Muslim students at a Northern Ireland university have to pray in corridors, classrooms and forgotten corners of the campus because the college will not provide a dedicated space for prayer.
Students at Queen’s University Belfast are campaigning for the university to set aside a private area where they can pray – a move that would end constant struggles to find privacy while on campus.
Speaking on the BBC Radio Ulster Talkback programme, Ahmed Amer from the QUB Muslim society stressed that most other universities in England and in the Republic of Ireland have dedicated rooms for prayer – as does the University of Ulster.
“Having a prayer room on campus is just a sign that the university is accommodating the needs of its students,” he said.
Describing how he had dealt with the lack of private prayer space in his own student days he said: “I used to walk to the mosque most of the time. Sometimes I used to pray in a corridor. But I was lucky because I studied close to a hospital which had a quiet room so I would make use of the quiet room in the hospital.”
Nadira Nazir, a Queen’s student from Malaysia, said the situation was particularly difficult for women: “Sometimes you get students already coming into the class and they see us praying. I am glad for their understanding as they have to wait for us to finish [before] they start their lecture, because we are literally using their class.”
The campaign for dedicated prayer space is being backed by the Right Rev Dónal McKeown, the bishop of Derry.
However, Bob McCartney – former leader of the UK Unionist party – opposed the move: “The Muslim religion has this very strict requirement of a number of set prayers during the day which have to be carried out at times that are not always appropriate.”
Adding that the university had a strict non-denominational policy, he said: “This is in no way about the right of Muslims to exercise their right to prayer.
“It is about the university’s responsibility to provide the facilities to exercise such a right and who is to pay for such facilities?”
In a statement, the university said: “A key priority in the Vision 2020 strategy for Queen’s University Belfast is to increase the number of international students studying at the university.
“Accordingly, the university is currently reviewing all amenities in the context of its charter and statutes to ensure that staff and students from all backgrounds have access to appropriate facilities.”
It said a “quiet room” has been created at the Queen’s Elms halls of residence which is about a ten minute walk from the main university building in south Belfast.
According to the BBC there are currently about 1,200 international students from more than 80 countries studying at the university, with at least 400 thought to be from the Islamic faith.
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