A diocese of the Church of England is giving an unprecedented £250,000 towards a multi-faith building in which the largest amount of worship space will be reserved for Muslims.
The Guildford diocese is one of the wealthiest in the UK. The Bishop of Guildford, the Right Rev Christopher Hill, today handed over the £250,000 cheque to Surrey University for the first multi-faith building of its kind in Britain.
The £6.5 million building will contain separate worship spaces for the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities, along with a further shared space for Buddhists and Hindus.
All faiths will share the cafe in the basement, with a shared staircase down from the upper floors.
Converting each other will be strictly forbidden, an insider said, but it is hoped that the different faith members will form friendships, learn to respect each other and enhance each other’s understanding.
Muslim chaplain Dr Abdul Mateen Sansom, said: “As well as being a sorely needed practical solution to student needs, I believe the design and underpinning ethos of this project have potential for notable impact nationally and internationally.”
Lesley Scordellis, lead fundraiser for the centre and development manager at Surrey University, defended the Muslim advantage in the space allocation.
“It isn’t about giving greater provision for Muslims, it is about likely numbers using it. We certainly have a strong demand for worship space from the Muslim community,” she said.
“We do sit right beside Guildford Cathedral so the relative provision in the locality is very different.”
She continued: “We think it is the first of its kind. It breaks with the tradition of having a shared space for each faith. It is all in the same building but each has a completely separate space. The Jewish space has a kosher kitchen exclusively for them to use. The Muslim space has an ablutions facility exclusively for them. The design of the building is to facilitate the feeling that they are in one building about faith.”
Professor Christopher Snowden, the university’s vice-chancellor, said he was “delighted” by the support from the diocese. “Local support of this nature is crucial to our fundraising.”
Bishop Hill said: “We are proud to participate in this significant venture toward world understanding here in Surrey.”
A fundraising campaign has begun to raise the rest of the cash. The mutli-faith centre is due for completion in 2010.