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 email@example.com.