Sunday, 26 October 2008

"We are very proud of being one of the few UK universities with a Mosque on campus"

Picture shows the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Richard B Davies, addressing Swansea University's Muslim community in the campus mosque. For those who want to read the link that goes with the above picture, here you go.

by johnofgwent

A little something for you to mull over this Sunday morning.

Thirty two years ago this month I turned up with the ink still damp on my A level certificates at the door of the university I had chosen, or more correctly the university that had chosen to allow me in, to start what I thought would lead me to a career in scientific research. The ink was still damp on the A level certificates because an admin foulup at the WJEC required many to be reprinted, including mine, causing delay in proving your entitlement to be on the course, and stress we could all do without.

And then some nice on-campus pickpocket lifted my wallet and with it my driving licence. At the time there was less than three quid in it, but you need to understand that in those days a pint of beer in an EXPENSIVE pub was only 45p. Both the wallet (without the money of course) and the driving licence were found in a corridor in the law faculty - a building i never entered throughout my time on campus - a week or two later. The licence was discarded by the thief because in those days you did not need one to open a bank account, and therefore identity theft was unheard of.

So there I was, on my first day as a student, broke (until I could get to the bank, anyway) and utterly alone. A feeling I would encounter many times as an undergraduate and more than once as a postgraduate too !

And so I found myself on the ground floor of the student union outside the university's "multi-faith chaplaincy". Not for any particular reason except that the several people who occupied that room from time to time had the sense to have it put where ANYONE walking through the main doors could not fail to see it. At that moment a bloke hardly older than me walked up as if to go in, sensed I was not exactly the happiest chappie on the campus (it goes with the job, I guess) and so began my first conversation with a jewish rabbi.

Not surprisingly perhaps this chap knew exactly where the nearest branch of my particular bank was (!) and so my immediate cause of stress was fairly quickly dealt with, my cheque guarantee card cancelled, my home branch telephoned, my identity recognised, and more money provided to me out of my account. All done person-to-person and not a call centre in sight (they hadn't been invented in 1976 either)

Now in those days I stil called myself a Christian. (It would be another decade and more before I would turn my back on the faith). Yet to this Jewish rabbi I was just a bloke who could do with some practical help and a cup of tea. And so began my rather loose association with the university chaplaincy. I recall it had "on its books" one anglican vicar, two catholic priests, a methodist, a congregationalist who had links to British Steel (!), two jewish rabbi's, a sikh, and two other men, one with a shaven head and a thing about orange robes, and another with an equally bald head but a serious beard to go with it, with a thing about white and cream robes. And the remarkable thing was all of them "manned" the same (small) office in the university union building. And the other remarkable thing was that throughout the years I was at the campus, I never saw the placce unmanned.

The other interesting thing about the place and the people was they didn't hold any openly religious events on campus. Yes of course they were more than happy to talk, discuss, debate or argue their faith or views with any who wanted, and pray with any who wanted too, otherwise why on earth would they bother being there as an "outreach centre" but if it was the organised and dare i say ceremonial side of the religion that you wanted, they all suggested you come with them to their next meeting at the established place of worship at which each of them practiced their faith where you could partake of that side of things with others.

I can't say I particularly wondered why this was done this way at the time. It didn't bother me. In fact it seemed to make a great deal of sense that since the guy was already preparing a sermon for his congregation for that sunday, then if hymns, sermons and a group ritual was what I wanted, then perhaps I should turn up to take part in such with the rest of a like-minded congregation. And from time to time I did. I even made it onto "Easter Songs of Praise" one year. Filmed for the BBC just after Christmas and with a choir bussed in to swell the numbers. I still have the (pirate) videotape of the broadcast somewhere.

But there was no "On campus church". There was no "on campus crucifix" nor "on campus buddha". I have a very distinct feeling there was a weekly gathering of those of the Sikh faith on the campus, at least for a time, because part of their ritual included a (vegetarian) meal for those who gathered and any who were also intersted, and more than once when student finances were heading into "Mister Micawber Misery" territory I went along partly out of genuine curiosity and mainly out of genuine stomach rumbles. No-one complained and I think I know as much, if not more, about that particular faith than my daughter who was forced to learn of them thanks to our government's commitment to teaching multiculturalism in the National Curriculum.

Nor was there an on-camus synagogue nor an on-campus mosque. Those who followed the teachings of the Torah or the Qur'an were most welcome to pursue their continued religious practices at the synagogue and mosque established in the city for the existing followers of those faiths.

And it is only in the last year or so that I have understood why.

About six months back now Ed Hussein, author of a book "The Ismlamist" was interviewed on Radio 4. I think I blogged something on that very issue at the time. In his interview he told of how he knew of muslim fathers weeping at the knowledge that their sons had abandoned the mosques they had attended with their parents because they preferred the teachings of the imam in the one set up for him and his fellow students.

Well, independence and a bit of rebellion is a good thing. Each generation needs to learn to stand on its own feet and to think for itself just as each member of that generation learned to wipe its own arse and wash their hands afterwards. It's all part of the growing up process. But there are those out there who seek to make use of that rebellious tendency, and not for any good purpose.

But these "On-campus-mosques" are places to which any non-campus person would have a hard time getting thanks to on- campus-security designed to keep our children safe from those who would wish them physical harm. A sad and sorry fact of life in a sad and sorry country that has lost much of what made it a good place to be when I was my daughter's age.

Why would anyone wish to "segregate" a particular age range, or a particular income bracket, from any other ? The whole point in having those followers of a particular religion follow it together is that it IS then a community of all followers, of all ages, of all walks of life, all together, who can offer each other's experiences to each other. At least that was what I believed when I believed in God.

So why would anyone wish to "segregate" a particular group and provide religious facilities to which the rest of the community have no access ?

Why indeed.

It was easy to aim this blog entry directly at the followers of Islam. They are the people who take pride in having "on-campus mosques" signposted at every one of the universities my daughter has considered applying to and to which I have gone with her to check out the facilities. If I turned up at one and found signs to an "On Campus Cathedral" or "On Campus Wiccan Sacrificial Altar" I assure you I would have exactly the same misgivings (and perhaps for the latter , more than a few worries about what was being sacrificed).

But I think someone in our government should take those responsible for running our educational establishment to task and demand explanations for why it is felt a good idea to segregate those who wish to pursue religion from the wider community of like minded people.

1 comment:

The Green Arrow said...

Thanks for that JOG. Interesting article. So interesting I missed a phone call:)