Renovating religious space

Sadie Lebow

Muslim prayer space made more accommodating

To better accommodate Muslim students on campus, the college has funded the construction of a more comfortable prayer space in Hogg Hall.

The Muslim Student Association (MSA) expects full completion for use by October, at which point students practicing Islam will be able to pray in an enlarged area that includes an ablution station for washing before prayer, a rack for shoes and new carpeting, paint and lighting. The Writer’s Den had to be removed to make space.

The formerly dim and small room has been expanded to accommodate more students and provide a more welcoming atmosphere, President of the MSA Noureen Abdel Rahman ’18 said.

“[The room in Hogg Hall] didn’t really look like a prayer space,” Rahman said.

Noise from the radio station and the Quad would often distract students engaged in prayer, leading some students to opt to return to their rooms to pray, she added.

Rahman expects that between 20-25 practicing Muslims on campus will now use the space. In the past, only ten students used the room, she estimated.

Rahman, who lived in Conway last year, said that returning to Conway during the day for prayers was often inconvenient.

“We would sometimes have to miss prayers, or pray all at once,” she said. At these times of high traffic, students really noticed the size of the room.

“We went to President [Alison] Byerly and took her to see the room,” Rahman said. “When we first stepped into the room, she looked around and said, ‘This is embarrassing.’ And I was like, ‘OK, awesome. Now that she’s seeing that, we’re going to change things.’”

“I think they needed a big space and also one that provided better facilities for the ablution,” Byerly said. “That’s something we’re funding through our regular renovation process because we thought it was important to provide an appropriate space.”

Chaplain Alex Hendrickson noted that people involved have been thinking about renovations for a long time.

“This is my fourth year,” Hendrickson said. “We’ve been talking about [the renovations] since I came here.”

Hendrickson and students were inspired by the design of the Muhlenberg College prayer space at an Interfaith conference last year.

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Youshaa Patel remarked that the changes to the prayer space are much needed and important for the Muslim members of Lafayette’s community.

“Muslim students on campus are a small minority, and given the consistent negative representations of Muslims in the mainstream media, they are often uncomfortable visibly expressing their religious identity.” Patel wrote in an email.

“The renovation of the prayer space signals that Lafayette College seeks to construct a learning environment that values difference, including religious difference,” he added.

Hendrickson emphasized that the spaces in Hogg Hall are also for others on campus.

“It’s not just for MSA, it’s for anyone in the community,” Hendrickson said. “I want to make it [the space] broadly available for as many people as possible.”