Without a place to call their own, Muslim women at Shippensburg University used to pray between rows of books in the library, empty lounges in the CUB or wherever they could find a quiet space.
The diversity committee of Student Senate and some of the CUB staff joined together this past week to address the needs of Muslim students looking for a place to pray during the day. Practicing Muslims pray five times a day facing Mecca, and Muslim women are not supposed to pray around men.
In a mosque, women and men can pray together, as long as women are in the back. This arrangement is for the sake of modesty, so the women do not need to bend over in front of men.
As a result, the female students of Islamic faith were in need of a private place to pray on campus.
Houda Bouhmam, a biology major at SU, expressed her concerns to Christina Gonzales, a fellow classmate and student senator. Until this year, Bouhmam had no problem finding a place to pray because she lived on campus and could return to her dorm between classes. Once she started living off campus, Bouhmam realized the difficulty of finding a place to pray in private.
“They used to pray in the library and people just look at them or maybe interrupt and ask what’s going on, thinking that we’re not feeling well or something,” Bouhmam said of her friends. When in prayer, Muslims cannot stop to talk and explain what they are doing until they finish. Bouhmam experienced this dilemma before and said the interruption can be very distracting.
After contacting Judy Newell from the CUB information desk and speaking with Gonzales, Bouhmam visited the Student Senate office to seek help for her and the other Muslim women.
A few emails later, Bouhmam and three of her friends had the chance to meet with Nicholas Johnson of the diversity committee to explain their situation. Finding a room for Islamic prayer became the top priority of the diversity committee’s agenda.
Abigail Brumback, the committee chair, met with CUB director Darrell Claiborne on Feb. 22 to discuss the issue. Four days later, the 16 women seeking a place to pray were given a room of their own.
“We were so happy with it, so thankful to them… because they said they were going make this their priority and it didn’t take much time,” Bouhmam said of Student Senate.
The women keep a small Quran, prayer rugs and a garment to cover themselves within the room — in addition to a few desks and chairs supplied by the CUB.
The room is generally needed for prayers in the early and late afternoon, and for the two evening prayers. The first prayer of the day is early enough that the women can pray in their homes.
Muslim men meet in the Cora I. Grove Spiritual Center on Friday afternoons for prayer. Bouhmam and some of the other Muslim women contacted the campus ministers at the Spiritual Center about reserving a room, but found it easier to use the room in the CUB instead since the women need access throughout the entire week.
All faiths are welcome at the Spiritual Center, which currently serves Christian, Jewish and Muslim students.
“Anyone is welcome here to pray,” the Rev. Jan Bye said. Students looking to reserve a space in the Spiritual Center are welcome to contact campus ministries. For the Muslim women at SU, contact Brumback at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to list of people allowed access to the CUB room.
The diversity committee, as well as the other committees of Student Senate, are always willing to help students in need. Their priority is to be a voice for the SU community.
“I think that this event makes it clear that regardless of differences and diversity on campus, people know the right thing to do and take action in doing the right thing,” Brumback said.