Indiana Daily Student

IU’s Muslim Student Association says prayer spaces on campus are inadequate

<p>Members of the IU Muslim Student Association pray in a room in the Indiana Memorial Union. The MSA currently uses the Solarium in the IMU for weekly prayer.</p>

Members of the IU Muslim Student Association pray in a room in the Indiana Memorial Union. The MSA currently uses the Solarium in the IMU for weekly prayer.

IU’s current prayer rooms for Muslim students do not provide consistent access to enough space without scheduling conflicts, members of IU’s Muslim Student Association told the Indiana Daily Student.

The MSA is hoping for a spacious, clean and accessible room with enough space for 30 to 50 people that is free from conflicting reservations from other parties, MSA Religious Chair Romael Khan said.

The MSA currently uses the Solarium in the IMU for weekly prayer and provides access to some Muslim students on the IMU’s fourth floor, IU junior and MSA President Miriam Haque said.

IU is aware of the need for a prayer space for Muslim students and is investigating more permanent solutions but could not give any examples of potential spaces, IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said. 

IUSG is in the process of establishing an interfaith prayer and meditation room for religious communities on campus, IU Student Body President Rachel Aranyi said. She expects the space to be ready by the fall 2021 semester.

Many Muslim students pray five times each day and often do not have the time to return to their dorms or homes to pray between classes, Haque said.

“Having a central space to be able to pray — that’s easily accessible, as well — is really important for us,” she said.

For daily prayer, the MSA pays for a room in the Indiana Memorial Union on the fourth floor, MSA Vice President Sufyan Zackariya, said. Overcrowding in the room has not been an issue recently since many students are studying online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Haque said.

Around four people can use the room at once per IU’s COVID-19 safety policies, and there is less space to socially distance because the room is also used to store supplies, Haque said.

The room requires passcodes for access and Student Activities Tower staff encouraged the MSA to limit sharing those codes to prevent too many people using the room and increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19, Haque said. 

Many clubs have moved to online meetings, so getting the room every Friday has not been difficult, Zackariya, said. However, as in-person meetings resume, Zackariya expects to run into scheduling conflicts.

Other spaces are not able to accommodate the requirements of Muslim prayer, Khan said. 

In Muslim prayers, students often stretch out on the ground, an action blocked by church pews in places like Beck Chapel, Khan said. 

IUSG acknowledged issues with prayer room size and access in a bill passed in June 2020. 

The Wellness Room in the Eskenazi Museum of Art is extremely small and incapable of hosting group prayers, the bill read.

According to the bill, IUSG and its Student Life Committee planned to research potential spaces for an appropriately-sized interfaith prayer room for all denominations.

Student organizations would be able to reserve the room, but not private parties, according to the bill.

Khan, who introduced the bill, said IU was not clear about the size of the Wellness Room, a space in the Eskenazi Museum of Art. Khan said IU administration marketed the room as a place for group prayer when the MSA asked about prayer spaces last year.

“We were not told about the size of it, or how many people it was going to be able to hold,” he said.

The MSA reserves the Solarium every Friday for a larger service with around 40 people, Haque said. The MSA uses the space at no cost, Zackariya said.

IUSG is evaluating room 470 in the Student Activities Tower in the IU Memorial Union as a potential permanent prayer space, Aranyi said. IUSG is working with multiple groups, including the Student Involvement and Leadership Center, Dean of Students office, Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, and Provost Lauren Robel.

“It's really important that we support diverse religious communities on campus, and I think this is one way we can move in that direction,” Aranyi said.

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