Muslim students locked out of prayer room at City University

Muslim students hold their prayers outside City University. Image: Kitty Teague
Muslim students hold their prayers outside City University. Image: Kitty Teague
Muslim students hold their prayers outside City University. Image: Muslim Voices On Campus

Muslim students from City University had to hold their Friday prayers outside in the cold last week after their prayer room was locked.

Around 200 students laid down prayer mats on the street in Northampton Square outside the campus to conduct their Friday lunchtime, or Jummah, prayer session.

The gathering, led by the Muslim Voices On Campus group, said it had been forced to resort to this measure after the room they normally use to pray in was locked by the university.

Muslim Voices on Campus was formed in November 2012 after City University cancelled the Jummah Prayers on campus. The institution asked those conducting the prayer services to submit the sermons for review to ensure that the content “complies with university policy.”

The group is now seeking legal advice, claiming they have suffered discrimination.

The leader of Muslim Voices on Campus, Wasif Sheik, an optometry student said: “We feel we are being unjustly targeted. All of our sermons are open, we welcome all students and all staff.

“But when you start submitting your sermons to be monitored and scrutinised then there’s a chance for it to be dictated what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. We, as students, don’t accept that. Once you submit sermons to be pre-approved and monitored, it opens the doors for a university to dictate what is allowed to be talked about and what isn’t. It’s an attack on student rights, not just Muslim student rights.”

After an attack on Asian students at City in University in 2009 where racist abuse was shouted, City moved the prayer room from the Gloucester Building nearby the University to a central location on campus, in order to ensure that Muslim students would be safe.

Three years ago a report released by the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank that looks at extremism in the UK, claimed that sermons by the Islamic Society risked encouraging hardline views.

The report also claimed that members of the City Islamic Society intimidated other students, including women and gay and Jewish students.

In one session, which was recorded, the speaker said: “The Islamic state teaches to cut the hand of the thief. Yes it does. And it also teaches us to stone the adulterer. When they tell us that, the Islamic state tells us and teaches us to kill the apostate, yes it does.”

However, a student in the Islamic Society who asked to remain anonymous said: “I completely disagree with this. The report has taken little bits of the sermon out of context, and not listened to the whole sermon. At the end of the day we are here to promote good values. Also the decision to move the prayer room to Percival Street doesn’t make any sense. They moved it to a central location after the stabbings of Muslim students in 2009, to make it safer. Moving it away from campus again is ridiculous.”

Tamana Ali, a final year Muslim student at City University told Islington Now: “The Muslims feel discriminated against and they want to have their voices heard. Its just basic rights. A prayer room is a basic right for Muslims. We have to pray five times a day.”

City University has said it will not allow services to be conducted without knowing what is being preached. They have offered students an alternative space to conduct their prayers in the community centre on Percival Street. However, Muslim students have said that they can’t use this room because it is too inconvenient.