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Muslims seek prayer facilities

Handfuls of student groups are jockeying for space on campus, but the Duke's Muslim students are now asking for it to suit a unique need-prayer.

Muslims are required to pray five times a day, and although students typically perform both the dawn and night salats at home, they find themselves searching for appropriate prayer spaces during the day.

"For the Muslim Duke student, salat during the day is at best a frustrating inconvenience, at worst, virtually impossible," Muslim Student Association President Hoda Yousef, a senior, wrote in a proposal on the issue. "Some of us have found ourselves praying in the Perkins [Library] stacks or in empty classrooms."

At least 75 universities have special prayer rooms for Muslim students, and Yousef is now working with administrators to find such a space on West Campus. Salat is required at dawn, between midday and midafternoon, between midafternoon and sunset, after sunset and after nightfall. The prayers range in length from 5 to 20 minutes and are encouraged to be performed in congregation.

Muslim students have been searching for a prayer area for at least three years, said Judith White, who chairs a committee studying space for multicultural groups. Two years ago, Muslim students could pray where The Loop is currently located while that area was being changed from the University Room to Han's Fine Chinese Cuisine. Since then, students have sometimes used a room in Perkins that is only occasionally available.

This issue was highlighted at a Nov. 7 diversity luncheon where MSA and other minority groups presented their goals to administrators, students and faculty. This was the first time that many community members became aware of the problem, and a number of administrators have teamed up with MSA to assist it in drafting a proposal and searching for space.

Administrators say the problem with MSA's request, as with many similar ones, is a general lack of space at Duke, especially given the availability, location and specifications that Muslim students need.

MSA leaders are requesting a carpeted West Campus room available for daily prayer from noon until 8 p.m. It would also need to be near a restroom, because Muslims must perform a ritual cleansing with water before praying. Unlike other religious groups, Muslims cannot use the Chapel or its basement for prayer because the Chapel houses tombs.

MSA also would like this space or another room for a congregational service, called jummah prayer, performed Friday at midday. Currently, about 40 students meet at Duke Hospital's chapel for jummah prayer, though many are unable to attend because of the distance from campus and the limited space.

But the search for dedicated space is not unique to Muslim students.

"There are minority groups, graduate groups, all sorts of social groups searching for social space," said Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Clack. "But the facilities may not be available."

Even when space is available, though, people often find it difficult to determine who it belongs to and how to reserve it.

"We need a more centralized space reservation policy," said Clack, "so that we know what is available, when it is available, and what rules govern it."

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