NORMAN, Oklahoma – The University of Oklahoma has opened a new reflection room to host Muslim students wishing to pray during the day, giving them a sense of belonging and welcome.
“Prayer is very important to me. It’s my priority to pray on time every day,” Maeen Alqohaif, a mechanical engineering junior, told The Oklahoma Daily on Monday, December 5.
“This room is very convenient because I come (to the library) to study, and at the same time I don’t have to go all the way home and pray. I can just pray here.”
Alqohaif used to pray between the narrow bookshelves in a corner of the Bizzell Memorial Library.
He later discover a room on the second floor of the library, which was implemented at the request of the Muslim Student Association.
“We pray five times a day, so during that football game, you have five Gatorade breaks to pretty much catch up, replenish yourself and then go back into your day, so that’s basically what we view prayer as,” MSA personal relations director Sana Sandhu said.
Charles Kimball, director of the religious studies program and scholar of Islam, said prayer is one of five pillars of Islam and a vital part of the religion.
“Prayer is designed five times a day so that whatever else is going on, whatever football game is happening or other things are happening, that you stop what you’re doing, remember who God is and keep your priorities in line,” Kimball said.
“It’s a discipline that Muslims are expected to practice in order to keep focused on what’s ultimately important.”
Kimball said he recognized the importance of the reflection room for Muslim students in particular.
“It’s important to have a place that’s private — that’s quiet — where you can focus on worship rather than outside distractions,” Kimball said.
“I think it’s a nice kind of accommodation, and the idea is the university should be providing a place for people of all traditions, and it’s just a way of affirming diversity — of being respectful of that. Already a lot in our society is structured around the presumption of a Christian calendar, so to have some kind of accommodation like that is particularly appropriate.”
Sandhu praised the university’s move to construct a prayer room to meet the needs of Muslim students.
“During the day, I mean, we’re all students, we all go to class, and even though there is a mosque on campus, it’s about a mile away, so we needed an option for people to go ahead and pray on campus when they couldn’t make it to the mosque,” Sandhu said.
“Besides, it’s really awkward praying in the stairwell or in a classroom, so we needed a room to pray in.”
Though the room was originally intended for Muslim students, Sandhu said it is open to anyone who wants to pray or need quiet reflection.
The space is decorated with a large-area rug, several lamps, a few chairs, copies of the Quran, pamphlets about Islam and a bookshelf.
“It’s fairly simple,” Sandhu said. “I mean, it’s used for one thing, so we like to keep it as minimal as possible so people don’t get distracted in there, because if you’re distracted in prayer, the purpose of the room is basically invalidated.”
Sandhu said the Muslim Student Association is grateful to have the room available for prayer.
“We feel very welcomed, personally, that the university is so accepting of our religion that they’re going to give you a designated room to pray,” Sandhu said.
“I mean, they accept you, you’re welcome here, and you can follow your religion as you please, and they will accommodate you for that. They didn’t have to do it, but they did, which we really do appreciate. We do use it. And we do need it here on campus, so we’re grateful that we have it.”