Muslim leaders at Shaw University are joining protests against the university’s proposed rezoning as administrators keep the campus mosque closed.
King Khalid Mosque, built in 1983 with funding from Saudi Arabian royalty, has served Shaw University students and the surrounding community for decades. Like many other religious institutions, including Shaw University’s campus chapel, it shuttered in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. But while the university chapel restarted religious services in 2022, the mosque remains closed.
At first, Shaw University administrators and staff said the mosque would eventually reopen—they were just waiting for the COVID crisis to pass.
Then, they said that the mosque, like the campus chapel, was closed to the public but open to university students. As of early March, however, there was a sign posted on the door of the International Studies building saying the mosque was “closed until further notice.”
Then last week, attorney and mosque board member Nigel Edwards received a message from the university stating that they “would no longer host a public mosque” as they had before COVID. He and many other members of the Muslim community are taking that as a signal that the university intends to shut down the mosque for good.
“The official opinion right now is that we’re done,” Edwards says. “We have been erased. Our community is no longer a part of Shawn University’s campus officially, despite 40 years. No reason was given, of course.”
‘Closed to the public‘
Shaw University administrators and staff have repeatedly argued that the closure of the mosque is not discriminatory, because both the chapel and the mosque are generally closed to the public. Being “closed to the public,” however, has very different impacts for each house of worship.
Since the chapel’s religious leaders are also faculty at Shaw University’s divinity school, they have been allowed by administrators to hold regular services. The mosque’s religious leaders, on the other hand, have been barred from accessing the mosque, since they are part of an “outside” nonprofit. That means they haven’t held daily prayers, Friday worship services, or Sunday school since COVID hit in 2020.
“Back in January, they claimed that the mosque was open to students for worship,” Edwards says. “But obviously our imam is not a part of the university staff or students. So if a Muslim student wanted to, they could go in and pray there. But no one is offering services for these students.”
In a 2022 letter from David Byrd, Shaw University’s vice president of finance and administration, he wrote, “the University has denied the use of its facilities consistently to outside organizations.” Byrd cited the “numerous requests to host weddings and events from outside parties and organizations at Boyd Chapel,” which he said the university has also denied.
Mosque leaders are also arguing that the chapel is not truly closed to the public, as the university alleges. Edward pointed to several chapel events, including the annual minister’s conference, that are open to the public.
“They continue to maintain that the chapel is not open to the public,” Edwards says. “It’s just incredible how they can say one thing and then something on their own platforms says something totally different.”
Will redevelopment mean no more mosque?
Edwards is worried the university’s plans for redevelopment will include permanently closing the mosque and repurposing the building. He’s reached out to members of the redevelopment team but received no response, he says.
“I said, ‘Look, we’re not against redevelopment. We just want to make sure that we have a future,’” he says. “And based on what we’re currently going through, we don’t see that we do have a future with the university.”
In the early 2000s, there was also an attempt to close the mosque by administrators, who said they wanted to use the space for offices. The effort was stopped in part due to protests from professors within the Islamic studies department. But because of budget shortfalls, that department has since been closed.
Now, Edwards is hoping the city council will step in. While Shaw administrators “have no sense of accountability to the indigenous community within the campus … and the surrounding area, the city council does,” he says.
“They exist because of people voting them into power,” Edwards says, adding that the rezoning can be stopped “as long as enough people make it clear to them that by voting to allow [the rezoning] without a master plan … it basically partakes in the regentrification that so many communities have fallen victim to within the United States.”David-Byrd-Letter-04-29-22
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