SHAFAQNA- Police are investigating an act of Islamophobia in the University of Sydney’s Muslim prayer room in the fifth instance of vandalism in three months.
Muslim students who arrived at the room on Monday morning found wardrobes and cupboards emptied and rubbish strewn on the floor, the student newspaper Honi Soit has reported.
When police examined the room on Monday they found no signs of forced entry and nothing had been stolen, Honi Soit reported.
Officers returned to the campus on Tuesday to inspect footage from security cameras in the corridors of the old teachers’ college building.
The door to the prayer room is often left unlocked because prayers do not finish until after sunset.
“This happens so frequently that I check with campus security every day before I go in,” Samiha Elkheir, the undergraduate student who discovered the most recent break-in, told Honi Soit. “I know it has been trashed multiple times before.”
The prayer room has been ransacked five times since 11 December, although a Honi Soit reporter, Naaman Zhou, clarified to Guardian Australia that the latest was the only incident to been explicitly Islamophobic beyond targeting the prayer room.
On 10 February Islamophobic graffiti was reported on the University of Sydney’s grounds, scrawled in blue marker on a fire safety door inside the “graffiti tunnel” on campus.
A spokeswoman for the university said it was committed to ensuring there was a “safe, inclusive and supportive” community, and that the vice chancellor, Michael Spence, had written to the affected students to express his “personal distress”.
“He has also offered to meet with the affected students and asked senior university staff to be available to support them or to discuss any further action that the university may be able to take.”
Zhou reported that the student support services director, Jordi Austin, was told about the incidents last month, and that Spence offered to meet the affected students.
Both incidents were reported to Islamophobia Watch, a not-for-profit organization established to track and combat anti-Muslim sentiment and action in Australia.
Its founder, Ahmed Abouzaid, said students’ associations across New South Wales had promoted the service and its new app – which allows users to immediately report and record incidents of Islamophobia – during their orientation weeks.
Islamophobia Watch was in close contact with the University of Sydney students about this incident, and was interested in documenting the impact of anti-Muslim sentiment on students.
Such incidents had the potential to damage universities’ reputations.
“A lot of the universities rely on international students coming from overseas, and have a high number of international students coming from Arab countries and Muslim countries,” Abouzaid said.
“If the image of the university is that it can’t protect students of other faiths using their facilities, or provide them with a place for them to pray, it can actually have a negative impact on the universities’ images.”
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