Saturday 20th October marked the opening of the newly refurbished Islamic prayer rooms. Sera Berksoy went to the opening to see the changes and find out how students would be affected.
For eight years, the University of Southampton has been attempting to expand and refurbish the worship facilities for its Muslim students, the reception held on Saturday at the Islamic prayer room saw the unveiling of what was at one point, a pipeline dreams.
The event, described as a ‘small opening ceremony’, which typified two years worth of hard work, was well attended with special guests including two patrons from universities in Saudi Arabia: Prince Badr Ben Saud Al Saud, Professor of Islamic studies in AbdulAziz University and Dr Ibrahim Dwaish from Alqaseem University. There was an undeniable sense of excitement in the air as guests arrived and were shown the new facilities for the first time. In a speech after the midday prayer held at 1:30pm, Ehab Saleh a long term member and advisor to ISoc (the University’s Islamic Society) described the way in which the facilities had been ‘quite badly needed’ by Muslim students, and that they were extremely satisfied with what had been created.
David Russell, the project manager, said that all in all the project went smoothly. He praised the architect and contractors for their understanding and ability to design such a specialised space when they had ‘not done anything similar before’. He pointed out that one of the hardest part of the project was ‘finding somewhere to put the prayer room during the refurbishment’. This it seems, is where the Union came in useful; SUSU helped establish temporary prayer facilities and in a blog, Sam Ling said that they were ‘pleased to have been able to offer help on a project that [would]improve students’ experience on campus’.
After the event I was able to catch up with Ehab and Sakaria Farah, the president of ISoc. Ehab described how, over the last eight years it became more and more difficult for students to pray in the prayer room; the prior facility was too small for the numbers of people wishing to use it and it regularly reached full capacity. As a result of being able to extend into a storage room, capacity has now more than doubled and over 100 people can use the room at any one time.
Ehab and Sakaria both mentioned the ablution facilities which had been in severe need of a face lift. Sakaria described the way in which, before the refurbishment, there was ‘nowhere really, for people to wash’ and Ehab talked about just how unclean the space used to be. The new ablution rooms are specially designed for their purpose, and the seating (pictured right) makes their use a lot easier.
When asked how the new prayer rooms would impact students, Sakaria said it was ‘somewhere people actually wanted to come to and spend time in, not just somewhere to pray but somewhere to socialise’. In his speech earlier in the day, Ehab spoke about the prayer room not only as a place of worship, but also as a space for gathering, for competition and most importantly for support, where Islamic students can go for advice and guidance. Sakaria added that students were enjoying the space: ‘its somewhere we are proud of – it has made a huge difference!’
Ehab, who is currently finishing his PhD, spoke about his own experience: ‘the first place I looked at after the lecture facilities was the prayer room’. He highlighted that a prayer room affects Muslim students when it comes to choosing a university. In many ways, it is just as important as teaching facilities because ‘it is somewhere [they]use at least three times a day’. Ehab said that one of the best things about the refurbishment was the way in which it could act as an advertisement for the university, as it is not a facility which all universities can offer. It sets Southampton out from the crowd, and reiterates ‘the profile which it deserves’.
For more information on Isoc and the prayer room, please visit their website: http://www.isoc.susu.org/