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Ukip rails at Muslim students' call for prayer room at QUB

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 13/06/2015

Two Muslims at prayer. Islam requires the faithful to pray five times a day
Two Muslims at prayer. Islam requires the faithful to pray five times a day

A call for dedicated prayer facilities by Muslim students at Queen's University has sparked controversy.

Muslims said they have to pray in corridors and library corners as there are no multi-faith prayer rooms.

However, Ukip MLA David McNarry said society risked being "swamped" by the demands of Islamism.

He questioned whether Christians in a Muslim country would be afforded the same consideration.

"Society could end up being swamped in terms of having to make room for it (Islam)," he said.

"It doesn't seem to be a bit accommodating at all in understanding everybody else's religions."

Around 400 students at Queen's are thought to be from the Islamic faith.

Their religion requires them to pray at five set times of the day, including midday. Students said dedicated prayer or "quiet rooms" were available in many other universities and public buildings here.

Ahmed Amer from the QUB Muslim society told the BBC: "These rooms are not something new that we have invented.

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

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

The Belfast Islamic Centre has two venues in south Belfast where Muslims pray.

These are located at Rugby Road and Wellington Park. However, neither are connected to Queen's.

But Dr Seleem Tareen from the centre said they were not always suitable.

"The students of Queen's University try to come to Belfast Islamic Centre but most times they cannot make it," he said.

"The midday prayer is very short and if they are doing lectures they can't come to the centre most of the time."

However, Mr McNarry said accommodating every religious belief could prove difficult.

"They are very, very welcome, but we can go too far," he said.

"The idea of other universities attracting people from all parts of the world, bringing their religions with them, doesn't mean that we (make provisions) just to assimilate where they've come from."

The Christian Union at Queen's University said it did not have dedicated prayer facilities.

Its president Jack Gamble said: "As a Christian Union, we have no dedicated prayer or meeting places in campus buildings.

"However, the chaplaincies in the university area provide a place to pray."

Mr Gamble said quiet rooms could be a positive step.

"Quiet rooms could potentially be good for those of faith or no faith to use if they want," he said.

"As a Christian Union, we don't want to withdraw from campus life, but to bless our campus in what we say and what we do as students."

A QUB 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 Queen's Elms halls of residence, although this is further away than the two south Belfast mosques.

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

Background

Salat is the obligatory Muslim prayers, performed five times each day. They pray at:

  • Salat al-fajr: dawn, before sunrise
  • Salat al-zuhr: midday, after the sun passes its highest
  • Salat al-'asr: the late part of the afternoon
  • Salat al-maghrib: just after sunset
  • Salat al-'isha: between sunset and midnight

This prayer timetable gives Muslims the pattern of their day. The prayer ritual, which is over 1,400 years old, is followed by hundreds of millions of people all round the world.

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