SYDNEY – For the fifth time in three months, the Muslim prayer room at the University of Sydney has been vandalized, with an abusive note left behind.
“So our Musallah [prayer room] has been trashed. Once again. For the fifth time since the university came to a close last year,” Sydney University Muslim Students’ Association spokesman Shahad Nomani wrote on the group’s Facebook page, AAP news agency reported on Wednesday, February 24.
“The Musallah was trashed by some individuals who felt that the best way to release their anger against Islam was to trash a generally inconspicuous room.”
According to MSA, it’s the fifth time in three months the prayer room has been trashed by vandals in the three months since December 11.
A student discovered the vandalized room on Monday morning, with an anti-Islamic flyer left at the scene.
The abusive flyer included an image of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and a letter accusing Muslims of “enslaving women, blowing up planes and trains, selling ice to our kids, bashing police, theft (and) throwing gays off tall buildings”.
The attack is being investigated by NSW police who said that the letter seized from the area was undergoing forensic examination for finger prints.
“Newtown Police continue their investigation and are examining all possible motivations, including motivations of bias, and are appealing for witnesses to come forward,” a spokeswoman told AAP.
Police added that they found no signs of forced entry and nothing had been stolen, information confirmed by Muslim students who said they leave the prayer room unlocked.
“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 university offered apologies to Muslim students, rejecting the incident as contradicting with their “supportive” community.
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.”
The incident was reported to Islamophobia Watch, a not-for-profit organization established to track and combat anti-Muslim sentiment and action in Australia.
The organization offers a new app which allows users to immediately report and record incidents of Islamophobia – during their orientation weeks.
“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,” the organization’s founder Ahmed 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.”
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.