Islamic students campaign for prayer facility

March 28, 2009

On March 23, 100 students attended a demonstration at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT)_organised by the Islamic Society, as part of a long-running campaign for a dedicated Muslim prayer facility on the city campus.

The rally was addressed by Islamic Society president Mohamed Elrafihi.

Elrafihi said: "We are standing against this injustice ... because for the past 14 years, Muslims have had a dedicated Muslim prayer room on campus.

"After the old one was demolished for renovation works, we were promised one in building 11, however, at the last minute, after practically completing the facility, the university reneged on its promise and took it away.

"For the past 16 months, the university administration has deserted its students and left us with no adequate place to practice our religion freely, breaking their promises and commitment made to Muslims at RMIT."

RMIT built a new prayer facility using Muslim architects but, just as it was finished, decided to convert the facility into a multi-faith centre.

The Islamic Society has pointed out that RMIT already has a multi-faith centre, and Muslim students' religious requirements (primarily ablution facilities, separate rooms for men and women, and space to pray five times a day) mean they need a dedicated Muslim prayer facility.

The Islamic Society has been campaigning since the beginning of 2008 for the university to change its decision.

Elrafihi explained that the university administration has resorted to lying in order to discredit the Islamic Society's campaign.

In an article printed in the Australian on the day of the protest, RMIT acting pro vice-chancellor Maddy McMaster claimed that "RMIT has gone out of its way to accommodate the needs of Muslim students and staff. The university already provides eight Muslim prayer rooms (male and female): two on the city campus, two on the Brunswick campus and four on the Bundoora campus."

However, Elrafihi said, "the fact is RMIT has three Muslim prayer rooms: one on Tivoli campus and two on the Bundoora campus, but not on the city campus."

The campaign has been supported by the RMIT Student Union, the National Union of Students, the Australian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), and the RMIT Christian Union, among many other organisations.

The Islamic Society has pledged to continue its campaign until the university "fulfil[s] its promises to its body of Muslim students and staff by providing a dedicated prayer room that accommodates our basic needs".

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