Campus Muslims seeking larger space for prayer

Marquette Student Government last Thursday unanimously voiced support for the Muslim Student Association’s search for adequate prayer space on campus.

The action was in response to concerns raised by Steve Blaha, assistant director of Campus Ministry, who works closely with students of the Islamic faith.

“We hope that this recommendation will show the university (both students and the administration) that we are very serious about becoming a more inclusive campus for now and years to come,” said Sterling Hardaway, a sophomore senator for the College of Arts & Sciences, in an email.  “MUSG is hoping that this recommendation will further demonstrate MUSG’s support of improvements regarding inclusivity and accessibility for the university.”

The present Islamic Prayer Room is on the fourth floor of the Alumni Memorial Union, but according to Wajiha Ahmad, president of the Muslim Student Association, the room poses problems to Muslims practicing their faith on campus.

One pressing issue is that the size of the room and the Muslim population on campus are disproportionate.

Ahmad, a senior in the College of Health Sciences, said there are approximately 100 Muslims on campus, and half are active in the Muslim Student Association. She said the current prayer space is used by students and faculty and is not specifically designated for members of the organization.

According to Ahmad, the prayer space can only fit 20 people maximum.

The Muslim faith dictates that men and women must pray separately, and, with the use of a divider, this is accomplished. However, the current divider being used in the prayer room at Marquette is made of wood and is held together by strings.

“We want the divider to be more sturdy, better than just held together by strings,” Ahmad said. “We want something that can move but still give women enough space to pray… We need a safer alternative than wood and strings.”

Every Friday the organization participates in communal prayer, but since all members cannot fit into the prayer space, they use room 407 in the AMU as well.

The size of the room also poses problems when the group attempts to hold events, she said. When the organization held its Fast-A-Thon and encouraged participants to pray, the room could not fit everyone.

“There were about 25-30 people who wanted to pray. We tried to squeeze everyone in there, but we weren’t able,” Ahmad said.

Another issue Ahmad raised is the center’s location.

“We have a large minority population on campus …. We want to be visible so we can be present with other religions on campus,” Ahmad said.

Another problem is that prior to praying Muslims must a cleansing procedure, wudu, that requires the use of sinks. The current space doesn’t have sinks and the students have to use the sinks in the bathrooms on the fourth floor.

“Nobody says anything. It would make sense that we find a space for that,” Ahmad said.

The Muslim Student Association is searching for a room that can hold 30-50 people at once.

Ahmad said besides MUSG, several other offices on campus support their efforts, including Campus Ministry, Student Affairs,  Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Student Educational Services.

After the relocation of the Office of International Education to Holthusen Hall over the summer and the expansion of Student Educational Services, Campus Ministry and the Muslim Student Association began to look at the possibilities, Blaha said.

“We’re hoping for a centralized location that offers space for individual and communal prayer and ablution — facilities that are dignified, accessible and are a community gathering space to allow for regular fellowship,” he said.

Ahmad believes they will succeed in finding such space.

“We have support,” she said.

Ashley Zimmermann, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, supports the Muslim Student Association.

“It’s a great opportunity to see the different faces of the different religious groups on campus,” Zimmermann said. “Centrality of the location will help everyone see the group. This is an opportunity to respect and promote MSA in general and respect is so important in leaning towards religious plurality.”