Thursday, 10 September 2009

The dangers of the "On Campus Mosque"

by johnofgwent

It's that time of year again. A level results came out, clearing came and went (no thanks to government restrictions on the number of home students our universities are permitted to admit, in order to make room for foreign students and their lovely money) and the best and brightest of our young people are preparing to start a life of three, four or maybe even five years intense study away from home and independent for possibly the first time in their lives.

Except trust me they'll be back in two weeks with a fortnight's dirty washing .... !

But while I was carrying out the task last year of every parent of every wannabe student, ferrying them to and from the "milk rounds" of open days, I was struck by how much things had changed since I was the 17 year old with the A level grades seeking a way to the next level in academic life.

Most of all was how insular our universities had become. In my day the union building and library was accessible to the population as a whole, and a plethora of learned and not so learned societies actively engaged in getting the people of the city involved in what the place was doing. Whether that be public meetings and debates on matters of highbrow and lowbrow interest, or just selling tickets to the "Steeleye Span Fairwell (yet again) Tour" gig in the union main hall. Today you need swipe cards just to get into the library and forget any hope of acces to the union building they donl't let the public in there any more.

And most worrying of all to me is the upsurge in construction of on campus religious infrastructure, the most insidious of which is the rise of the "on campus mosque".

I won't bother putting the links up here, go find them yourself. Google "on campus mosque uk". See how many hits come back to front pages of redbrick universities proudly proclaiming their fully self contained status, their complete insular existence, and their pride in their newly constructed on campus mosque.

GONE are the days when a student had to find accommodation, food and other things in the urban area in which their institution was built. Now the vogue is to drop little johnny off in September, get him his swipe card to let him in to the place, and pick ho up three or more years later at the other end of the conveyor belt.

And that includes any spiritual component of those three, four or five years. And that worries me.

In my day integration with the town or city in which the institution was sited was the key thing. And especially where religion was concerned. The university chaplaincy was a tiny office in the union building with a door to the street that was always open, or at least always unlocked. Anyone could walk in off the street, and any and all were welcome to do so and welcomed when they did. But a key fact was that although all manner of religions were represented through a "hotline" to a local man or woman, be they priest, vicar, rabbi, imam, or a dozen or more others with much weirder titles, very little was done on campus. And why was that ? Well for a start every one of the religious leaders involved in that chaplaincy recognised the importance of providing students with the means to pursue a spiritual side to their studies and their life at their own pace, in an establishment that absolutely was not an enclave of people in the same circumstances cut off from the outside world and the reality of life in it.

But today that is all gone. For a raft of reasons, our students today are kept cut off from the world that funds their education and the real world experience those people in the real world have. And what a magnificent opportunity this presents for the fundamentalist radical evangelical.