Friday, 19 February 2010

Public protest prayer raises passions

City University London’s Islamic society, today decided to hold their Friday mass prayer in North Hampton square outside the main building of the University.

The 400-strong congregation gathered outside the Uni at 12am and began their prayers followed by an hour long sermon from the group's leader Saleh Patel.

The apparent 'noise' of the opening prayer drew a lot of attention and disrupted the studying of people working in the library four floors above the square. A couple of those individuals came downstairs to find out what was going on, sparking a series of heated debates.

"This is them against us" one student said, as tensions flared. A number of female Muslim students who were there in support of the protest prayer were arguing with the students whose library session had been disrupted. The main gist of their argument was that it wasn’t disturbing anybody (obviously false) and that they had a right to protest where and how they like.

With the second point being reasonable the real issue was that students who were not part of the protest were disrupted by the group's actions and some even felt that such protest action has no place in an education establishment.

Omar, a Law student at City said: "The University has a duty to provide educational facilities, religion has no place here."

The leader of the Student Union, Markus Mikely said in defence of the protest: "Of all the groups in the University, they [ISOC] have raised the most money for disasters like Haiti and when the Tsunami happened, the university allowed mass sit-ins and so on, so let them have their protest." But that support was met harshly with a pertinent point: "This is nothing to do with Haiti; that was a humanitarian issue, we can all get involved, this is a faith issue," said student Amira Sheth.

I understand the thrust of the protest, the University closed down the prayer facilities it was providing for the Muslim congregation, without reason or dialogue so I can see their frustration. But there is still a prayer room in the university, for all faiths, and there are Mosques in the area where the Muslim students could go if they wanted to do their prayers on their own terms.

I did raise these two points with a couple of the Muslim students who were there in support of the protest to which I was told: “The prayer room is too small and it’s multi-faith so we can’t use it,” and another student, Leila Mallouh, told me that: “The mosques are 10 minutes away, I don’t want to be late for lectures.”

I challenged the second point though, saying: “If I was a person of faith, that faith and the practise of it would come first, even if that meant being a few minutes late or running back to make lectures,” and do you know what Leila replied: “I shouldn’t have to do that, I’m here to learn.” She realised what she’d said afterwards and gave an awkward smile. That is the point, we go to University to learn and that should be the focus when we are there, not our personal lifestyle choices. We all have options and choosing not to use the facilities available because they don’t quite ‘meet your conditions’ is, for lack of a better word, ignorant.

When I was thinking about higher education and applying for Uni's I visited City. I looked at the facilities, the local area as well as the course content and as a prospective journalism student I was particularly attracted to City because of the recent investment in the journalism department. The University had plenty of computers and good facilities to accommodate my needs, so when I was fortunate to be given an unconditional offer, I took it.

The Muslim students involved in Today’s prayer protest had the same opportunity I did. They looked at City as an option and chose accordingly, if it did not meet their needs appropriately they had the right to choose to go to a University that does.

What right do they have to force others to choose to accommodate them as they see fit?
This from the City Islamic society’s website says it all:
“They [City Muslims group] are handling a campaign in order to see the return of the Muslims prayer room or the establishment of one that meets the City Muslim student’s conditions.”

That is not democracy, that is didactic and creates further strain and tension over issues that really don’t have a place in education. While I support the rights of any person who protests and fights against oppression and wrong doing, I do not condone bully tactics and lack of objective dialogue.

Although Friday’s prayer was an impressive display of strength and solidarity by the City Islamic society, I can’t help but view it as the bolstering of an already divisive line between those who choose to make faith an issue and those who choose otherwise.
Anyhow, I was introduced to the City Islamic society’s president, Saleh, and he is a charming and friendly person and didn’t express any anger about the situation. However, it’s unfortunate that under the current situation he feels this sort of action is necessary, but according to Saleh, the University has allegedly stone-walled further discussion on this issue.

This is not about taking sides, it’s about choices. Until you have made the most of and exhausted your choices and then openly discussed any alternatives with other parties who may be involved, don’t protest about your situation.

Just my $0.02

- Mr. Devo

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Blogger Razzle said...

How was this a 'bully tactic'? Would this have been different if they had just stood outside with signs/chanting i wonder? If the uni had 'stonewalled' discussions on the matter was the protest not another way to try and make themselves heard?

There is a bigger picture here and i think you have addressed that clearly. Is there any place for religion in education (France being a good case to look at)? In this sense then yes, this does seem like 'bully tactics' and i cringe at the knock-on effects of this protest on the muslim-student stereotype.
But, at the end of the day, they want/need to pray, they had a place to do this privately, this was withdrawn and now they're stuck. They may well have chosen this uni in the knowledge that they could step out, pray in that room and then go back to lectures.

I hear what you're saying on this but i think that you're questioning the bigger picture, not the actual protest. If this was in france then yes, not appropriate at all. But we live in a society where, at the moment, you have a right to practice your faith within education. And please dont tell me that this protest in particular was anymore 'disruptive' than any other might have been. People should be honest at least and just say that they were offended at their public display of prayer -not that they were making noise!

Thanks for the article Jon -a good read and this is the first time ive even looked at this. Will visit more regularly..!

20 March 2010 at 10:43  

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