For most, prayer is strictly spiritual. But for some Muslim students, it can be a logistical nightmare.
Devout Muslims pray five times a day – sunrise, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. Even though University students make time for prayer in the midst of their busy schedules, some say they cannot find a place to pray. They look for empty corners or classrooms, but that doesn’t always cut it.
“Prayers are very personal. It’s very hard to do that when you have 500 kids rushing by you in the hallway,” said Wajeeha Shuttari, vice president of the Muslim Students’ Association and an LSA senior.
Muslim students found a partial solution on Central Campus in January 2003 when the Office of Student Affairs opened a “Reflection Room” in the Michigan League.
This room, open everyday from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. provides a quiet place for students to get away for a few minutes and reflect – regardless of religious affiliation.
But more rooms are needed.
The room in the League is well used: On Monday afternoon there was even a line, as two students waited in the hallway.
Noha Elmouelhi, president of the Muslim Engineering Student Association said students on North Campus have time to pray, but no place to go.
Elmouelhi and other members of her group began talks with the Office of Student Affairs back in January to find a place for a second Reflection Room in Pierpont Commons or the Duderstadt Center. Efforts continued during the semester and into the summer, to no avail.
The group gathered 179 signatures on an online petition to show the University that the issue was important. So far, six additional student groups have supported the petition, and Elmouelhi said when it reaches 200 signatures, they will take it to the administration.
Despite the petition, the response may still be the same – wait.
It’s not that the University doesn’t see reflection as a priority, University officials said. Frank Cianciola, senior vice president of student affairs, said the University recognizes the issue as a legitimate need and is committed to finding a space.
“There is no space here that is not being used,” said Michael Swanigan, director of Pierpont Commons.
With space in Pierpont and the Duderstadt Center already dedicated to other student groups and pressure on the administration to open more food services, Cianciola said his hands are momentarily tied.
“It’s very difficult when you have limited space and legitimate, competing needs,” he said, adding that in order to open a reflection room in Pierpont or Duderstadt in the near future, another student group would have to be evicted.
To find a creative solution, the Muslim engineering students and the Office of Student Affairs are considering other buildings on North Campus, such as the old media center or a classroom within one of the schools.
But “there is no ‘space czar,’ ” Cianciola said. The space on North Campus is controlled by a number of departments. To open a room in a building not controlled by the Office of Student Affairs, Cianciola and his staff must persuade other departments to reserve a room.
While Cianciola said he and his staff are working diligently to find a solution, he said they have no timeframe for opening a reflection room.
The Muslim Students’ Association has also raised the possibility of opening additional rooms on Central Campus, namely in Angell Hall and the Chemistry Building.
“We asked for the Chem Building because there are labs that are four hours long, and you don’t have a 10 minute break in between,” Shuttari said. “It is a key location.”
Part of the petition states that a reflection room would benefit “students of all faiths and beliefs.” Loren Rowry, a custodian who works in the Michigan League, agrees.
Although he is not a student, Rowry, who said he is spiritual but not religious, visits the reflection room five days a week.
“It’s a chance to get away, calm down and gather my thoughts,” he said. “I value that time highly. This is the only job I’ve ever had where I could do something like this.”
– Chastity Rolling contributed to this report.