Students establish prayer room on campus


Student Aathif Shamail and his friends sought to find a private place to pray. They previously had to use library study rooms.

Every day, Samih Abdeljabbar goes to the library at 3 p.m. for his evening prayer in between classes. Most of the time, he finds none of the private study rooms open.

Students who need a private space to pray like Abdeljabbar will be able to use the prayer and meditation room in Webster Hall when it opens on March 21.

Transfer student and Student Government Association (SGA) member Aathif Shamail said he established the prayer room so students could have a designated place to pray. Otherwise, the students try to find an open study room in the library to use.

Aathif Shamail poses with the quran. Shamail transferred to Webster from schools that already had a prayer room. Photo by Vanessa Jones

Shamail said he saw a need for a private prayer space for international students such as himself. Shamail and his family are from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“For international students who live in predominantly Christian or Muslim countries, prayer is a strong part of their lives,” Shamail said. “When you move, you lose a sense of culture and religion, a sense of being. We’re trying to make them feel more at home.”

Shamail and Abdeljabbar practice Islam. They both pray five times a day.

Abdeljabbar said most of his teachers accommodate for his prayer schedule. Sometimes he’d leave class for five minutes, Abdeljabbar said.

Shamail said everyone he has met at Webster respects his religion. Islam has been attacked in other places of the world.  A terrorist in New Zealand recently killed practicers of Islam.

New Zealand police charged Brenton Tarant for murder after shootings at two separate mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Forty-nine people died and 50 others were injured.

“I think we as humans need to realize at the end of the day, we all love the same,” Shamail said.  “We’ll all have kids, we all have a mother and father. We have a lot of things that are so common- we don’t have to fight.”

Prayer brings peace to Shamail, he said.

“Prayer for me is being grateful to God for what he has given us and also finding comfort and solace in God with everyday struggles and whatnot,” Shamail said.

Shamail said he wanted the prayer room to be a safe space for people of all religions to use.  

SGA member David Gunderson helped establish the room. Gunderson said he’ll use the room to meditate.

“It’s not just a prayer room,” Gunderson said. “We wanted to see it as more of a prayer and meditation kind of place. It would be a nice place for people to create a community around meditative activities.”

Gunderson said he became involved with the prayer room after he saw Shamail pray in the SGA office in the University Center

Shamail expressed to Gunderson the need for a designated space for prayer. Gunderson said he wholeheartedly agreed with that

Shamail and Gunderson worked on a proposal for the room together. They gave the proposal  to John Buck, the dean of students, at the end of last semester.

Buck spread the word about the prayer room and that helped immensely, Gunderson said.

“Working with John Buck was very easy,” Gunderson said. “I was honestly surprised by the amount of support they showed– the willingness they had to accomodate to these kind of student needs.”

Abdeljabbar said he is glad students now have a space to pray, instead of struggling to find empty rooms.

“I mean finally,” Abdeljabbar said. “We only have to build the habit of praying in the prayer room. We’re so used to going to the library, but to have a place to do it is really nice.”

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