Student government passes resolution supporting Muslim prayer room

muslim prayer roomMuslim Student Association president Fatima Zia, speaking to senators during Feb. 13's session | Danette Heredia, PantherNOW

Elise Catrion Gregg | Editor-in-Chief

Student government is calling on FIU to address “the urgent need for a permanent prayer space for Muslim students”, noting problems with the current space

S.R. 04 015, or “A Permanent Prayer Space for Muslim Students at FIU”, passed unanimously at the last senate meeting on Feb. 12, celebrated by senators and Muslim students alike.

“We’re over the moon excited,” Muslim Student Association president Fatima Zia told PantherNOW. “This has been a long time coming.” 

The serenity room on the third floor of the Graham Center is the space students use now for prayer and to gather as a faith community. 

However, it’s not specifically for Muslim students – students of other faiths can use it, as it “is currently utilized as a multipurpose room that often holds organizational events or for other meditation practices.” 

It’s created some problems for students – students from the Muslim Student Association spoke at the Feb. 12 senate, when the resolution passed, discussing the struggles to express their faith. 

“We’ve been recorded, we’ve been mocked, we’ve had to pray on the concrete,” Zia told PantherNOW after senate. “This will give students a place that they know they can go to and pray in peace and quiet; it’s a safe spot for them.” 

Security is not a new concern. In 2014, PantherNOW reported on the possible bugging of the prayer room after students found what appeared to be a small microphone in the carpet

Not only do students struggle to maintain privacy while praying, but the use of the room by other groups encroaches on Muslim students’ meetings. 

“Students have voiced their concerns of wanting a clean environment, a safe environment – an environment where our prayer equipment is not being used as blankets,” Zia said. 

Further, the room is only open from 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. – previous SGA administrations attempted to change this, but the hours are still limited. For Muslim students, this means they’re unable to do after sunset prayers on campus. 

Space is another issue. For their Friday prayer service, or Jum’ah, MSA leaders said they’ve had close to 100 students.  

“Over the past couple years, we’ve seen an attendance of 70 to 80 people which is so cool,” Zia told senators on Feb. 12. “But at the same time, it’s heartbreaking to see for me and my team that we can’t accommodate this many people in one room.” 

Mustafa Zia, MSA Registered Student Organization Representative, listed some of the routine struggles with using the serenity room, as well as in trying to book other rooms to accommodate students. 

“Although we have been allotted a room sometimes we would struggle: we would have to book rooms in advance, the minute of, the day before,” Mustafa told senators. “Literally minutes before we would struggle to find people to open the room for us.” 

“We would find troubles dealing with security, dealing with chairs and a lot of students that are on campus that have classes quite literally minutes after the prayers done have struggled to get to their classes afterward.” 

Fatima Zia is one of the sponsors of the resolution, which promises that “the Muslim Student Association plans to work diligently with the respective offices to provide this space for the students.” 

Mustafa Zia speaking out to senators about the resolution | Danette Heredia, PantherNOW

Senator Alexander Stone, another sponsor, presented the bill to the senate, saying that this resolution would be a step forward in meeting Muslim students’ essential right to religious freedom. 

“By not allowing our Muslim students to have the spaces that they need we hinder that freedom, that right: you have a right and it’s not being met,” Stone said during senate. 

The resolution wouldn’t create a new room, but simply set aside an existing room for prayer, explained Senate President Kailey LaChapelle during senate. 

Though FIU is building a chapel, it likely won’t be done for a few years. Though it may include prayer rooms for students of a diversity of faiths, this measure is meant to address the interim need. 

“The population of practicing Muslims on campus rises each year, and the immediate demand for a permanent prayer space rises as well,” the resolution reads, citing a petition for a permanent prayer space that garnered over 250 signatures. 

“I think every student on campus deserves to feel like they have the right to dignity,” said resolution sponsor, Senator Daniel Salup-Cid. “This is one of the first steps in making sure that students have access to a dignified existence on campus.” 

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