How open do you think Oxford is towards your faith?
From my experience, most of Oxford is an incredibly tolerant environment. You don’t realise exactly how tolerant until you get here. There is so much solidarity and support in the student community, whatever race, religion, orientation, or background you’re from, everyone is welcome and any form of diversity is celebrated. You are never seen as an outsider because of your faith. In my experience, it has also provided an opportunity for my friends in college, some of whom have had very few (if any) Muslim friends, to be inquisitive and learn more about Islam.
Do you think the University and your college facilitate your faith well? For example with Halal food options etc.
The University have been great at providing a designated prayer room for all Muslims in Oxford to use, in a good location. Luckily my department (the Business School) also has a prayer room which is super convenient. Outside of those, I am also able to improvise and use spaces such as empty rooms and single study spaces in libraries if need be.
My college (as well as all other colleges) allow use of the chapel for all religions. I have made regular use of this. All I need to do is to to request the key and it’s open for me to pray in. My college (St Edmund Hall) is also incredibly good at providing food options, all of the chicken is halal and sometimes other meats too, with a Halal dietary option for formals too that takes into account any alcohol/gelatin in the meals too which is otherwise often difficult to figure out.
Do you think that there are ways to help develop your spiritual life at Oxford?
The Islamic Society is the main way for Muslims to develop their spiritual life, which I will discuss further later, but there is also a host of other societies and departments that offer discussion on Islam. The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies also teaches students more about Islam, although this is often more in an academic context rather than a spiritual one.
I know you’re the President of Oxford University Islamic Society; could you run through the things a Muslim student at Oxford can get involved in, as well as the activities ISoc organises?
The ISoc organises a whole range of activities and is surprisingly active. We host regular socials, such as sports (football, squash, table tennis etc), dinners, and other activities, which provides a platform for Muslims in Oxford to meet each other and socialise in a relaxed setting.
We also hold religious classes for students to learn more about the Qur’an, the Prophet (pbuh), and other aspects of the religion. There are also academic and topical talks, such as social justice, Islamophobia etc.
We do a range of other events too, such as interfaith events with the JSoc, charity events, community events (e.g. feeding the homeless and volunteering), and arranging school visits to improve access for Muslim students.
We also provide free meals for all 30 nights of the month of Ramadan for students and locals to break their fast together.
Many strong friendships have blossomed through the ISoc and it is a very strong community, with many regular members but we always welcome any new members, some people only find ISoc one or two years into their degree!
Have you had any negative experiences because of your faith or your religion here?
Thankfully I haven’t had any negative experiences, I’ve found Oxford to be incredibly tolerant, more so than other universities from what I’ve heard, which I didn’t expect to be the case seeing as there is relatively little Muslim representation compared to other universities.
Some words to make Muslim students applying feel at ease?
I had the same worries that some of you may have about there being a lack of Muslims in Oxford. While there is no shying away from the fact that there are far less Muslims than many other universities, you may even be the only one in your year in college, I wouldn’t let that put you off from applying. The university and the college will do their utmost to try and make you feel comfortable, and the Islamic Society is a space that many Muslims in Oxford have found to make it easier for them to practice their faith and find others they can share common ground with.
Haseem Shah – Islamic Society President.
We would like to clarify that these are the views of Haseem only and do not presume to represent the experiences of every Muslim at Oxford University.
Tony Liu, 31 Mar 2017