McGill appoints physics prof to run Islamic Studies Institute after lawsuit fallout

"Deep interpersonal conflicts" — fallout from a bitter lawsuit filed by one faculty member against another and a student — led McGill University to appoint Martin Grant, a former dean of science, to run its Institute of Islamic Studies this academic year.

'Deep interpersonal conflicts' within IIS led McGill to ask Martin Grant, former dean of science, to step in

McGill University appointed a former dean of science, Prof. Martin Grant, to run its Institute of Islamic Studies for the 2018-2019 academic year. The institute has been left in turmoil by a professor's lawsuit, alleging a student and a fellow professor mounted a campaign to destroy his reputation. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

McGill University has appointed a veteran physics professor to run its Institute of Islamic Studies after a bitter lawsuit created tensions among faculty members.

Ahmed Fekry Ibrahim, an assistant professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies, believes his reputation and job prospects have been destroyed. (McGill University)

The Institute, which is committed to "the disciplined study of Islamic civilisation throughout the scope of its history and geographical spread," is now headed by Martin Grant, a professor whose main area of research is nonequilibrium statistical physics.

Grant's appointment comes after a professor in the department, Ahmed Fekry Ibrahim, filed a $600,000 lawsuit in July against a student and a fellow professor for what he calls a "ruthless campaign" that destroyed his reputation and his right to privacy.

The lawsuit alleges that after Ibrahim engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with a McGill student, rumours were spread about him, alleging that he was a "sexual abuser, a harasser and a rapist."

The lawsuit alleges student Sarah Abdelshamy and assistant professor Pasha Khan, who also works at the Institute of Islamic Studies and serves as director of the undergraduate program, had a "vendetta" against him and were behind a "smear campaign" to have him fired.

None of the allegations contained in the lawsuit have been proven in court.

According to a statement from The McGill World Islamic and Middle East Studies Students Association (WIMESSA), Khan and the program's director, Michelle Hartman, were removed from their posts in September.

The statement said that university officials said in a meeting with WIMESSA that Hartman was "incapable of executing her duties because of a conflict of interest" — a conflict it said was connected to Ibrahim's lawsuit.

The statement said Grant appointed an executive academic board of three professors, including Hartman, to help him run the institute.

Grant 'a seasoned academic leader'

Physics Prof. Martin Grant, a former dean of science, was appointed to head the McGill Institute for Islamic Studies for the 2018-2019 academic year. (McGill University)

In an emailed statement to CBC News, McGill officials said "in light of deep interpersonal conflicts that have arisen within the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS), and in view of this unit's very small size," the university's provost decided appointing someone from outside the institute for the coming academic year would be the best way to serve students, faculty and staff within the institute.

Grant is a former dean of McGill's faculty of science, and a "seasoned academic leader," McGill said.

"This decision is intended to address a structural matter and in no way reflects the University's confidence or trust in any individual member of the IIS," McGill said.

"Instead, the decision seeks to ensure that no one in an administrative role in the IIS appears to be in a conflict of interest or is subject to allegations of such a conflict."

WIMESSA criticized the university for a lack of transparency, saying it was informed about the meeting on short notice on the first day of class. 

In its response to CBC, McGill said students with concerns about how the institute is being administered should raise them with the chair of their department, the dean of their faculty or the dean of students.