Students look for prayer area


Suliman, criminal justice major, prays on the top floor of Parking Structure III.

Kaitlin Bruce

Recent interest of a meditation space on campus has been topic lately throughout the religious community at Sacramento State.

Sac State hosts 14 clubs dedicated to religious groups such as the Christian, Islamic, Catholic, Sikh, and Jewish faith. Most, including the Muslim Student Association, have been pulling for a space to be able to carry out their meditations in private comfort.

Senior accounting major Yusuf Ahmed, a member of the Muslim Student Association, has encountered difficulties trying to pray on campus.

“Trying to pray can be embarrassing,” Ahmed said. “It’s not very quiet and people are trying to study. It’s hard to pray in a place where there is not any privacy.”

Islamic tenets require an individual to pray five times a day. Many students who practice on campus have to pray on the concrete, in public walkways and even parking garages in order to fulfill daily worship.

Many groups have suggested a prayer space modeled after institutions that already have this as an option – such as UC Berkeley, or St. Peter’s Catholic College, which opened a Hindu prayer space to accommodate those of another religion.

Junior biological sciences major Mashel Alam is an officer in the Muslim Student Association on campus.

“It makes me feel really uncomfortable,” Alam said. “You’re out there in public and don’t want someone to interrupt because once you’ve started your prayer, you’re not supposed to break it. It can also be threatening, such as if someone were to come up behind you while you’re praying, it’s really scary. It makes me feel more at peace and concentrated on prayer to have the comfort of seclusion.”

Muslim Student Association President Aida Selmic, senior international relations major, has circulated petitions via email to the religious organizations throughout campus to jump-start the process.

“I personally don’t pray on campus. I don’t want to deal with people walking by, giving looks,” Selmic said. “I’m not Arab and I don’t look like it, so I feel if I were to be praying on the ground people would be taken aback.”

Selmic said it can be tough for students to find a warm, safe and dry place to pray on campus, especially in the winter. Many are forced to pray in harsh conditions.

“People try to find a secluded place, and it’s not always ideal,” Selmic said. “I would pray on campus if I had a specific spot. It’s more private and it’s just less of a hassle. I heard about someone praying in a parking structure, and with those attacks that have been happening, that’s the worst place you can be. It really comes down to a safety issue.”

Hanan Hasson, former president of the Muslim Student Association, has been trying to get a prayer center started since she came to Sac State four years ago.

“I pray at school every day, wherever I can find a spot. Honestly, in the hallways, balconies, I’ve prayed in parking lots, the library, wherever I can find a secluded place,” Hasson said.

A prayer space could be a safe place for those of every religion or group to come meditate, even those who do not have a religious conviction.

“We’re trying to get a space in the Union. I have their full support and they think it’s a great idea because it’s not geared towards Muslims only, or any religion, even atheists are welcome. Anyone who wants a nice quiet place,” Hasson said. “It’ll be a place where people can sit and relax, reflect, sometimes we have so much going on in our personal lives that we just need time to ourselves.”

Alysson Satterlund, director of Student Organization and Leadership, is active in the process of finding such a space.

“We’ve been working with Hanan and the MSA to find out what’s been happening with our sister schools to see guiding principles for its use,” Satterlund said. “Hanan brought the interest and the need to us at campus life and student affairs, and we have been looking to find out what it would take to make that space available on our campus by researching other schools.”

Satterlund hopes the research found will help point them in the direction toward procuring a space for the groups.

“It would be wonderful to be able to provide all of the exciting programs and services our students desire, a lot depends on what resources are available and what we can provide,” Satterlund said. “Ultimately, my job is to bring the research forward for those who can do something with this.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students underwent a similar struggle to get the Pride Center established in the University Union in 2007, and succeeded with persistence.

“What it comes down to with administration is numbers, how many people want this, like the Pride Center is a good example,” Selmic said. “A lot of people fought for it for a long time, and it’s a good safe resource for that specific demographic and I think the prayer center would be a good resource for the religious demographic.”

Satterlund and Hasson have a teleconference scheduled this week with UC Berkeley to find out what their own meditation space brings, and what needs have to be met.

“It’s really exciting to learn what’s happening around the system and so much of that is inspired by students, we’re really excited to learn and see what we can do with this venue and what is available,” Satterlund said. “That’s what we do in student life, is student leadership development. We want out our students to take the initiative. ‘Leadership begins here,’ so this is a perfect example of that.”

Hasson said he believes having a place to pray and meditate on campus could help bring the school closer together.

“I think the prayer space is a necessity on campus, for all students,” Hasson said. “Honestly, in a way it will help bridge gaps between the students, cultures, and religions.”

Hasson said she hopes the prayer space will not only serve as a center to meditate, but also as a place to learn about others’ cultures and beliefs, and that it could help reduce instances of Islamaphobia that have occurred in recent years.

“This is one step closer to relieving everyone of that ignorance. When someone sees something they learn about it, and when they’re educated we build that level of tolerance,” Hasson said. “I think everyone should be free to practice their religion, especially in a college environment where people are learning not just about religion, but everything in general.”

Kaitlin Bruce can be reached at [email protected]