The new Contemplation Room has quietly been put into use; if you go looking for it on the ground floor of the H Building, you won’t find any signs pointing to it. Yet many students have already found their way to the quiet room to pray there, practise yoga, read the Bible, or take some time to read or to relax. Once you know where it is, it is not hard to find. Enter the H Building from the Institutenlaan and turn right past the lifts. The Quiet Contemplation Room is located to your right, just past the staircase.
Adit Hermawan (25), a Finance Investment student, and Cinthya Yonies (20), a Law student, both Muslims, are both regular visitors. They come here about three times a day to pray. The two Indonesians are quite happy with the new arrangement. “It is very peaceful here. But it is too bad that the Room is closed on weekends. We then go to the stairwell in the fire escape of the Polak Building to pray,” says Cinthya.
Adit is very happy as well, but has one complaint. There is no special washing area for men. For women there is a facility for this purpose in the Contemplation Room. Men must use the wash basin in the washrooms at the other side of the hall. He tells us about the procedure: “You first wash your mouth, nose and face, then your arms and then your hair and ears. Finally, you wash your ankles and feet. You can imagine that this can create a mess without proper facilities,” says Adit.
There were complaints in a previous room in the N building that it is was slowly changing into a ‘messy little mosque’. In addition, Korans and other Islamic writings were later found in the V building. During several visits by EM to the current Contemplation Room, only Islamic visitors are present. Yet that is not the only target group to make use of the room, observe Cinthya and Adit. “They are primarily Muslims, but we also regularly see people practising yoga or Buddhists,” says Cinthya. “Some also come here to study or meditate. A wide variety, really,” Adit adds.
There are no official figures about who is visiting the Contemplation Room and when. Joop Matthijsse coordinates the room on behalf of the University Support Centre. Just before its move to the H building there were consultations between him and KASEUR (the umbrella association for multicultural student associations), the Christian student association ‘The Navigators’, and a delegation from the University Council. At that time the lack of a washing area for men was not raised as an issue. “Everyone considered the space perfectly acceptable, in part given the facilities available in this area. I now think that in actual practice there is reason to take another look at this washing area,” he says.
According to Matthijsse everything else is going well in the Contemplation Room, although signposting could do with some improvement. “We are going to do something about that in the near future.” Currently there are no religious books here. “We regularly visit the room to verify that this is in order.”
KASEUR is also satisfied according to its Chairperson, Germaine Fraser. “Last year, when the room was still located in the V building, some rather extreme books that are inconsistent with a neutral Contemplation Room, were left behind there,” says Fraser. At the time this involved Salafist books. “Today you are permitted to take along your book, as long as you take it with you again when you leave. If you leave it behind it will be taken to the lost-and-found desk,” Fraser states.
That is consistent with a recent decision by the University Council. The Council voted against a proposal by the Islamic student association IQRA to display a permanent book collection in the Contemplation Room. In the Council’s opinion this does not agree with the room’s neutral character. Furthermore, as a secular university it is difficult to determine which religion should or should not be represented in the collection.
However, according to Matthijsse there nevertheless will be a change to the zero-tolerance book policy. “A new, closed bookcase will be installed and people will be allowed to leave books in there,” says Matthijsse. In addition, the bookcase can also be used for prayer rugs, for example. The closed character of the bookcase safeguards neutrality. There are as yet no rules to specify which books will or will not be permitted. “It is not the intent to address this in advance,” says Matthijsse.