Library interfaith prayer area plans could be redrawn


Changes to the Dunedin City Library’s vision for an interfaith prayer area are being discussed.

One of the changes may see the separate Muslim prayer space to be dropped from the plans.

The Dunedin City Council has received mixed feedback since it announced its $15,000 project to create an interfaith or interdenominational prayer room and separate Muslim space.

Community services general manager Simon Pickford (pictured, left) says the plans for the two rooms visualised them being set up as a quiet, reflective space.

The detail was always going to come later, he says. This would take its lead from the Council’s aim to create an inclusive, interfaith space that meets the city’s increasingly diverse community’s needs.

The proposal for a Muslim room featuring a curtain that could be drawn to separate men from women — followed a member of the public suggesting an alternative concept at a Council meeting yesterday.

Chair of the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group Paul Gourlie (pictured, right) suggested having an interfaith room and another room where women could meet separately.

He told the Council he thinks its initiative is laudable, though he also said he is not comfortable about drawing attention to one particular faith group.

Gourlie said he understood the prayer area was partly a result of the Christchurch mosque shootings last year and the Council’s recognition of the need to foster an inclusive society.

While the idea is well intended, Gourlie said he was not sure the original interfaith prayer area concept achieved the aim of being inclusive.

In fact, creating a separate space for Muslims could be counterproductive, he says. “By making a separate place, you may give strength to those people who are looking to find an issue.”

Just the same, the Council’s willingness to put forward the proposal shows maturity, he says.

The Council’s plans are not final and the concept Gourlie is promoting will be given serious consideration, says Pickford.

He says he is aware Muslim pupils studying at the library have to improvise to carry out their afternoon prayers, sometimes using the bathrooms.

Dialogue will continue about creating an inclusive, quiet space for reflection, he confirms.

Dunedin City Library services manager Bernie Hawke says there has been a range of feedback on the council’s original vision and the council is open to modifying its proposal.

Some people were not comfortable with the creation of a religious space in a public building, he adds – but New Zealand has become more diverse and libraries were community centres.


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