Newcastle University: Bring Back The Competent Muslim Prayer Space We Once Had
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Following the temporary closure of the Muslim prayer space in the King George IV Building at the end of July 2017, the University announced it would reopen as a Multifaith space without the consultation of Muslim students and staff and without investigating their faith needs.
The unforeseen reaction to this announcement caused the University to retract their decision and promise to reopen the space as a Muslim dedicated space as it was. The University would appoint a faith space coordinator who would manage and oversee the space, but would not interfere with faith observance. They would then hold a 3-month consultation period to form a Task and Finish Group who would assess the needs of all faith groups on campus and formulate a long term multifaith solution.
The University’s motive for this was the need for a space for other faith groups, after they lost their prayer space which was found in Windsor Terrace over a year ago. Only now did the University decide to ‘look at the wider needs of all faith groups on campus’.
The consultation period provided some reassurance to Muslim students as the threat of not having a dedicated Muslim prayer space on campus was possibly reduced.
However, five days before the reopening of the King George IV prayer space, the University revealed the true implications of its new management of the space. They would implement drastic restrictions, severely limiting the competency of the prayer space. The restrictions are:
1) New opening hours: 8am – 6pm weekdays, 8am – 1pm Saturday, Closed Sunday. Before this, the prayer space was open 24/7 to cater for Muslim students’ prayer needs. After a long meeting with the University, we managed to change the University’s decision to extend opening hours to 7am – 11pm on weekdays.
2) Sisters must use the same narrow entrance as brothers. The fire exit that was used by sisters to enter (so as to avoid using the main entrance) is now alarmed and cannot be used. The University has not made attempts to provide a separate entrance even though it has been verified that such an entrance is safe and feasible.
3) The faith space co-ordinator is based in the office room in the prayer space which was previously used as the library for Muslim students and as the ISOC office.
4) The community is banned from entering the space during all hours unless formally accompanied by a student. Before refurbishment the community was welcomed to the space during daylight hours, the same way many buildings on campus operate.
Each one of the above restrictions demonstrate the lack of consideration of many vital aspects the Islamic faith by the University. The opening times themselves, which do not accommodate the five daily obligatory prayers were designed without referral to the timings of the prayers throughout the year. At the time of implementation, the opening times wouldn’t even cover 3/5 of the daily obligatory prayers.
By using these highly restricted opening times, the University is in fact breaking their own faith space policy which they claimed to be using to manage the space. Emails from the University to the Islamic society state that the space will be managed by the Faith space co-ordinator in line with this policy, and it was also found on the University website.
On Sunday 22nd October 2017, Muslim students and staff held a peaceful objection prayer outside the closed prayer space to protest the University’s lack of compliance with their own policy. The University responded to this by deleting their policy from their website a few days later. They have not explained why they are not implementing their own policy, and have not acted upon the Muslim students’ concerns to improve the situation in any way.
The Islamic Society of Newcastle University believes that the changes made to the prayer space have detrimental implications on the wellbeing of Muslim students. Each one of the new restrictions will either directly or indirectly hinder students’ ability to observe their faith on campus, something the University promised not to do.
We have had continual discussions with the University and the President of the Student Union explaining these implications and trying to achieve a competent prayer space which will effectively cater to the needs of the students. None of the discussions have proven fruitful and ISOC is continuing to voice the concerns and needs of Muslim students. The feeling that is beginning to precipitate amongst Muslims at Newcastle University is a lack of consideration and respect of Muslim students’ needs and concerns.
Please sign this petition to show your objection to the way the University has dealt with the matter, and to help bring back the competent Muslim prayer space that was once available by reversing the University’s restrictions.
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