Muslim Students Search for Places to Pray

by GABRIELLA DEPINHO, Asst. News Editor

Muslim students have been running into problems trying to access the Horan Hall meditation room, which at the start of the semester was set aside from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily for interfaith prayer.

The room was reserved for daily access Monday through Friday so that Muslim students on campus could have a place to pray.

Islam has five daily prayers; the prayers are not at fixed times but are to take place during intervals, so a prayer space set aside for Muslim students would need to be accessible all day.

Last year, the Muslim Student Association had worked out a prayer space with the school in Leo Engineering Building, but due to construction that had taken place this space was no longer available this semester.

Rabea Ali, current MSA president, found this change understandable, but frustrating for the students who now had to find a new prayer space.

“Come a week before the start of the semester, we were told the space that was used for the prayer room was converted into a classroom because of the fact that so many spaces are under construction. That’s fully understandable, makes sense,” said Ali, “However, a week before the semester we now have this problem that now there’s no dedicated prayer space on campus except for the meditation room. So now we’re hunting around for a prayer space with no success.”

She continued.

“Campus ministry sort of decided for now let’s stick to the meditation room and they booked it for 7 to 7 each day, which is the right time range… We don’t necessarily have it booked as a place for Muslim students to pray all day, it’s just a multifaith prayer space – you can do yoga in there, meditate in there, whatever,” said Ali.

MSA secretary Fatoumata Saho also explained Campus Ministry’s choice in reserving the meditation room as the daily interfaith prayer space.

“Horan has been our Jummah – Friday – prayer room since before I was a student here,” said Saho.

The change in location for the daily prayer room, which had differed from the Jummah prayer space, didn’t reach all students right away.

“Some students found this out right at the beginning of the semester although others where still unaware until after the first month of the semester,” said Saho.

Though the MSA had finally resolved the issue of being without a prayer space, students found themselves running into problems with the new space.

“Public safety did not appear to be abiding by [our] request to just have the door unlocked. The times I’ve been down there, it’s at the point where you walk in and you see the door locked and you’ll go to the guard and ask ‘can I get the meditation room unlocked’ and they’ll hand you a set of fifty keys and be like ‘here, figure it out.’ So you’re spending time you shouldn’t be trying to figure out these keys. It also depends on the guard that’s there because certain guards will say ‘no, I can’t unlock that room’ despite the fact that… we have it booked to ensure it’ll be unlocked. It’s just been time after time where that room has been locked,” said Ali.

Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 11.52.15 AM
Due to construction in Leo Hall, the Muslim Student Association’s daily prayer space was eliminated, coming as a surprise to the association. AARON MAYORGA / THE QUADRANGLE

The Muslim students are not without an advocate. Both Ali and Saho confirmed that Campus Ministry has been supporting the students in trying to resolve these issues.

“Thelma got public safety, after countless of efforts, to leave it open during the day. However, the issue did not really get solved, public safety has kept it open most of the days but some days it will still be closed with no access to students,” Saho said.

The office of Public Safety claims that issues have been resolved. Juan Cerezo, the director of Public Safety, has seen their emails and spoken with the staff.

“There were a couple times that the room wasn’t open and they had to go to the officer and that sort of problem. I think the kinks are out of that already. We had a couple of issues, I will admit that, but our staff wasn’t used to leaving the room open. Our staff is used to securing things, you have to realize that. Once I reinforced it with them that they must unlock it, I think it’s been okay,” said Cerezo who was interviewed on Nov 1.

The times of the room’s designated opening and closing fits in with the different shifts the public safety officers have.

“The overnight shift, they unlock it at 6:30 and then the evening shift locks it down at 7 p.m. Monday to Friday,” said Cerezo.

The Muslim students, however, are in search of another space, possibly for next semester.

“Ideally, a prayer space will be closer to south campus. Leo isn’t feasible right now, RLC doesn’t seem to have a space and Kelly may or may not have a spot for us,” said Ali, “If not, we’re going to aim for De La Salle or Miguel and just book a classroom to be free all the time. It’s really just about finding a space that is a closer and  actually be accessible.”

For Saho and Ali, the frustration is not just with the room being inaccessible, but about what it means to them to find their prayer space being locked and challenged.

“It is a prayer room and students should have access to it when they need to just be able to pray or meditate and acquire a peace of mind. This room and its concept holds a lot of importance to the heart of many students around campus, me included,” said Saho.

Ali agreed.

“I think they’re just forgetful, like how important having a space is for people, and I just don’t know what we can do at this point, said Ali, “I will say this, you’ll never find the chapel locked, it’ll always be unlocked every morning. It’s important that we hold up the “inclusive community” part of our five pillars.”