Muslim students demand prayer space, religious advisor

Muslim students at Columbia University are demanding a full-time religious advisor and a permanent prayer space accessible during academic breaks.

According to The Columbia Spectator, the school’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) met with student government representatives Monday to lobby for the two initiatives, securing pledges of support from several members, but no specific promises.

The most recent demand, originally articulated in a petition crafted by the MSA Executive Board, calls on Columbia to “create a fully-funded, full-time position for a Muslim Religious Life Advisor in the Office of the University Chaplain,” pointing out that several other Ivy League institutions have established similar positions recently in response to President Trump’s executive order on immigration.

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“The Muslim community is in need, now more than ever, of institutional support to help cope with the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical toll these recent political events have on us as students of faith,” the MSA states. “Students who are visibly Muslim, such as women wearing hijab, are increasingly concerned for their safety as they publicly practice and express their faith.”

MSA President Faizan Kothari and Fatima Koli, the group’s senior advisor, made the pitch during Monday night’s student government meeting at Barnard College, which is affiliated with Columbia.

Citing Trump’s recent executive order temporarily restricting immigration from seven countries (which has since been halted by the courts) Kothari said it’s important for Muslim students to have “someone who can understand us on a religious, spiritual level...who personally knows what we’re going through.”

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To ensure that the Muslim Religious Life Advisor meets those criteria, the group’s petition also calls for the MSA, along with “the broader Muslim community,” to play “a leading role in the process of selecting and interviewing a suitable candidate,” even going so far as to demand that its members have “final say” over which candidate is ultimately selected.

The petition concludes with an open-ended plea that Columbia provide “institutional support for students directly affected by the executive order,” mentioning “subsidized summer housing” and “free legal advice” along with any “additional demands” that student groups have made.

One such demand, which was also discussed during the student government meeting, is a long-standing request by Muslim students for a prayer space on campus that is available during school breaks, which they also want to be made accessible to individuals from outside the Columbia community.

[RELATED: Muslim students demand prayer rooms in every ‘major building’]

While the university does currently provide a prayer space in an academic building, students have complained that it is located in a far-flung area of campus, and is only in operation during the academic year.

Several student representatives expressed support for the MSA’s goals, but encountered a potential obstacle to the public prayer room proposal while considering a proposal to keep a side entrance to the university open past 11:00 p.m., an effort complicated by Columbia’s closed campus policy requiring a staff member to check student IDs before granting entry to the grounds.

Campus Reform has reached out the MSA and the Columbia administration for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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