The Herald recently had a conversation with Sarim Karim ’22 about the current accommodations for Muslim prayer on campus. Sarim is a student from Pakistan hoping to study international relations and economics, and is also a member of both the South Asian Student Association (SASA) and the debate team. He and the South Asian Student Association are working together to find and establish a Muslim prayer room on campus, which has been a long-standing request from the Non-Christian students of HWS.
Finding a space has been on the minds of students, religious life, and administrators for many years. Vice President for Student Life, Robb Flowers, noted that he was part of the team that identified an original space in Stewardson House with a previous chaplain Lesley Adams. “But we recognize the desire for a newer space and we have had additional requests, so as we move forward we are going to be more flexible to create and move the Muslim prayer space on campus. We are hoping to identify that new space overt the summer while working with students and our new chaplain,” Flowers said. Karim is one of those students hoping to find a new space on campus for prayer.
The Herald: What is a prayer room?
Sarim Karim: It’s a room where people can participate in formal or traditional Muslim prayer. It’s usually a clean space where if someone wanted to sit or put their forehead to the ground, they would feel comfortable doing so. It can be used by one person or many. Certain aspects of its design are important, as well. For example, when we pray we face East – toward Mecca. Other spaces might not be able to accommodate for large groups of people facing one direction.
TH: Where would the proposed prayer room be?
SK: It is supposed to be in the back of the Bartlett Theater in Coxe Hall. It’s not particularly special but it is central to campus and open to everyone.
TH: Is there a prayer space already?
SK: Technically, any space could be prayer space. Muslims could pray anywhere they want. In terms of formal spaces, though, I’ve heard there’s one in Stewardson House. It is pretty far away and relatively inaccessible, though. There’s also congregational prayer on Fridays in Coxe Hall.
TH: What problems have you faced in your efforts?
SK: The first problem was finding a room that was big enough and accessible enough for everyone to use. Second, it took asking a lot of people and mobilizing a lot of moving parts to get the school to take notice. David Gage was particularly helpful and enthusiastic about finding the room. The current issue is making the room accessible to disabled students.
I could also see there being issues with finding a place to do ablutions. Muslim prayer requires you to clean almost your entire body before praying. The only bathrooms are in the basement and while they’re fine, they’re not conducive to things like washing your feet.
TH: How successful have you been so far?
SK: We’re successful in that we found a suitable room and faculty members who are interested in making this a reality like David Gage, Dean Hussein, the SASA board and club, and many others.
TH: Why are you doing this?
SK: I think it’s important for everyone to be able to practice their religion in a place where they feel safe and included. We call it a Muslim prayer room but it’s really an all-inclusive prayer room. Personally, I used to pray at a mosque back home, so I like the like idea of having somewhere that I can walk to on campus to pray or to meditate. It can be important for students to have a place to find peace or stability in a constantly shifting environment like college. For many, religion is an important aspect of their identity, and they deserve a space express that.