The lease for the temporary buildings was granted in 2009 with the intention to build a permanent facility once it expired. However, this has not been the case.
While UEA will apply in June for a new lease to build a permanent teaching space to replace the CD annex, this does not include prayer facilities to replace those provided by the Islamic Centre.
The reasons for this decision remain unclear. However, it was made without consultation with the centre’s chaplain, Masoud Gadir, who was only informed of the closure after the decision had been made, or any other members of the Muslim community.
The Islamic centre is integral to the Muslim community of UEA for daily congregational prayers, at which 20-80 people attend, with over 400 for Jum’uah prayers on Fridays. Due to the relatively small Islamic community in Norwich, it is one of the largest centres in the area.
In a statement regarding the decision, the University said: “The University of East Anglia is committed to meeting the needs of the diverse range of groups within the campus community. UEA has a well-established Islamic Society and a Muslim Imam who plays a full part in our multi-faith chaplaincy team.
“We will continue to offer Muslim prayer facilities on campus for both Friday prayer and individual worship … The University is adapting the existing multi-faith Chaplaincy building to meet the needs of our Muslim students. They will also continue to be able to book rooms for social activities on campus.
“Our Chaplaincy staff are very much looking forward to welcoming more of our Muslim community into our multi-faith facility and believe that this will be a positive step in further enhancing mutual understanding and integration across our diverse community.”
However, in a statement responding to this, the Islamic Society, the Imam and the Muslim chaplain said that they take “strong exception” to the assertion of UEA’s commitment to the diverse needs of its students:
“In unilaterally deciding to close the Islamic Centre without prior consultation, feedback, and transparency, and in so withholding such a decision from the Muslim community until the eleventh hour, UEA has compromised good faith with the Muslim community, and shows on the contrary a compromise of any form of commitment to meeting the needs of the Muslim community of UEA and INTO@UEA.”
Speaking to Concrete, vice president of the Islamic Society Muhammad Suleman Patel and ex-Treasurer and UEA alumni Omar Alattas argued that the chaplaincy facilities would not be enough.
Patel said: “If you look at Friday prayers, there is only supposed to be one congregation. But due to the limitations of the space [the Islamic Centre] … we can’t fit everybody in there, so we’ve had to make that sacrifice by having two. Trying to fit us into the chaplaincy would not work, as it is even smaller … you can’t fit everyone in. And we don’t want to cause tension with other faiths.”
He explained that, while members of the multi-faith chaplaincy were willing to accommodate them, the Muslim community’s needs were very specific, and they did not want to encroach upon others.
In addition to daily prayers, the centre is also currently used as: a site of learning; a space for social events, for example during Ramadan, at which over 100 people gather daily to break their fast; community outreach, such as visits from local primary schools; and a way of attracting new Muslim students, both from the UK and internationally.
Grievances were also expressed with the way in which the decision was made and communicated. Alattas said: “The problem first was the lack of consultation, lack of process, lack of transparency. Not only that, we also see the attempt to willfully conceal a decision that was made much earlier without consultation and without reference to the Muslim community, who would be directly impacted by the closure.”
There are also concerns regarding the effect the demolition will have on prospective Muslim students at UEA, as the prospectus for 2012/13 specifically advertises the availability of the Islamic centre. The fact that this is no longer the case could therefore leave potential students feeling cheated.
Patel said: “This will be detrimental to current Muslim students and staff, future Muslim students and staff, international or home, postgraduate or undergraduate. This will also damage the University’s reputation, not only through what they are doing but the way they handled the situation.”
Plans to campaign against the closure include writing an extensive report which highlights the benefits of the centre to UEA; producing an e-petition in conjunction with the Union of UEA Students and reaching out to various embassies, government agencies, MPs, Fosis (Federation of Student Islamic Societies), UEA alumni and the Norwich and Norfolk community.
Speaking to Concrete, Communications officer Matt Myles said: “The Union is still trying to understand what the University’s plans are. We are not happy to have been omitted from consultation so far and hope to become more involved as quickly as possible.
“We firmly believe that the differing needs of all faith communities should be met by the University and that no faith community should be side-lined.”