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June 26, 2001

University College London denies accusations of Islamophobia

Muslim students at the University of London (UCL) have accused some academic staff of Islamophobia, reports this Friday's The Muslim News. Muslim students and staff have been trying to get a prayer room for over 4 years with little success. 'The matter relates to the enormous anti-Islamic opposition among the UCL academic staff to providing facilities for Muslim prayer room,' one of the 150 Muslim students told The Muslim News. All those interviewed asked to remain anonymous, fearing repercussion from the staff. The Muslim Council of Britain's Co-Chairman of Community Affairs Committee Dr Jafar Qureshi wrote on June 20, to the Chairman of UCL's Council Lord Young saying that it was in the 'interests of promoting a tolerant and supportive stance' that the University should provide prayer facilities. The Muslim students were supported by other members of the UCL, namely, the Provost, the Vice-Provost, Equal Opportunities Officer, the Students Union, and student societies of other faiths.
The UCL had promised a prayer room for Muslim students and staff. However, objections were raised, according to Muslim students, by some academic staff that UCL was a secular institution. One of the staff is reported to have commented: 'I fee quite strongly that this violates the mission of UCL…for what it's worth, Muslim students can walk three minutes away to the prayer room at SOAS should they feel the need.' This was echoed by others. Another member of staff is reported to have said: 'I am very unhappy about this, primarily because it breaks with our strong secular tradition.' Another, said the UCL should be 'promoting Christianity which is the basic faith in this country'. There were a few academics who supported a Muslim prayer room. One said: 'I am aware of times when Christian unions have booked facilities for regular meetings. I can't see why Muslims should not book a room just in the same way as any other society in the college.'
Muslim students responded to the 'secular' argument by saying that the UCL 'is NOT a secular institution but has a large Department of Jewish Studies. It runs a BA, MA and PhD courses in Jewish Studies and Hebrew. It has the largest Jewish Studies Library in the UK. Jewish students are granted exemption on religious festivals. Christian academic staff use College premises for their worship meetings. To oppose a Muslim worship space by talking about 'secular' is clear hypocrisy.'
In response to increasing accusations of Islamophobia, the UCL held a meeting of the Academic Council on June 5. A spokesman for the UCL, denying Islamophobic accusations, told The Muslim News that they were 'considering these representations very carefully and rigorously'. Speaking after the June 5, meeting, the spokesman said that the decision to provide a multi-faith room 'was put forward to the Academic Board where views of the Board were taken'. He said the meeting had 'high quality and proportional comments' by the academic staff. He added that the only thing to be sorted out was 'operational details' as 'a place has (already) been designated'. He emphasised that 'no vote was taken at the meeting'. The reason why it has taken 4 years to agree to provide a Muslim prayer room was because it was a 'slow process as it had to go through all University bodies'. He did not know when the prayer room would be allocated. 'It will be soon I hope,' he said.

For further information contact us on 020 7608 2822 or 077 68 241 325. Please acknowledge The Muslim News when using the press release

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