As part of the Five Pillars of Islam, Muslims must bow their heads in prayer five times a day. Now that days are growing shorter, this means most of the prayers happen before 7:00 p.m. For Muslim students in college who are at the mercy of their class schedules, returning home to pray can become difficult. Muslim students must often resort to studying for extended periods of time on the fourth floor of the Texas Union since that is the only place where they, or students of any faith, can go to pray with the protection of a reflection space.
Economics junior Saad Maqsood said, “Sometimes I need to go between classes. Walking all the way to the Union and all the way back is a hassle since I only have 10 minutes between classes.” As a result, Maqsood and other Muslims often miss prayers.
To overcome this obstacle, these students must often find new ways to pray on campus. According to Maqsood, there is a GroupMe message that consists of around 150 Muslim students specifically for the purpose of gathering for prayer. He said, “We just congregate wherever we are.”
There are a few spots on campus that Muslim students often utilize for their religious needs. At the Flawn Academic Center, students have found secluded spots on the third and fourth floors where they can go to pray. At the Perry-Castañeda Library and other buildings, students hide prayer rugs in stairwells so that they can step away from their studies to perform prayer.
Physics senior Abdulkarim Bora believes that, as a campus, “We can do better.” He has been working with Student Government and UT staff in order to create more reflection spaces. After polling with the Muslim Students’ Association, Bora found that the PCL would be the most ideal location for a reflection space.
“We met with some staff,” Bora said. “According to them, a long-term plan is to remodel the PCL to include a reflection space. Temporarily, there’s going to be a space on the third floor where they’re going to clear some books. We don’t know what it’s going to look like, but it’s going to be a designated area.”
“We want it to be a quick process, an easy process and a cheap process,” Bora said.
Moreover, the addition of reflection spaces on campus would benefit all students. “It’s a quiet space for students to go to. The purpose is to help students with their mental health and provide space for reflection,” Bora said.
As a college campus in a country that promises religious freedom, it is a shame that a large portion of UT students are forced to express this freedom by touching their heads to secluded stairwell floors that generations of college students have walked on with dirty shoes. The University must provide more spaces where students can feel comfortable practicing their respective religions without causing discomfort to their fellow classmates.
Mehraz is a Plan II and management information systems sophomore from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @MehrazR.