As part of Islam Awareness Week 2017, the Muslim Students’ Association hosted a Prayer on the Lawn Tuesday on Stafford Commons. The event welcomed approximately 35 people, with both Muslim and non-Muslim students participating in the evening prayer, called Asr.
Rakan DiarBakerli, a graduate student studying art and design, recited the prayer, and later led the discussion on what prayer means and why Muslims pray. He started the discussion by explaining that each of the four parts (called rak’ah) of the prayer consists of reciting passages from the Quran, the holy book of Islam, and physical rituals including kneeling and prostrating.
“When you put yourself down on a low level and put your face — the nobility of a human — on the ground, you’re lowering yourself in the presence of the most High and the most powerful,” DiarBakerli said. “It’s a mixture of physical worship and spiritual worship.”
Safi Ahmed, a senior studying computer science, equated prayer to a break during a game.
“If you’re in the game, and you get tired, you take a break and get refreshment,” Ahmed said. “That’s what prayer is to us.”
The prayer began with the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer before students lined up on a tarp facing the direction of Mecca to pray. The Adhan was performed by Mohammad Omary, president of MSA and a junior studying chemical engineering.
Mohanad Alsaftawi, a junior studying materials science and engineering and one of the event organizers, explained that prayer, which happens at least five times a day, is one of the essential parts of Islam and is one of the five pillars of the faith.
“We are required as Muslims to, as soon as the time comes, find an appropriate area in a clean, undisturbed area, and pray in it, whether that’s in the side of a classroom, or on a grassy field somewhere,” Alsaftawi said.
He said that the event was in part meant to make public Muslim prayer less alien to people, adding that many do not understand the ritual and are sometimes scared by it.
“The idea behind the event is to just normalize the prayer, normalize the expression — the physical prayer in public — so that people understand why we do it, how we do it, and they can come here and ask questions,” Alsaftawi said.
According to the MSA, the purpose of Islam Awareness Week is to educate students — particularly non-Muslims — about the religion and culture of Islam, and the rituals of practicing Muslims.
“I feel like people see this on the campus and they see it on the media but they don’t know what it is, and they associate it with some violent act, but this is just prayer, this is a regular act of worship,” said Ahmed, one of the organizers of the event.
Ahmed said that non-Muslim students were encouraged to participate in the prayer by lining up and following the movements. The event was primarily held to raise awareness about Muslim prayer.
The majority of students participating were Muslim students who are a part of MSA, but some non-Muslim students participated as well. Many students came to observe and support the event without direct participation in the prayer.
The event is new for MSA, and MSA president Omary said that he hoped the event would create visibility for Muslim students on campus.
“As Muslims, there seems to be quite a negative connotation with what is seen on television, what is heard from sources, so we just want visibility,” Omary said. “We want people to see that we’re Muslims, and although we have rituals that we perform, we go to the same school, we do about the same things.”
Many nearby students appeared to be unaware of the event taking place until it began. Emily Ruble, a freshman studying social work, said she wasn’t expecting the event, but that it was “cool” to see it happen.
“I’m a Christian, so prayer for me is more open and free — like, you can do it whenever, wherever,” Ruble said. “I’m not entirely sure if the prayer that I do as a Christian is the same — I know they’re praying to Allah, we’re praying to God — but I’m interested in what they pray about, because I don’t know.”
Joelle Fuchs, a junior studying biological sciences, attended the event to support her Muslim friends who were participating. Fuchs said it was a “super powerful” and “empowering” event, for those observing, but also those participating, as a statement of Muslim belonging.
“As a Muslim, we do pray five times a day, and we do it every day,” said Zainab Homoud, a freshman studying biomedical engineering. “It’s part of my daily life, and without it, I might die. It has a major effect on my soul and my body.”
When asked what she hoped this event would achieve, Homoud said, “Union.”