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CULSU: Right To Pray

Monday 25-07-2016 - 15:52

Regular student-led Friday Prayers are to be held at City University London, thanks to the hard work of the students' union.

City University London Students' Union have successfully campaigned for the university to cater for Islamic Friday prayers. We caught up with them to see what lessons can be learnt from their success.

Why CULSU ran this campaign

City University London has not held Islamic Friday Prayers on campus for four years, taking a strongly secular stance and opposing faith group provision. This was particularly an issue for the large section of the City student body from Muslim backgrounds; City has a large international student population, many from Muslim countries, and high BAME recruitment within the UK and London in particular.

The university had suggested these students should attend a community Mosque 10-15 minutes from campus. This was inconvenient for students to attend between classes, when they would not have time to travel to and from the Mosque, pray and have lunch or would miss elements of classes.

Students highlighted these concerns to City Students’ Union and noted that the lack of prayer provision on campus diminished student community feeling, and did not take Faith seriously as an important part of their student experience. Three years ago, students felt ignored by the university and began to pray outside the University Building in protest.

The SU set out to unify those arguing for a change and achieve student-led institutional Friday Prayer on Campus.

How the campaign was delivered

The campaign was led by successive SU Presidents Giulio Folino, Rima Amin and Issy Cooke. As the prayer protests occurred during his term in office, Giulio established dialogue between the societies and university. Rima begun working on this as VP Activities under Giulio and then as President, and Issy continued to prioritise this campaign. Both were supported by VP Activities Natalia Rajapakse and Yusuf Ahmad, and union staff.

The three Students’ Union Muslim faith Societies were involved – the Islamic Society, Ahlulbayt, and Madinah, representing a spectrum of Muslim opinion at City. It was quickly identified that the tactic of Prayer protest was hardening the university’s stance, and the sabbatical officers successfully persuaded students through the societies’ leadership to stop outside prayer and engage in dialogue.

CULSU set up a ‘Muslim Faith Discussion Group’ with representation from Muslim societies, senior university representatives and chaired by the SU as a party trusted by all.

The sabbatical officers lobbied to persuade the university to continue this dialogue, and worked with the leaderships of the societies to ensure that they would be able to raise their points and be listened to. This involved meeting individual students and staff before and after meetings to ensure that points were brought out and followed up.

It also meant ensuring that students were able to present a united front to the university, overcoming divisions between the societies, and develop plans for Friday Prayer that would suit the majority of affected students. The Union also benefited from support by the Deputy Registrar, Richard Middleton, and then the Pro-Vice Chancellor John Fothergill, who were delegated responsibility for faith issues from the University.

Students expressed desire for more movement, and overwhelmingly passing a motion in favour of campus Friday Prayer at the CULSU AGM in November 2015. This was CULSU’s first quorate AGM for four years, attended by 160 students.

Rima took advantage of this additional pressure by taking a paper from the Islamic Faith Discussion Group to the University Executive Committee, seeking to change university’s faith stance, recognise the role of faith in students’ life, and with a roadmap for institutional endorsed student-led Friday Prayer. She lobbied individual members of the University Executive Committee in the lead up to the vote and the paper was passed.

What was the impact of the campaign?

The campaign reversed the university’s stance towards Faith and recognised faith as an important part of students’ experience at City. It achieved its aim of establishing institutionally endorsed student-led Friday Prayer.

The campaign led to an evolution of the dialogue between CULSU, the societies and the university. This has evolved into discussion on the practicalities of Friday Prayer, which will take place from academic year 2016-17. Two prayers will be held each Friday, one Shia or Medinah led, and one Sunni led. A Friday Prayer Working Group was established to manage these. These will be led by students who apply through a process agreed by the group. All who apply will be trained by external bodies which the Imam will agree with the SU. The SU is currently discussing the form of this training with FOSIS and the Student Muslim Council.

While the University Imam was intended to chair the Friday Prayer Working Group, the Imam suggested the SU President should continue to chair the group through discussions of the practicalities of Friday Prayer.  Only once these have been established will the Imam take the chair. This highlights the trust that CULSU has been able to establish with both students and the university through the campaign.

Have you run a successful campaign on your campus? Let us know at connect@nus.org.uk

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Campaigns, Features, Welfare

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