After the Maagdenhuis-occupation of 2015 contemplation rooms were created everywhere on the UvA-premises. Muslim students may use them also as places for prayer, but they are unsatisfied about the rooms, especially those on Roeterseilandcampus, says Sanaa Kashif.
Last week, Muslim students who went to observe their daily prayers in room B.93 at building J/K (the contemplation room) on Roeterseilandcampus (REC) were disappointed and upset to find that the prayer mats and head scarves that were in the room for over a year were confiscated by the university’s Facility Services. This was the second time in a month that the university had taken these objects. While the University of Amsterdam heavily markets that diversity and equality are prioritized on its campuses, the implementation of these ideals seems to be lacking.
An example of this is the contemplation room on REC. The contemplation rooms were established to provide a safe space for students who want or need to meditate, pray, fulfill religious obligations, or simply embrace a moment of silence. The neutral rooms are open to all students and are often used by Muslim students to fulfill their daily religious obligations.
Several concerns are raised regarding the current contemplation room at the REC J/K. The first being its size. The room is far too small to accommodate the current demand of Muslim students and other students or staff who use the room as an escape from their hectic days. Only five till six people can comfortably fit into the room at any one time which often results in queues forming outside the room while students wait for space to clear up. This causes many students to be late for classes or appointments.
The second concern is with the location. As the room is currently situated in the J/K building it can take students anywhere from five till ten minutes to reach the room. This is incredibly inconvenient and causes students to be late for class. We have repeatedly asked for the room to be moved to the A/B/C building due to its central location, but have been repeatedly denied.
Lastly, there is an issue with the noise levels. The room is at the junction of the stairs and the building entrance which results in the area around it being full of students all talking to one another. These noises can acutely be heard in the room by the occupants which interfere with their prayers or meditation and disturbs the contemplative atmosphere of the room.
For the past three years, Muslim University Students of Amsterdam (Musa) has attempted to try and fix this issue. Before that, various diversity councils and student bodies tried to fix the issue. For every attempt made, the UvA has resisted and failed to properly engage with students to find a sustainable long-term solution. Muslim students have been lobbying for a place to pray at the UvA for the past six years with little to almost no change in the situation. This need for a better, more accommodating, and better located contemplation room should be addressed by the UvA just like every other pressing need for students at the university.
As a last resort, last month, we sent a letter to the UvA Executive Board (CvB) detailing our issues with the room and why we would like to see a change. This letter was signed and supported by the student councils of the faculties of Behavioural & Social Sciences, Economics & Business and Humanities, as well as the Central Studentcouncil and Asva Student union.
We had hoped that such a united call to action would urge the board to consider our requests. They offered to include us in the working groups that provide feedback on the interior of the room, a solution that was already planned and ongoing before we reached out to them. The main issues with the room are its size and location, which the aforementioned solutions do nothing to address. It seems that instead of treating this issue seriously, the university is branding pre-existing non-related initiatives as responses to our grievances, which will also not fix any of the problems we have outlined.
Even more alarming is that once renovations begin in the J/K building, a temporary contemplation room with unknown conditions will be placed in the basement of the building for up to a year or however long the J/K renovations take. A further complication is that the J/K building closes at 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday which means that Muslim students will have basically nowhere to pray especially as we approach the summer months (Prayer times are later during Summer time).
The university’s attempt at secularism is inadvertently causing them to become less inclusive in their treatment of Muslim and religious students. Muslims are required to pray every day at certain times and the UvA’s actions are making it incredibly difficult to do so. While the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Academic Medical Center have viable prayer and silence rooms that allow their students to feel at home on campus, at the UvA, the university’s secular policies and negligence towards the contemplation room on the REC campus make UvA Muslim students feel like strangers.
UvA’s refusal to properly engage with us and many other parties on this issue sadly portrays a contrary approach to the diversity and equality that they advertise on campus. Marketing our university’s values should go beyond mere virtue signaling and instead strive to authentically showcase and implement a truly inclusive stance on diversity. While this issue disproportionately affects Muslim students, it still also affects all students/staff who want to fulfil their religious obligations or simply find a moment of silence. Despite the consistent efforts of students throughout the years to propose solutions for this issue, the university has repeatedly failed to engage and address the problem. We sincerely hope that the university will finally extend a cooperative hand so that we can sit down and find a viable solution.
Sanaa Kashif is bachelorstudent Political Science and holds the chair of Muslim University Students of Amsterdam (Musa).