GENDER APARTHEID: University of Iowa caves to Muslim demands for two segregated prayer rooms

muzziesThe University of Iowa is re-configuring two former offices in the Iowa Memorial Union to serve as full-time prayer spaces for Muslims – one for men and one for women – that will serve the university’s handful of Muslim students and faculty. Muslims claim they are required to pray 5 times a day at specific times. What they don’t tell you is that Islam allows them to make up missed prayers at any time in the day.

uss-prayer-room-men-womenPress Citizen (h/t Ulysses)  The decision, made late last year, comes in response to a long-standing request from the university’s Muslim Brotherhood-linked Muslim Student Association to offer a centrally located space in which the growing number of Muslims on campus can complete their daily religious obligations.

“The necessity had been well established for a while,” said Tom Rocklin, UI’s vice president for student life. “It was more a question of when the opportunity to do something came up.”

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Motier Haskins, faculty adviser for UI’s Muslim Student Association, described the two new prayer rooms — located in Rooms 206 and 208 of the IMU — as a “step in the right direction.” “(They are) two small but newly carpeted and painted rooms, one for men and one for women located, centrally in the IMU with 24/7 access,” he said.

Each of the rooms provides space for between 15 and 20 people assembling for joint prayer, said Mohammed Ismail, a biochemistry major and event coordinator for the UI Muslim Student Association. (Will they provide special Muslim footbaths, too or will they still have to  wash their feet in regular sinks?)

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Muslim footbaths

Muslim footbaths

“We’ve very happy what they gave us,” Ismail said. “It’s a big place for the moment, but we may see a need for a bigger room in the future.”

Haskins, a UI clinical associate professor of social work, has tried to find a more permanent prayer site for UI’s Muslim population since he came to the university in 2007. Around that time, UI administrators made Danforth Chapel available for daily prayers, which Haskins said initially seemed an ideal solution.

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But after a handful of gatherings, it became obvious the chapel, with benches, an altar and a cross, was anything but a “neutral” religious space. It simply wasn’t going to work for a group whose members spread out rugs and blankets to sit, kneel and stand on during prayers.

Many Muslim students, faculty and staff report feeling tension on campus as they seek discrete places in which to offer their five daily prayers, at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and night.

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