Northern Ireland

QUB Muslim students 'praying in corridors' call for dedicated room

Muslim students and staff at QUB
Image caption Muslim students and staff said they have no alternative but to say their prayers in QUB's corridors and libraries because no proper facilities have been made available

Muslims at Queen's University have said they have to pray in corridors and other public areas because it will not provide multi-faith prayer rooms.

The students said dedicated prayer or "quiet rooms" are available in many other universities and public buildings, including airports and hospitals.

They said they have no alternative but to say their prayers in corridors, libraries, corners or wherever they can find a secluded spot within QUB.

QUB said it is reviewing its amenities.

'Understanding'

Muslim student Nadira Nazir, who is from Malaysia, said: "If we had a room to ourselves it would be easier for us females, to be honest.

"We have to rush between classes to find any [empty classrooms] available and just go in and do our prayers.

"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."

Image caption Nadira Nazir said Muslim students had to rush between classes in a bid to find an empty classroom in which to pray

Approximately 1,200 international students from over 80 countries currently study at QUB and more than 400 are thought to be from the Islamic faith.

Encouraging more students from abroad to study at QUB is a major priority for the university.

'No extra cost'

Ahmed Amer from the QUB Muslim society said that was more of a reason for the university to provide prayer or "quiet" rooms.

"These rooms are not something new that we have invented," he said.

"These facilities are provided by all universities across England, pretty much, and in the Republic of Ireland. The Ulster University has them."

Image caption Ahmed Amer said prayer rooms were not a new invention and were already in place in most UK and Irish universities

Mr Amer said the provision of QUB prayer rooms "would be a sign that the university can accommodate people from all different backgrounds and different religions".

"There is no extra cost involved in providing them," he added.

QUB Muslim chaplain Dr Ashraf Ahmed said the prayer room or rooms could be used by all denominations.

"It would be great if we could have a multi-faith prayer room. All would be welcome from all backgrounds and all faiths," he said.

'Quiet room'

The Belfast Islamic Centre has two venues in south Belfast where Muslims pray. One is located on Rugby Road, the other at Wellington Park, but neither are connected to QUB.

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Media captionDr Ashraf Ahmed called for a QUB prayer room that could be used by people from all backgrounds and all faiths

QUB declined a BBC interview request, but in a statement, a spokesperson 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 Queens Elms halls of residence.

'Inappropriate'

While this was not a dedicated multi-faith or prayer room, it said students could use it for the purpose of prayer.

However, one Muslim student said the room in question was inappropriate, and pointed out that Queens Elms is further from the main university campus than either of the two south Belfast mosques.

Their campaign has been backed by the Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dónal McKeown, who said he was generally in favour of creating quiet rooms within public buildings that could be used by people of all religions and none.

The bishop told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme: "I think the university has to respond to the reality of new minorities in its midst who have particular needs, and I think we have to find ways of living together that respects the needs of others."

But speaking on the same programme, the former leader of the UK Unionist Party, Bob McCartney, said QUB was "a non-denominational, non-religious educational institution".

"For the university to accept that it has a duty to provide, and presumably pay for, facilities for a particular religion to exercise its rituals would, in my view, constitute a precedent that could give rise to future difficulties," Mr McCartney added.

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