When students return to the University of East Anglia this September, they'll discover that their campus Islamic centre has completely disappeared in their absence. The university's decision to permanently close and demolish its Islamic centre comes just eight months after the closure of its music school. Both decisions were made without any prior consultation with students of the university or discussions with the Union of UEA Students.
At least 530 Islamic students currently attend the UEA, and the Islamic community makes up a vibrant part of campus life, hosting a weeklong festival every year and holding numerous events throughout each semester. Rather than offering Islamic students an alternative space of their own, the UEA intends to rehome Islamic students in its 'multi-faith' chaplaincy, which is currently headed up by a Christian Chaplain.
The current Islamic centre is already undersized and understaffed, so Muslim students are understandably expressing concerns over the implications of this forced relocation on their ability to practise their religion. Islam is distinct in its requirement for followers to offer prayer five times daily at specific intervals, at which time ritual cleansing and other customs must also be observed. The Islamic religion is also vehemently against alcohol, yet the UEA Chaplaincy runs weekly Catholic mass meetings which traditionally involve consuming wine. It is not yet clear what provisions the UEA Chaplaincy will be making to ensure the religious requirements of Islamic students are sufficiently accommodated.
As well as objecting to this decision in principal, the UEA's Islamic community has been extremely unhappy about the way that the university has communicated its intentions. The announcement came in the final week of the university exam period - which incidentally included two bank holidays - timing that was presumably intended to minimise the inevitable backlash and protest from students over this move. Many Muslims at UEA are international students, including Saudi Arabian and Egyptian nationals, who would have already been preparing to return home for the summer when this devastating news went public.
While the primary impact of the Islamic centre's closure will be on the daily activities of Muslim students, there is the potential for the decision to have a much broader effect. The Islamic centre is a social and educational space that offers non-Muslim students the opportunity to better understand the religion and learn about its practices, and for any student to involve themselves in a range of festivals and events organised by the Islamic community in this building.
The Islamic Student Society will continue with the help of the Union of UEA Students, and a disgruntled Islamic community will still benefit from the presence of a voluntary Muslim Imam on campus, but for a university voted number one for student satisfaction and boasting one of the most diverse student populations in the UK, many will view this move as at least a partial dismissal of the world's biggest religion on the UEA campus.
Side-lining Islam at a time when educational establishments in the UK should be doing everything possible to broaden the minds of its students and avoid any hint of discrimination towards their Muslim minorities will surely be a disappointment to every UEA student and alumnus.
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