Why I ...don't think Oxford needs a minaret

July 21, 2000

Alexander Murray. Tutor in medieval history University College Oxford University.

I believe in beautiful Oxford, having lived there most of my life. When anyone decides that they want to build on top of its green grass, I always prick up my ears like a watchdog.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has put Pounds 20 million towards an Islamic centre, complete with a 100ft minaret and dome. Grateful as I am for his interest in Oxford, I believe that the nature of the building is indiscreet. It clashes with Oxford's traditions.

My unease is twofold: it covers valuable green grass, blocking a rural strip between Marston and the London Road, and it juts anomalously into the famous Oxford skyline.

I have made objections like this before - including once to the Said Business School, which was to have been built on a playing field. In that case, the university changed its mind and found a much more sensible site.

I feel deeply committed to good inter-religious relations. We must respect each other's ways of pursuing the divine. I am a Roman Catholic, and yet I would object in just the same way if there were plans to build a Roman Catholic studies centre on the same lines.

I have heard it said that the council may think it would offend the Muslim community if it does not pass the plans. I do not think it would, but it would be a dangerous principle if there were two sorts of planning law for different groups in this country.

There are environmental and architectural concerns to take into account, as well as a respect for Oxford's historical culture. Oxford's aristocratic colleges should not have to nibble away at their inherited land like this.

I rather wish the new centre were part of the university rather than just being in it. I know that others agree with me - but they are too busy to put their heads above the parapet. But I care about Oxford.

* Interview by Jennifer Currie

Do you support Oxford University's plans for an Islamic centre? Email us at soapbox@thes.co.uk

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