On Wednesday, a group of Muslim students at UEA, including committee members of UEA Islamic Society, found out that the university is intending to close one the Muslim prayer spaces on campus this Sunday. UEA didn’t tell them – they only heard about it by chance. There has been no consultation with Muslim students. As they start a campaign to call out UEA for this unacceptable, dismissive action, we spoke to ISoc members and other involved students about the importance of the spaces and their reactions to the news.
Over the past few years, Muslim students at UEA have been repeatedly bounced around campus. The Muslim prayer space went from Suffolk Terrace, to the site that is now the UEA nursery, to Chancellor’s drive, and now to the Lecture Theatre building in what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement until the creation of a promised new permanent space out by the Blackdale building. We’ve been made to feel marginalised, moved from the edge of campus to some out-of-the-way spot and back to the edge again.
On top of this the university has put swipe-card locks on the doors of the prayer spaces, citing concerns about security. No other place of worship on campus uses this system. When students challenged this decision, asking to see data to substantiate these concerns, the university refused to even prove that they had collected any data at all, and even asked us to collect our own data to support our challenge.
Whenever UEA agrees to meet with Muslim students to discuss our concerns about this treatment of our facilities, their attitude is always the same: no concrete commitments, no practical action, just an insistence on more meetings in the future. Is it any surprise that we feel our voices aren’t heard? That UEA don’t care about our concerns?
The revelation of this decision to close the campus prayer space confirms these feelings. UEA should look out for the needs of all of its students, and provide us all with the space we need. Instead they are just treating us as a piece in their wider agenda, dealing with us as it suits them, disregarding anything we have to say. This attitude has consistently made students feel unwelcome, unwanted and demonised.
It shows complete and utter disregard for our faith to take away prayer facilities just days before the start of Ramadan
The campus prayer spaces have immense value for Muslim students. There are over 600 Muslim students at UEA, of whom at least 200 use the prayer space regularly. It is a place of learning – as well as providing a peaceful environment students can come to at any time, the facility hosts classes on the Quran and Islamic studies. Moreover, prayer is an essential part of many students’ lives. Having the proper time and space to pray is spiritually enriching in a way that is incredibly important to students of faith. The university are clearly not making the effort to understand this experience.
All this neglect, this disrespect and discrimination, has come to a head in this decision. It shows complete and utter disregard for our faith to take away prayer facilities just days before the start of Ramadan. But we are not going to go out without a fight. We launched our petition to UEA to reverse their decision yesterday at 2pm, and it already has over 3000 signatures. Add your name as well to show your support, and join us in the UEA Square today from 12.30pm if you can to show solidarity. #SaveOurSpace
All images courtesy of UEA ISoc
The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution and fund a better media future.