Over 4,000 people have signed a petition since yesterday to urge Newcastle University to reverse its decision to close a Muslim prayer room.
Newcastle University Islamic Society say they have been have been informed that the prayer space in the King George VI Building is to be closed by the university by the end of July. They say this has been done without any consultation or input from the Muslim student body.
On the other hand, the university says that the prayer space is being closed because of the risk of asbestos exposure in the building which will eventually accommodate a new School of Pharmacy. It has also pledged to “explore the possibility of finding/creating a more suitable, permanent venue.” However, it says the new venue will be multi-faith and university-managed.
The student petition states: “The reason they have given us is that asbestos has been discovered in the ducts of the rooms, but once this has been removed, the prayer space shall be closed to ‘accommodate for their new School of Pharmacy.’ However, no alternative space has been provided, and while they state they shall ‘explore the possibility of finding and or creating a suitable, permanent venue,’ the discussions of finding a bigger space to accommodate more students has been an on-going issue for many years and has yet to be resolved – so what makes them think it will be found now?”
The Islamic Society estimates that there are around 2,000 students who use the prayer room and says “therefore to close a facility that caters for their spiritual needs (five daily prayer) and not provide any realistic alternative shows a lack of care and value towards the Muslim students…
“By closing down the prayer space, the university is sending out a message to its Muslim students… which may indicate that they do not want to engage with the Muslims students and the wider Muslim community in a conducive manner that brings about harmony and equality….
“If a new multi-faith space is provided, what is the cause or reason to change it from being managed by the SU and ISoc, to being managed by the university? What has caused this decision to be made? Rather than expanding the same space that was given to more than 30 year ago to accommodate the increasing number of Muslims students, they are taking it away!”
In response to the student petition, Newcastle University sent 5Pillars the following statement:
“As part of ongoing building work being carried out in the King George VI building to accommodate our new School of Pharmacy, asbestos has been discovered in the ducts below the University’s prayer rooms. As a result, the room will need to close from Saturday 29th July 2017 and we have spoken to our staff and students who use this space to make them aware of the situation.
“We have chosen the summer holidays to do this work as many of our staff and students are away and we were also keen to avoid key religious dates. During the closure, we are making every effort to signpost our staff and students to other faith spaces across the city.
“We have been concerned for some time about disability access to the prayer rooms and so the closure of this space is allowing us to carry out essential work and also explore the possibility of finding/creating a more suitable, permanent venue. The new space with be a multi-faith space, open to all staff and students and will be university managed.”