Muslim students need prayer space on EMU campus

On Monday, Nov. 11, under the stairs in Halle Library, my priorities changed.

While engaged in my late afternoon prayer, I was distracted by the large number of fellow students crammed into the space to perform their obligatory prayers.

As a student senator for Student Government and the chair for the Student Wellness Advisory
Board, I work on many issues to help improve the lives of students at Eastern Michigan University.
The issue that is most on my mind now came to me in a moment of clarity after an unsettling prayer experience. In an agitated state I thought to myself, there has to be a better alternative than

You see, Muslims from all walks of life find the time to pray many of their five daily obligatory prayers underneath the stairs at Halle Library. That is the only practical and consistent area that we have found to pray. The prayer area underneath the stairs is confined, therefore reducing an individual’s personal interaction with a higher being. Prayer has potential to be extremely private, and to be in such close proximity in a disruptive environment makes it difficult to reach the desired level of intimacy. To make matters worse, it is considered disrespectful in Islam to walk in front of people while they are engaged in prayer, which happens all too often in this tiny space.

A designated space for prayer, meditation and reflection is an essential aspect of any well recognized and highly regarded university. This room is intended not only for Muslim students, but for all members of EMU, and its purpose is to give everyone a safe place to pray, reflect inwardly and meditate.

The purpose of this opinion piece is to call the attention of the EMU community to recognize the rights and the needs of everyone on EMU’s campus. Our university has mission statements that promote diversity as well as student wellbeing. A passage from EMU’s mission statement reads: “We strive to provide a student-focused learning environment that enhances the lives of students and positively impacts the community.” To more fully achieve this, the university needs to take action to implement these rooms.

Universities in our neighboring areas have set a high bar for such practices. For instance, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has many reflection rooms all around its campus. But I am not suggesting that EMU provide as many reflection rooms. Instead, where there is a demand for this accommodation, the demand should be fulfilled. That said, considering the high Muslim population at EMU, there should be prayer, reflection and meditation rooms located in at least two different locations on EMU’s campus. For instance, perhaps a room of this nature could be set up at Mark
Jefferson and Pray-Harrold. Additionally, this room should not only be provided, but it should be properly sized and conveniently located.

The university may argue about cost and space, but if we are truly a student-focused university then we should be aware that addressing this need is vital to promote a positive community. That positive community must include all students, even those who currently find the space under the stairs at Halle Library to be the only space available to them.

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