The University has several places of worship that cater to students of many different faiths-Jewish students have Hillel, Catholic students have St. Augustine, Methodist students have Wesley. But Muslim students don’t have such a center, due to a lack of funding.
“This issue probably goes back 15 years-we’re talking a long, long time that there’s been a dialogue going on,” said Rev. Joe Lortie, director and chaplain of the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and member of the University Chaplains Association. “The Islamic campus ministries have been trying to raise money for a number of years.”
According to Dr. Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs, funding is the main obstacle towards building an Islamic Center.
“We’ve put the land aside, and we’ve engaged in a pre-design process,” she said. “It’s a project that would take a significant amount of money, and that money has not been raised.”
Whitely said the last figures she saw pointed towards $5 million to $7 million to build the center. The land set aside for the center is in the corner diagonal to the Pavia Garage, near Hillel and the Writing Center.
Muslim students generally feel a center would be very convenient and a big improvement, although they note it’s not as essential for worship as people might think.
“[Not having the center] has in no way deterred us from carrying out our religious obligations as Muslims on campus,” Sarah Uddin, president of the Islamic Society of UM, said. “Muslim students between classes find their own niche on campus, whether it be a study room in the library or an empty classroom in Memorial, to make their own sanctuary.”
However, she notes that this doesn’t mean that Muslim students are perfectly happy with having no center.
“Individuals or organizations willing to fund this project should be actively solicited from the on-campus and off-campus communities,” she said.
Currently, Muslim students use places such as the ballrooms in the University Center (UC) and the Student Services Building for worship.
“[The space] is simply too small to house the hundreds or thousands of Muslims on campus,” Amir Zaher, senior, said. “It is on the last floor of the [Student Services] building and many people don’t feel very safe after sunset.”
In addition to providing needed services, a new Muslim center would serve educational purposes.
“It will be a great leap forward in clearing many of the impeding misconceptions about Islam,” he said.
With such a large amount of funding necessary, many Muslim students feel the new center may be beyond their scope, Zaher said.
“We need large contributors,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be through donations, but through advertisements, fundraising events, [or] showing more interest in the project.”
Jay Rooney can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.