The University’s controversial decision to close the Islamic Centre on campus has been delayed.
Following several months of protest by Muslim and non-Muslim students alike, the University has put the decision on hold.
Instead, it will look to formulate a clear policy on faith provision across campus, after consulting with the chaplaincy, a variety of UEA’s faith groups, the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) and possibly the local community.
A meeting on 15 October will examine the consultation’s findings, leading to a decision on the University’s long-term policy, as well as the future of the centre.
In an official statement, the University’s executive team stated:
“[we will] ask the University Council to consider a long-term policy for UEA on the provision and organisation of facilities for prayer and religious observance on campus, and the principles that should guide any future developments. Provisionally, therefore, the building housing the current Islamic prayer facility will remain open.”
Speaking to Concrete, Union communications officer Matt Myles said:
“the Union welcomes the University’s decision to delay the closure of the centre in order to think more strategically about faith provision on campus. We want to see the university comprehensively consult students over the creation of the long-term policy on campus faith provision, as it will affect thousands of us this year and in future years”.
Muhammed Suleman Patel, vice-president of the Islamic Society, said the Muslim community at UEA were both happy and grateful to the University for the decision, but acknowledged that their campaign was far from over.
“We have certainly not become complacent and we will continue to work with attentiveness. At this point it seems inevitable that our campaign will spill out into the next academic year.”
“Nevertheless I believe a major benefit that can be found from this whole ordeal so far is that it has brought further unison to the UEA Muslim community and has brought us closer together with the wider UEA student collective.”
Following the initial announcement of the closure of the centre, the University indicated that there were no plans to replace the facility, and those affected would be re-accommodated in the campus Chaplaincy, despite Union members having voted on and approved a policy in 2011 indicating that the building was not an adequate multi-faith facility.
Speaking to BBC News earlier this year, Patel stated that the space was “too small to accommodate those who want to attend Friday prayers”, which includes members of the local community as well as at least 530 Islamic students who currently attend UEA.
There have been further concerns about how the absence of adequate prayer facilities may potentially deter students from applying to study at the University, as well as how the decision over the centre will affect those beginning their courses this autumn who applied when the Islamic Centre was still promised in the University’s 2012/13 prospectus.
Norwich South MP Simon Wright (Lib) also raised concerns over the closure with the UUEAS and representatives of the University. He told the press:
“I know from meeting with members of the Islamic Society that recent proposals raised some complex issues that were the cause of considerable anxiety. For many prospective students, knowing that there will be good prayer facilities and wide-ranging opportunities to take part in religious practices can be a key part of their decision to choose where to study.”
“The decision to look again at the whole issue of religious facilities on campus can be good for existing students and also help the University’s efforts to recruit the very best students.”
The future of the centre will continue to remain uncertain as the University begins its consultation, with a decision expected to be made in the coming months.