A plan to refurbish the Islamic Prayer Facility in the Lecture Theatre block has been welcomed, but Muslim students have said they await further progress on prayer provision.
The prayer facility was the only part of the lecture building to not receive a refurbishment over the summer to the disatisfaction of students. The Students’ Union compared the facilities to that of other universities and said it was time for a refurbishment.
Dr Jon Sharp, Director of Student Services, said: “The university is committed to providing appropriate spaces for spiritual and religious activity and has been working very closely with the Students’ Union on the specific issue of space for Islamic prayer.”
The university said they have drawn up a refurbishment plan for the daily prayer facility to take place in late December. A spokesperson for UEA said this plan was devised in “full consultation” with the SU and UEA Islamic Society (ISOC) with alternative prayer arrangements for the period when work is taking place having been agreed. They added: “The timing for that work has been agreed so as to minimise any disruption to students using that space for prayer. Alternative prayer arrangements for this period have been agreed with ISOC and the Students’ Union.”
SU Welfare Community and Diversity Officer India Edwards said: “Muslim students will be pleased that, following sustained public pressure from the ISOC and SU, the university has finally agreed to refurbish their daily prayer space – some six months after the rest of the lecture theatre block.”
However, students have said the plans are overdue and other aspects of prayer provision remain unclear. Haroon Razmandeh, President of UEA Islamic Society (ISOC) said: “With regards to the refurbishment of the daily prayer facilities in the Lecture Theatre building, the university has said they will do so and provide us with the details. “However, as of yet, they have only paid lip service to the matter and nothing is in writing, nor have any plans been confirmed.
“We have been waiting months for the plans and they are far overdue.”
Ms. Edwards said there was continued concern over the issue of Friday prayer, presently in the Blackdale Main Hall, in exam time.
Ms. Edwards described Friday prayer facilities as “in flux”, owing to the university’s current system of requiring the space for exams during the end of year assessment period. “The issue is far from over – which is why the uni now needs to find a permanent home for Islamic prayer, and deliver on its promise of facilities that ‘UEA can be proud of’,” she said.
The university said they have already met with ISOC and the SU to agree an alternative space for Friday prayer during exam time, with arrangements to facilitate overnight access to the Blackdale space during Ramadan.
Last year, Muslim students were told the Islamic Prayer Facility in the Lecture Theatre block would be unavailable, owing to building work on the Library and lecture theatres over the summer. The incident made national headlines and saw students pray in the Square in demonstration against the decision to temporarily close the facility without informing students.
In 2012 there was a similar campaign when it was announced an Islamic Centre on Chancellor’s Drive would be demolished. Now students are hoping to see a permanent specialised facility built in the next few years.
The university said they have set up a Working Group to look at the long-term provision of prayer space for Muslim students. The group will be chaired by Professor Sarah Barrow, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Arts and Humanities, and has been established with membership from both the Students’ Union and ISOC.
A spokesperson for UEA told Concrete: “There should be no doubt about the university’s commitment to providing long-term space for Islamic prayer.
“The Vice Chancellor has met with both Student Union and ISOC representatives to provide his verbal assurances, confirmed in writing that our commitment in this area in unequivocal and continuous.”