and Georgetown have also faced questions about Saudi funding, Professor O'Connor yesterday fended off the links to Wahabi Islam, saying the Saudis considered such institutions "legitimate alternatives to their country's more conservative policies and perspectives".
Professor O'Connor said Griffith's Islamic Research Unit promoted moderate Islam.
The director of the research unit, Mohamad Abdalla, has also rejected links to radical Islam but refused to be drawn on claims he has connections to the secretive Muslim group Tablighi Jamaat.
Dr Abdalla, who attended Kevin Rudd's 2020 Summit last weekend, angrily refused to talk to The Australian about the group. "You don't need to know any of that stuff," he said.
"You don't need to ask that question at all ... I'm a
Muslim, that's all that counts."
Asked if he thought it was controversial to be a Tablighi Jamaat member, he said: "It's not controversial at all."
"If you need any further information, you should speak to Griffith University. This is a matter that relates to them and not me," Dr Abdalla said before hanging up.
Professor O'Connor's defence came after Queensland District Court judge Clive Wall likened Griffith University to madrassas in Pakistan, renowned for breeding radicals.
In an interview with The Australian, the judge also accused the university of being an "agent" through which the Saudi embassy was propagating Wahabism, a hardline brand of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia and followed by al-Qa'ida.
Professor O'Connor said the Saudi funding to Griffith's Islamic unit came with no conditions and reflected the embassy's eagerness to promote mainstream Islam.
"The Saudi Government seeks to moderate reactionary elements in its own society by funding Islamic research centres in prominent Western universities to develop a form of progressive Islam that has credibility and legitimacy," Professor O'Connor writes in The Australian today.
"Several leading universities of the world have entered into similar Saudi partnerships including Oxford University, and Harvard University and Georgetown University in the US, which each accepted in 2005 donations of $20 million from a Saudi businessman and member of the royal family to finance Islamic studies."
Saudi funds to Georgetown and Harvard universities sparked a controversy, with critics attacking them as a method to promote Wahabism and calling on the grants to be returned.
Professor O'Connor insists the university followed "standard practices" in sourcing and accepting the funds.
But The Australian revealed this week that Professor O'Connor and other Griffith staffers asked for a $1.37 million fund - of which the university has already received $100,000.