Church offers prayer space for Muslim community
While the University considers itself a diverse community, some students have felt left out of the equation — until now.
The Second Reformed Church, located at 100 College Ave., will now offer a place for practicing Muslims to go for their Friday worship, Pastor Doug Shepler said.
“The decision was a natural outcome from the church,” he said. “The reformed church has had a strong relationship with the Muslim community for a very long time.”
Yusra Janajri, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said up until now, practicing Muslims have had to pray in some uncommon places.
“As someone who tries to find a place to pray — usually facing a stray wall, a doorway or sometimes a bathroom — it is difficult,” she said. “This makes things a lot easier for us.”
Saad Kahn, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the idea to go to the church was suggested while he was talking with a friend at a New Jersey Dream Act Coalition meeting.
“Our friend was talking about how the Muslim community could use a place to pray,” Kahn said. “It was interesting to hear someone outside the Muslim community talk about the same issues we have.”
He said he was introduced to Shepler the same night and they came up with a plan to allow the Muslim community to pray at the church.
“[Shepler] had one condition for allowing us to pray at the church, he said ‘I want to pray with you,’” Kahn said. “Over the next few days we discussed what [needed] to be done.”
Simone Lovano, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said this is the right time and right place for the church to allow the Muslim community to come and pray.
“They had a large auditorium that was not being used, and they will allow us to come in and use that as a place to pray,” Lovano said.
Shepler said students came to him and wanted some place safe and close by to practice their worship.
“[Kahn] came to me and said ‘we don’t have a place, we want somewhere on campus to be able to pray,’” he said. “There was no conflict or difficulties — this is who we are and what we have done for the last 100 years.”
Kahn said some of the major Muslim groups on campus, including the Muslim Student Association and the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University, came together to discuss the idea.
The Muslim community’s use of the church has three goals, Kahn said.
“The first prayer space, is going to be fulfilled by being able to use the church,” Kahn said. “Next we need to bring the Muslim community together, then finally we will need to sustain a space for the long term.”
The Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University, a nonprofit organization, works for the rights of the Muslim community at the University, Kahn said. Their vision has been focused on finding a place to pray.
Now, he said, they can bridge that gap with the community and sustainability.
He said the Muslim community is going to have their first major prayer kickoff at the church on Friday, March 15 at 1:15 p.m. The Muslim community will be allowed to use the space provided to pray every week on Friday for Salat al Juma, the Friday prayer.
“We want to unite all the students at Rutgers,” Kahn said.
Ibaad Sadiq, a School of Engineering junior, said the prayer would be welcome to all students, not just practicing Muslims.
“Anyone who is interested in seeing the Friday prayer is welcome to come out,” he said.
Kahn said he hopes this is the beginning of a much-needed change on campus, and wants to see the Muslim community sustained after he graduates in 2014. With such a diverse community such as the student body at the University, he said this is a step in the right direction.
There were previous attempts made to allow the Muslim community to find a place to pray in the past, but they lacked the human connection, he said. Once the human connection was made, he found all the religions have the same basic vision whether it is Christianity, Islam or Judaism.
Shepler said he hopes the decision to open the church’s doors to the Muslim community will make them feel comfortable and at home on campus.
“I hope it gives the Muslim community a sense of acceptance,” he said. “They may have felt threatened, uncomfortable or unsafe before. We wanted to give them a safe place for spiritual practice now.”
While the facility has been used for meetings by other religions before, he hopes to continue the ongoing commitment to the University community in the future.
“As long as a group provides a community service, they are welcome to use our facility for meetings or what they may need,” he said.
Abdul Rehman Kahn, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said this decision is a great representation of diversity on campus.
“This is what interfaith is all about, helping another group,” he said. “Helping another group thrive when they are at their weakest.”
Janajri said she is relieved to have a place to pray and worship without being in a random stairwell or bothering people.
Maha Zayed, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she thinks the idea is a step in the right direction as well. She feels this will be a great unifying experience for both the church and the Muslim community.
“We have been working for a place to be able to pray, and for [the pastor] to open his doors and let us in every Friday, it really promotes co-existence,” she said.
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