Manchester Museum to add “multifaith” space (presumably largely for Muslims)

July 19, 2021 • 9:15 am

Reader David Milne, chair of the Greater Manchester Humanists, got the letter below from the “Engagement Manager” of the University of Manchester’s Museum (I use David’s name and position with permission). It announces the creation of a “multifaith space” at the Manchester (University) Museum. Read it and see if there’s any justification for this project.

The letter (I’ve removed the signer’s name):

Dear friend:

As part of Manchester Museum’s transformational development hello future, we are delighted to be creating a multifaith space, which will be opening in autumn 2022.

The Museum is keen to share these ideas for this new space with as many people of as possible, so have created one of the two zoom consultation sessions where you can find out more and share you [sic] views.

These sessions are on

Thursday 22 July 11am-12noon

Or Monday 26 July 6.00-7.00pm

Please do share this invitation with other people in your networks and all at Faith Network for Manchester, as we are keen to work with as many people as possible.

To thank you for your attendance we will be offering a £10 voucher.   If you would like to attend either of these sessions please book at the Eventbrite link https://bit.ly/3e8EZA7  or find out more please email anna.bunney@manchester.ac.uk

Multifaith/Contemplation space

The Multifaith/contemplation space will provide a space for prayer and reflection for people of faith and no faith, as part of the new visitor facilities being created as part of the hello future transformation at Manchester Museum.  Manchester is one of the UK’s most multi-lingual, hyper diverse cities, and providing a multifaith space is part of our commitment to being a truly civic organisation and commitment to the people of our city. 

In multicultural, multi-faith societies there should be respect and even admiration for the varied ways that people of all faiths and none take time out to pause, reflect, pray, meditate.   The Multifaith Room is not just about a space but a way of being and reflected in the way we programme, learn together and respect each other. This work builds on our previous experiences and activities, such as our first ever Iftar in 2019, Diwali celebrations in 2019 and contribution to online Diwali programming in 2020, and the integral place of prayer in the launch event for the Jalianwalla Bagh 1919 Punjab under Siege exhibition and programme.  And our current and future work, such as the ‘Indigenising Manchester Museum’ programme. 

The Multifaith/contemplation room is part of the Museum’s £13.5 million exciting hello future development which includes a new Exhibitions Hall, a South Asia Gallery and Chinese Culture gallery, as well as new visitor facilities, including a new entrance on Oxford Road and our first Changing Places toilet. Through this transformation our ambition is to become the world’s most inclusive, imaginative and caring museum when we reopen in 2022. https://mmhellofuture.wordpress.com/

What it will do

·                  Prayer/contemplation space for people of faith and no faith

·                  To be welcoming to all and respectful of each other for people of faith and no faith  (how to reflect the need to be respectful of gender neutrality and gender specificity)

·                  Feel calm, peaceful and inviting

·To be rooted in Manchester Museum, making links with nature that’s expressed in our collections as well as responding to the multilingual cultures of our city of Manchester: Nature provides a common link between people of all faith and none – recommendation to focus on plants (as representation of animals not appropriate); Geometric designs (but avoiding any religious iconography) 

Manchester Museum is committed to working in partnership and give voice to young people to help shape the Museum and the heritage sector.  To help develop the initial project brief we worked with a group of young people from the Our Shared Cultural Heritage Collective (a National Lottery Heritage Fund, Kick the Dust programme, led by the British Council) and young people associated with the Multilingual Manchester Project.   These young people are continuing to participate in the consultation process.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate in contacting myself.

Many thanks,
Name Redacted

I share David’s concern about this. For one thing, people can pray in their homes, in private, or in their mosques, temples, or other religious buildings. Why do we need a prayer space in a museum?

Further, it’s very likely this is not really a “multifaith” space, as Jews, Anglicans, and those of many other faith do not need to take time out while visiting a museum to “pause, reflect, pray, or meditate”. Given the reference to the Museum’s own “Iftar” (the meal that Muslims eat after fasting all day during Ramadan), and the fact that devout Muslims must pray several times a day, I suspect this is not designed for Jews, Anglicans, or Catholics, but Muslims. (Do note, however, that the Museum seems to celebrate Diwali, largely a Hindu holiday.) But what is a Museum doing hosting celebrations for religious holidays?

Third, I object to this sentence:

In multicultural, multi-faith societies there should be respect and even admiration for the varied ways that people of all faiths and none take time out to pause, reflect, pray, meditate.

Given the lack of evidence for any religion, as well as the conflicting claims made by all faiths, I have no respect, much less admiration, for “the varied ways that people of all faiths and none take time out to pause, reflect, pray, or meditate.” (Note the reference to “no faith” which by definition is not a faith and doesn’t require a “meditation room”.)  

Finally, the Manchester Museum, owned by Matthew’s university (he has of course no connection with these plans!) is devoted to displays of science:  archeology, anthropology, and natural history, apparently concentrating on the latter.  To put a religious space (yes, you can also “contemplate” there, which is their way to de-emphasize religion), is an unconscionable mixing of faith and science. Note the statement, “To be rooted in Manchester Museum, making links with nature that’s expressed in our collections as well as responding to the multilingual cultures of our city of Manchester: Nature provides a common link between people of all faith and none.”  Well, I’m not sure how Nature provides a common link between people of all faiths except insofar as they’re all part of nature and take advantage of its products. 

Now I don’t know how this project came about: it could have been an accommodationist gesture on the part of the Museum, the result of a request by certain religious people, or via some other force. But it’s out of place. I know airports have these things, too, and they always bothered me a bit, but I don’t object to them as much because in the U.S. they do cater to everyone but mainly provide an island of peace in crowded airports (I’ve never been in one). But in a Museum about natural history? And must we have religion sticking its nose in everywhere? (No, there would be no “interfaith spaces” in a secular society.) Do Sweden and Iceland have “meditation rooms” for their atheistic population?

Please give your take below, because there are arguments to be made for allowing such spaces (though should they be in every building?).  And let’s have a poll, too. But I do want to hear readers’ opinions.

Should the Manchester Museum build a "multifaith space" for visitors?

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65 thoughts on “Manchester Museum to add “multifaith” space (presumably largely for Muslims)

  1. First, this is a space for ” for people of faith and no faith”. What about people of little faith!? Second, is there going to be a viewing are for museum visitors so they can see the faithful at their devotions?

    1. I was just thinking that if they did it in the anthropology section it almost could be excusable. I like your idea about the view areas.

      Also, I hope that the Satanic Church and the Pastafarians and even those of the cult of Azathoth and Cthulhu demand equal representation.

      1. Yeah, enough of this faux ecumenism. Throw all the religions into a multi-faith arena and let ’em fight it out to determine which one is finally and absolutely true. Make mine buttered popcorn 🍿!

    2. Second, is there going to be a viewing are for museum visitors so they can see the faithful at their devotions?

      Will there be a peanut dispenser, or something by means of which we can inject food samples into this zoological display?

    3. We could have a competition at WEIT to choose the content of the exhibit placard. Surely someone here should be able to come up with something that describes the faithful and their faiths.

  2. Yes, a mathematics space is a brilliant, bold, and innovative idea that will be exciting to see develop!

    …. [ re-reads …]

    Oh, “multifaith”! …

    [ repeats word many times in head ]

    Multifaith… multifaith….

    Mmmmm,… multifaith….

    [ reaches for copy of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language ]

    1. I just thought of a strange word : omnifaith.

      What would that mean, given that “multifaith” is already in use?

      And wouldn’t it beg the question (I think) what either word is for given that faith is supposed to be _one_true_faith_?

  3. I admit I was skimming over the bulk of the letter – and it was bulky (many words being needed to justify the unjustifiable) – the while thinking “why do they need this in a museum?” when you followed it with “Why do we need a prayer space in a museum?”. Exactly.
    I also dislike the demand for “respect”. How about respect for science and pure knowledge (which corresponds to respect for “none” that we don’t get in any of the houses of worship).

  4. I’m kind of open to the idea. I’ve never been on the curmudgeonly wing of atheism and don’t want to eradicate religion but do want it to have its proper place in a civil society. In terms of providing a space which will mostly be used for Muslims then seems ok if you get the footfall up from that community. Unfortunately the UK is dead set on providing funding for denominational schooling and some of the establishments for Muslim kids have virtually been turned into Madrassas with the kind of one dimensional teaching (creationism) that you’d expect.

    I’ll be concerned when the museum starts putting on exhibitions by Ken Ham!

    1. Not a new tactic. Try to hold Jewish or other services there, and you will find yourself unwelcome. Pretty soon it is considered a mosque.
      Islamic people put up mosques the way European explorers used to run around planting flags everywhere. “I now claim this on behalf of my particular group, and will defend it with force, if necessary”.

  5. I voted “no opinion” but with strong scorn for such a project…. or, I’m a chicken to vote “no”.

    1. … so they might have “fun” stuff displayed like that colored dust for Holi, the pretty candles for Diwali, or pretty Christmas trees and such – maybe, for some tendentious “reason” – so then someone says “hey! I need my religion displayed!”

      And then it goes badly.

    2. I also voted No Opinion, because it doesn’t bother me one way or the other. They can do whatever they want, whether we think it silly or not.

  6. I voted “yes”. I’m thinking that the multifaith space may bring in the religious folk who might not visit the museum otherwise. It’s presence surely won’t convert any atheists to religion. If they design it right, it will force visitors to the multifaith space to pass through the museum, especially the evolution section — kind of like the “gift shop” ploy but in reverse order.

    1. Precisely why I would have voted “yes”

      However, though I delight in the idea of such a gag, I find it overtly mean spirited – in the same way a gift shop comes across.

      1. I never find the exit through the gift shop mean-spirited. Most museums probably struggle to make money so need to sell stuff to pay the bills. I would also assume the richer ones, or ones with guaranteed funding, don’t bother making people pass through. Most usually have some interesting stuff and sometimes I even buy something.

    2. Why not have full blown creationist worship services, too? It will bring in the religious folk who might not visit otherwise!

      This is simple religious pandering. It has no place in a public museum.

      1. Admit it- If they invited an Appalachian holy roller group over to speak in tongues, handle snakes, and drink poison, you would be keen to watch.

  7. Back in the 90’s in British Columbia, Canada we had a Premier who wore his religion on his shirtsleeve (RC). He opened up a room in the legisltature building for prayer and comtemplation. It was quickly taken over by the local Wiccans and assorted oddballs who would howl and chant at the moon and anything else that caught their interest. The room was shut down after a month or two.

  8. … and presumably only “true”, “respectable” faiths. No silly nonsense, meant only to be mean or silly, like astrology, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Heaven’s Gate, David Koresh, Mormons, soccer fans,…

  9. My own take is that this is a means to encourage observant Muslims to have an extended educational experience at a museum. They are supposed to pray at certain times of the day, and in a Western country it can be difficult to both do that and visit cultural centers like museums. It’s a well meaning attempt to be welcoming.

    1. They are supposed to pray at certain times of the day

      Shrug. That’s why the prayer kit of the Muslim is simple – you only need to make some effort at being reasonably clean. No censers, scrolled up books or unleavened bread. Even the metaphorical prayer mat isn’t actually required – it’s just a means to an end of having somewhere reasonably clean to preform one’s devotions.
      While he was a fool in so many respects, Mohammed (sauce be upon his meaty balls – oh, sorry, wrong prophet) did understand the day-to-day needs of the trader on camel-back for a quick, easy, portable religion.

      There are enough get-out clauses (“hadith”) for the faithful who are travelling, nursing the sick, etc, that no faithful person needs to, for example, pull their car to the side of the road and pray. I certainly never saw that while working in the Gulf States. It’s a straw man argument – you’d be better off focussing on real challenges to this variant of Judaism.

    2. “They are supposed to pray at certain times of the day,”

      And nobody else but victims of Islam have things to do “at certain times of the day”?

      Mothers who need to nurse or pump milk – do they have a special room?

      Narcoleptics – do they have a special napping room?

      Children who still nap – special room.

      Even if there is a compelling reason – nursing mothers – it is for _privacy_. How is “multifaith” supposed to be _private_? If not private, what _is_ it? Everyone doing their own thing in a confused noise in one room?

  10. Given the lack of evidence for any religion, as well as the conflicting claims made by all faiths, I have no respect, much less admiration, for “the varied ways that people of all faiths and none take time out to pause, reflect, pray, or meditate.”

    I have zero respect for all religious beliefs, but I think we should all respect other people’s right to believe and practice the religion of their choosing. It’s the lubricant that keeps society’s crankshaft turning.

    I don’t think something like this museum’s “multifaith space” is required, or is even a good idea, but, given that it’s ostensibly faith-neutral, I can’t get too exercised about it either. I voted a lackluster “no opinion.”

    1. “ostensibly faith-neutral”

      ostensibly, indeed.

      In practice, only a handful of prayer rooms would be necessary, if that – not this starry eyed “multifaith” bull honky.

      Muslims in Muslim rooms.

      Christians in Christian rooms.

      Spaghetti Monsterists go in the dining area….

      … is there a museum dining area, and is it going to accommodate those of pastafarian palates ONLY? Or will that conflict with other dietary restrictions?

  11. I am against it. Next they will be asking for it at the grocery. Then the mall. How about at the abortion clinic, oh sorry, we no longer have one of those. Just give them an inch and see what you get.

    1. I can almost write the script : “Here at the pig slaughterhouse, we’re introducing a multi-faith contemplation room.”

  12. As far as I can tell, this is a very clever way of making a big deal out of what amounts to an empty room. Don’t really have anything at all worth looking at to put in the room? Don’t want to spend any money on anything, or add another thing that needs maintenance? Aha, you just need a multi-faith contemplation space…

    1. That’s a good point. Such rooms are invariably empty. Even the prayer rooms at hospitals are mostly empty. They definitely should put the lights on a motion sensor.

      1. “They definitely should put the lights on a motion sensor.”

        Like with other rooms that also foster quiet reverent contemplation.

  13. “–– recommendation to focus on plants (as representation of animals not appropriate)”. Where does that come from? In which religion is representation of animals not appropriate? Can’t think of any, but maybe I have a mind-block?

  14. More and more, I feel that we will be living in some sort of giant Calvin’s Geneva.

    The museum never did that for any other faith. Reminds me of how it’s considered a macroaggression in anthropology to mention that Native Americans came from Asia.

      1. I feel we are not so much living in a giant Calvin Geneva (no burning at the stake), as having lost our way in a Kafkaesque story.

  15. I’d imagine museum space is at a premium. It they have this kind of space at their disposal, why not use it for additional educational displays?

  16. Religion has no place in a museum which should be devoted to objective reality.. I can see an argument for such places in airports; some people are terrified of flying and may find comfort in prayer or meditation.

        1. On a serious note, there are public sanitation imperatives that are enough a reason to have public bathrooms – or private ones, e.g. after one pays admission.

  17. I have voted “No”. Given the centuries-long suffocating effect of religions on science, and today’s religious creationism and religiously-motivated terror, I think that to allocate space for religious activities in a science museum is not only a waste of space but even intimidating. (Note also Prof. Coyne’s impression that in reality, it is about one religion, the same one that is behind most religiously-motivated violence today.)

  18. “…there should be respect and even admiration …” Why “should” there be?

    “The Multifaith Room is not just about a space but a way of being…” A way of being – ffs.

    This is absolutely catering to Muslims, while trying to disguise it as something else. I sometimes meditate, as a way to quiet my mind, but I do not need to do it while touring a museum. Only Muslims need to do that.
    I vigorously vote “no”. What a bunch of BS.

    Fucking Islam.

  19. Good grief I could not believe what I was reading. I would def go there to eat my bacon sarnie just admire them in all their glory. Honestly what a ridiculous use of a room, hopefully the homeless can rest in there would be more appropriate use of space

  20. People who require prayer and meditation at certain times of the day should plan their museum visits between such times. Providing prayer spaces is over the top and uncalled for.

  21. “To be rooted in Manchester Museum …”

    In Australian English that would entail a need for a space of a rather different kind 😉

  22. What’s ‘natural’ about religion? Fuck all unless you’re talking ” it’s natural for the ancients to find explanations albeit supernatural” it’s a cultural construct and no public building should have them.
    This smells of woke.

  23. Both religious Jews and Muslims are required to pray at specific times of day. Muslim times are a bit more constrained. If Jews are really allowed to take 10 minutes to pray there in the late afternoon, the space does become more welcoming. It also becomes welcoming for Jewish school trips.

  24. Two thoughts … why multi-faith and not simply a room for contemplation? Prayer could well be off-putting to secular contemplators.

    And a more mean spirited thought … at certain times of the day … typically around 1 pm give or take … it would be an ideal room for contemplation of Danish cartoons.

    But I agree with those who have suggested that if it encourages people to be exposed to realities about the real world it may be of benefit.

    1. “why multi-faith and not simply a room for contemplation?“

      Indeed – isn’t the reason obvious?

  25. Maybe there should be some reciprocity. If houses of science or history provide a room for prayer and meditation space then churches, mosques, and synagogues should provide a room for reality.

  26. I have just started a religion which requires me to masturbate 5 times a day, so this contemplation room will fit my needs perfectly! I feel blessed that my religious acts will be respected there.

  27. That’s a hard “No” from me. Even when the great museums in Western nations were founded in the 19th century — a time when faith was all-pervasive — no one seemed to think there was a need to install a room for religious activity in any of them. The founders of those institutions were, on the whole, highly respectable, pious believers, but even they recognized that a museum was not the place for religious activity. We’d do well to re-discover some of their clarity of thought today.

  28. Also, Manchester Museum has form in this area. Under Peter Bienkowski’s curatorship a dozen or so years ago they added loin cloths to their Egyptian mummies because a member of the public had complained at their nakedness. Then when displaying Lindow Man they gave a lot of space to a Wiccan interpretation of his burial — unevidenced bollocks that has no place enjoying the imprimatur of a museum display and went completely unchallenged by any other information the museum provided.

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