#LetUsPray: NY Muslim Students Campaign for Prayer Spaces

NEW YORK – Muslim students in Bernard College and Columbia University have been campaigning for proper prayer spaces, launching a new video campaign using the hashtag @LetUsPray.

“You can put us in the basement. But in taking us in, you become responsible when we take root and no longer be accommodated by the space you have given us,” Zawareen Zakaria, BC ’21, told Columbia Spectator on Tuesday, October 23.

“You can try to uproot us all together, but in doing so maybe you’ll finally see the immense growth of the population you claim there is not a significant number of on this campus.”

The Muslim Students Association has launched a video campaign, advocating for improved prayer spaces at both Barnard and Columbia.

Currently, there are four prayer spaces available to Muslim students: a room in the basement of Earl Hall; a room in the 600 West 113th Street residence hall, also known as Nussbaum; a room in Milbank Hall at Barnard; and an open hallway that doubles as a yoga meditation space on the fourth floor of the Milstein Center.

Despite these facilities, some aspects of the prayer spaces have discouraged Muslim students from using them for prayer, saying it makes them feel humiliated due to the lack of respect shown to holy spaces.

“It’s not a place I’d want any student to be in,” Yeliz Sezgin, BC ’21, the Student Government Association representative for food and dining services at Barnard, said, referring to Milbank’s prayer space located in a small room in the basement of the building.

“It’s a health hazard. It’s filthy, the floor looks like it’s never been vacuumed, the Quran was just thrown in the closet, and there was a shoebox with broken glass in the closet.”

Earl Hall’s prayer space is particularly hard to navigate for female Muslim students, allocating very small space for them.

“The women’s prayer space in Earl is so small and so confined,” Mikyle Hassanali, the vice president of MSA, said.

“There needs to be an equal prayer space.”

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Alcohol & Yoga

Other prayer spaces had different problems. The Nussbaum prayer space is partially inaccessible to students because the hours are limited and access requires being given a key.

Moreover, the prayer space is shared with another room used as storage space for Barnard Bartending which contains two shopping carts filled with alcoholic beverages.

“I just thought it was a Facilities room,” Zakaria said.

“Just walking in, I felt like crying, because everybody knows there’s a general rule. I just didn’t think they could ever do something like that.”

The most recently added prayer space is located on the fourth floor of the Milstein Center, which was opened in September, is used both as a prayer space for Muslims and yoga center.

“Yoga isn’t praying, and praying isn’t yoga,” Sezgin said.

“Yoga is an exercise; you sweat. There are very different uses for both of these mats. To put them in the same space ties back into how you can’t have a Muslim prayer space connected to a bartending office with wine bottles. When creating the space, you need to think about what you’re equating. Bartending and prayer, yoga and prayer. Although the intention was not to equate them, you’re making a statement.”

Fatoumata Diallo, CC ’19, president of the Muslim Students Association, said the ideal prayer space for students would be housed in Butler Library.

The library already has 24/7 surveillance and security, which is one of the top priorities for the MSA in its search for an improved space.

Muslims pray five times a day, with each prayer made of a series of postures and movements, each set of which is called a rak‘ah.

The five prayer times are divided all through the day which starts with Fajr prayer at dawn.