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New Muslim prayer space better suited for gatherings

By , Reporter  |  Wednesday, October 2, 2013 9:32 PM
Professor Adil Ozdemir talks with staff and students after Friday prayers in Loras Hall. The new prayer spaces also include ablution stations. (Grace Pastoor/TommieMedia)

Professor Adil Ozdemir talks with staff and students after Friday prayers in Loras Hall. The new prayer spaces also include ablution stations. (Grace Pastoor/TommieMedia)

Until this fall, St. Thomas Muslim students who wanted to participate in Friday prayer gatherings had to gather in the Anderson Student Center’s dance floor, which was reserved every week by the Muslim Student Association for the occasion. As for daily prayers, they were on their own.

But this semester, St. Thomas’ growing Muslim population is able to pray in new dedicated prayer spaces in Loras Hall on South Campus. The space consists of two rooms and two ablution stations, which are ritual baths, one for men and one for women.

Junior Fuad Mohamoud, president of St. Thomas’ Muslim Student Association, said he uses the new prayer space every Friday, and that the accommodations in Loras Hall are much better than those of previous prayer spaces.

“We used to reserve the dance floor, then we’d have Juma’h (Friday prayers) there,” Mohamoud said. “Before that we had prayer space in Murray-Herrick Campus Center at the top, but it was kind of like a little annex. It was kind of cramped and tight. It didn’t accommodate us as well as Loras Hall does now.”

The Muslim Student Association is still spreading the word to St. Thomas’ 106 students who have identified themselves with the faith—up from 89 as of last fall, according to St. Thomas’ census.

Professor Adil Ozdemir, the Muslim Student Association adviser, said the new Wudu, or ablution stations, are an important part of the the prayer space and had been in the works for two years.

Ozdemir said it is important for Muslims to be able to wash correctly before prayers, and that it is difficult to do so in regular sinks. The new Wudu stations have made it easier to perform ablutions.

“Normally the taps, the wash basins, it’s difficult to get the ablution,” Ozdemir said. “You wash your hands and arms and faces and your feet, so it’s not easy to put your feet on that space. We are so grateful to the school and everybody who was kind of instrumental and helpful to bring this about.”

“We’re very happy, having those Wudu stations, and we’re very glad St. Thomas recognized the Muslim community and have created these stations for us,” Mohamoud said.

According to Ozdemir, the new spaces are highly popular.

“The prayer space was full (during Friday prayers),” Ozdemir said. “It was packed.”

“We are just spreading the news with the student body,” Ozdemir said. “This is kind of with … the word of mouth, so we are doing everything to spread the word out.”

Sophomore Ingrid Ilg said she is glad St. Thomas has provided the prayer spaces.

“We should accommodate all religions, not just Catholicism,” Ilg said.

Sophomore Patrick Mines said the university is responding well to increasing diversity.

“I know we’re a Catholic school,” Mines said. “But I think we need to be aware that we’re growing and encompassing a lot of people.”

Transfer student Sana Amin said she has not yet been to the new prayer space but has heard good things about it.

“I heard from the other girls that it’s really great,” Amin said. “I’ve never really heard of other universities having this option.”

Amin also said she appreciates the fact that the university has provided separate prayer rooms for men and women.

Ozdemir and Mohamoud both said the new spaces, along with the ablution stations, help Muslim students feel more accepted at St. Thomas.

“This is a very concrete way of kind of creating an atmosphere of understanding and an atmosphere of dialogue,” Ozdemir said. “This is beyond toleration; this is just helping.”

Grace Pastoor can be reached at past6138@stthomas.edu.

This item was posted in Featured News, More News and has 9 comments so far.

9 Comments

  1. Dick Houck ’51
    Oct. 12, 2013 10:41 AM

    My opinion: Anyone can attend a Catholic school and all are welcome. However, a Catholic school is primarily for Catholic students to provide them with a secular education and an education in all of the tenets of the Catholic Church so they can enter the world and further those teachings to others. Non Catholic students must understand and accept that mission of the school. Catholic services should be provided for Catholic students in the chapel on campus and all students are also welcome. However, non catholic students seeking religious services of their choosing should seek them off campus and not expect such services and/or facilities be supplied on the Catholic campus.

  2. John Wagner ’02
    Oct. 13, 2013 9:07 AM

    The Oxford Dictionary defines a university as “an educational institution designed for instruction, examination, or both, of students in many branches of advanced learning, conferring degrees in various faculties, and often embodying colleges and similar institutions.” The word derives from the Latin words universitas, or “the whole,” and universus, meaning “society or guild.” Canon Law states, “A Catholic School is understood to be one which is under control of the competent ecclesiastical authority or of a public ecclesiastical juridical person, or one which in a written document is acknowledged as Catholic by the ecclesiastical authority.” 

  3. John Wagner ’02
    Oct. 13, 2013 9:08 AM

    In my opinion the University of St. Thomas, by providing accommodation for community members of other faiths or no faith, is living its role as a university.  St. Thomas should be a place where the whole of society can gather to learn from each other, receive instruction, and perhaps earn a degree.  A university, as apposed to a finishing school, is meant to be a place where diverse ideas are brought to bear in the pursuit of truth.  It appears that St. Thomas takes this role seriously while meeting the requirements of a Catholic university.  It’s acknowledged as Catholic and presents itself as such.  Its mission statement reads, “Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.”  If St. Thomas did not provide a platform for the diversity of ideas to be found on campus, it would perpetuate a diluted discourse and weaken itself—it would remain Catholic but cease to fulfill the role of a university.  

  4. Dick Houck ’51
    Oct. 14, 2013 1:25 PM

    If you will note, I did not say anything about the presentation, consideration and/or the discussion of a diversity of ideas on campus. As it should be, the school should provide such discussions in an appropriate class atmosphere with an instructor of appropriate academic and theological background so that students are provided with the proper Catholic theology on the subject. However, that is entirely different from the school providing worship space to those who, according to Catholic theology, worship a false god. That should not be within the proper function of a Catholic school, and in my opinion, beyond the instructional mission of a Catholic institution. Catholic schools should provide Catholic liturgies in Catholic chapels for any and all who wish to attend. It should not choose to provide space for those who want to worship other gods of their choice. Those are free to seek such places of worship off the Catholic campus.

  5. Terry Langan
    Oct. 14, 2013 5:55 PM

    You are mistaken when you say that Catholic theology teaches that Muslims worship a false god. The Church teaches that Muslims, Jews and Christians worship the one true God.
    Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict both spoke on this topic on a number of noteworthy occasions. Further, I believe that St. Thomas is doing the right thing in promoting more, not less, prayer.

  6. John Wagner ’02
    Oct. 15, 2013 12:44 AM

    Dick: You seem to think the exploration of diverse viewpoints is something that should be confined to the classroom and closely mediated.  In my view, you’re off the mark because: 1) most student learning occurs outside the classroom and that’s a good thing; 2) students are bright enough not to need constant reassurance on the tough issues by those with an “appropriate” background, whatever that means; and 3) theistic religions, including Catholicism, are quiet on many aspects of social life and other authorities come into play.  You keep highlighting UST’s (questionable) proselytizing role while overlooking its duty as a university to promote the exploration of truth.  How are students meant to know when they’ve found truth?  You seem to want much of the evidence, presumably that which could weaken the Catholic argument, safely relegated off campus.  Where’s the openness? Where’s the exploration?

  7. John Wagner ’02
    Oct. 15, 2013 12:45 AM

    Are students meant to weigh evidence or would you be happier if they were simply indoctrinated? Minimizing the significance of other groups on campus makes it look as though: 1) you question the influence of Catholicism relative to other faiths and/or 2) you believe students should be made ignorant of other mainstream faith practices.  Finally, as an aside, if your goal is to engage in mutually respectful dialogue on sensitive topics with those of other faiths or no faith, it’s probably best to not lead with the “you worship a false god” line.  Just my two cents

  8. Dick Houck ’51
    Oct. 15, 2013 12:42 PM

    If you would pay attention to my point, it is, in my opinion, improper that the Catholic school should furnish worship space on the Catholic campus for those who wish to worship in the context of other religions. It is not a secular school. It is a Catholic school and as such should retain its total Catholic atmosphere. All the rest of your comments regarding instruction, etc., are irrelevant to my point.

  9. Elizabeth H
    Oct. 15, 2013 7:56 PM

    I am proud to belong to a school that promotes the religious practice of a variety of diverse religious traditions. I also find it wonderful that students of other faiths are being offered opportunities and spaces to practice their beliefs, making UST a much more welcoming, open community. 

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