It has been a long wait but the stunning new Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies is expected to open soon. Callum Keown reports
Thirteen years after work started, a £100 million Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies could finally be opened in January.
The centre – independent to Oxford University – contains an auditorium, a three-floor library, dining hall and mosque.
Work began on the Marston Road building back in 2002 and it was originally expected to open just two years later.
But delays in funding and problems with building work pushed the grand opening back.
The centre is moving into its new home from its current premises in George Street and registrar Richard Makepeace said the move was nearly complete.
He said: “We are hoping that it will be completed at the end of the year and students and others will start using the building from next term.
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“The building will open in stages, of course, and some parts such as the library are already operational.
“The move has been a gradual process and so has the inside of the building.”
He added: “It will be an institute that will stand for many years and we did not want to rush it.”
The former British Diplomat in Cairo said that the building’s intricate interior had held up the process.
The building has benefited from a number of donors and has received gifts from several countries.
The woodwork in the Malaysia Auditorium – a lecture theatre – was constructed and donated by Malaysia.
The Kuwait Library, which contains a large collection of books, journals and manuscripts from a range of topics from classical works on the Koran to modern social sciences, was provided by the Kuwait Foundation of Advancement of Sciences.
There are also walls of Iznik tiles – native to Turkey.
Mr Makepeace said the centre should be viewed as an academic institute with a mosque rather than the other way around.
He said: “It will be a Muslim institute in the same way that many colleges are Christian institutes.
“The centre will be used by Muslims and non-Muslims – we want to promote scholarship of the Islamic world.
“We hope it will bring more of Oxford to the Muslim world and also more of the Muslim world to Oxford.”
City councillor for Marston Mick Haines said: “It’s a lovely building but it has taken a long time to get it open.
“It’s great that it will finally open soon and I know a lot of other people are very pleased the centre is there but also there were others who were against it.
“It was 50/50 as to whether it would get planning [permission] all those years ago so it’s nice it is looking so good.”
Prince Charles is a patron of the centre and helped to design the garden which was given a Royal Charter by the Queen.
Lord Mayor Rae Humberstone planted a tree in the garden on Thursday to signify that the centre’s opening was getting nearer.
The building will be used mostly by students at Oxford University but could also host exhibitions of artwork across the Islamic world – which could be viewed by the public.
Academics living in the city who have a Bodleian Library card can also make the most of the centre.
The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies – independent to Oxford University – was established in 1985 to encourage study of Islam and the Islamic world.
It has operated from offices in George Street since then and work began on a new centre in 2002.
Building work on the 3.25-acre site, bought from Magdalen College, was originally scheduled to finish in 2004.
Then the trustees found they were £25m short and work ground to a halt.
In 2011 the remaining funding was found and led to the building work progressing.
From September 2013 the centre has been gradually moving from its current home and putting the final touches to the elaborate interior.
When students return from their holidays at the start of next year the centre is expected to welcome them in.
Prince Charles is patron of the centre and took a prominent part in the design of the Islamic garden.