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The boundaries of community: academic community vs faith community 11 January 2011

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Ponderings, University.

For a couple of years we’ve been hosting the Jummuah (Friday) Prayers in our Multi-Faith Chaplaincy Centre. This arose for a number of reasons, including the provision of (barely) adequate washing facilities, a desire to know the active Muslim students, and problems with the university’s room booking system. I should also add that being on-site does give a degree of awareness of what’s going on, a sad reflection of the dangers of radicalisation.

Some weeks the numbers are low. Others, we are overrun, with both prayer/quiet rooms in use, (the smaller one by the sisters) as well as bodies (still alive, I hasten to add) in the corridor. Our facilities are inadequate… especially as we try to have space for those of  “all faiths and none.”

Recently it’s become obvious that we are not just victims of our own success. We know for a fact that folks with no legitimate reason, at least from a university perspective, are using our facilities, for hospitality as well as prayer and instruction. In other words, we are a resource not just to the academic community, but the local faith community too. We are in danger of becoming an informal mosque.

It’s a classic case of conflicting boundaries: a gathered (or at least gathering) faith community versus our service to the academic community. I’m none too happy about it, but at the same time I’m far from sure quite where we go from here.  Our facilities are funded by the institution (which is areligious), but the Chaplains are not (and those who are paid by their sponsoring bodies are Christians). Our primary users are devout Muslim students.

I’d hesitate to call our “success” an abuse of hospitality, but it is a misuse (in broadest terms), or a mismatch of expectations. (I’ll save questions of the the Chaplains having to abide by a non-proselytism policy while independent and evangelical Christian groups are allowed to hire university rooms on Sundays, for another day.)

In the mean time, I’d value thoughts, comments and shared experience, especially from my fellow chaplains.



1. Andii - 12 January 2011

I’d be interested to know what comments may arrive. I’m not currently in a position to offer any experience of this precisely. However, I am curious: is it known who the ‘outside’ Muslims are and why they come? There are several potential scenarios: from ‘it is a convenient, close assembly for prayer’ (and is there someone giving a khutba?) to -at the furthest pole- ‘it is where radical ideas are able to be disseminated and discussed without oversight from elders (who don’t really understand …)’

I’m all for universities being hospitable sites, but maybe some things are better being monitored more closely … ?

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