Written by Student Rights on 18 March 2010 at 2pm

City ISOC and the multi-faith room dispute

cityPerhaps you've picked up on this already, but for the past month, the City University Islamic Society have taken to holding their prayer sessions outside Northampton Square, London in a protest against the closure of the prayer hall reserved for Muslim students in mid-February. The incident that sparked the closure was a violent, racially motivated attack outside the prayer hall, where Muslim students were set upon, many reports state there were 4 stabbings on this occasion. 

In light of this, the University took consultative measure with the Metropolitan Police Safer Neighbourhoods team as well as local stakeholders.  The decision was then taken to open a multi-faith prayer room in a different, more secure location. Unfortunately, students have declared this room unfit for purpose due to both it's size and for the fact that a number of Muslim scholars believe that it is impermissble for Muslims to share a prayer room where Allah is not the only god worshipped. Students are campaigning for their previous room to be reopened, however the university has stated that it is acting in line with Equality and Diversity guidelines and in the interest of the safety of students.  The new space has already been used by various Muslim students and the Great Hall at City is open to Muslim students for Friday prayer sessions, to accommodate large numbers.

The University has stated that “As a public institution, the University is committed to creating as many opportunities for people of different faiths (and indeed of no faith) to meet and engage in honest and respectful dialogue. The move to shared space and the establishment of a Forum for Faith and Values will help to foster that need for dialogue.

No doubt this is a highly sensitive issue, with clear religious and security related matters to grasp.  The re-opening of the previous prayer room would certainly go towards mending relations between the University and the ISOC, however if security cannot be offered, surely the institution has a duty to its students to act in their interest, even if this may at first seem controversial.  Tensions have increased between university authorities and the ISOC following reports of various Islamist speakers which were to address the society late last year.

In response to the university the ISOC have stated that "as Muslim students at the university, we seek to maintain a good relationship with all our colleagues, as we have done so thus far, without bringing detriment to our religious beliefs and academic performance. In offering prayers in the Gloucester Building, we have been successful in this endeavour for many years."

Perhaps a crucial compromise would be to discuss making a larger room in a secure location available, on the basis that the ISOC sign up to a statement of principles of whom it would and would not invite to speak to it's members.  Freedom of speech again comes into play here, but while we're on the topic we must not shy away from the fact that some contentious speakers are known to have views which are considered hate-speech in this country, and to that end, the ISOC must comply with the rule of law in the United Kingdom.  The university, also must assess the relationship it wants to have with the ISOC going forward.

An Open Letter from the ISOC can be read here: