Friday, February 23, 2007

Muslims' Request For Space Rejected

Athletic officials will not establish a designated prayer space for Muslim students at sporting events held at Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena, said John Mack, Northwestern's associate athletic director of external affairs.

Instead, officials will grant certain concessions, such as allowing prayer rugs into the stadiums and letting students pray in places that do not block traffic flow.

The decision came after Muslim students expressed a need for clean prayer areas in January. Associated Student Government passed a resolution asking the athletic department to meet with the Muslim-cultural Students Association to explore possible accommodations.

Mack met with Muslim students, ASG representatives and the university chaplain last month, and informed them in an e-mail last week of the athletic department's decision.

"I thought the meeting was productive," Mack said. "It was a good compromise for both sides."

Hibah Yousuf, McSA's ASG senator, said the decision was suitable, but not ideal.

"We had a hard time meeting with the athletic department at first, but they were very helpful once we met," said Yousuf, a Medill sophomore. "We're appreciative of their efforts in finding places for us to pray."

Muslims are required to pray five times daily, at specified times that sometimes occur during sporting events.

In its e-mail to McSA officials, the athletic department said they would inform their staff that Muslim students would be able to pray wherever they wish during sporting events, as long as they do not block traffic or interfere with game-day operations at the arenas.

Muslim students can bring prayer rugs and check them in the coat check room during basketball games. At football games, students will need to hold their prayer rugs with them because there aren't any coat check rooms at Ryan Field.

"We want to accommodate (Muslim students) based on religion," University President Henry Bienen told The Daily last week. "But at the same time, we want to preserve the practicalities of the space at Welsh-Ryan and Ryan Field."

McSA President Amir Siddiqui said the athletic department's decision "works for us."

"It's a good in-between solution," said Siddiqui, a Weinberg senior. "We understand that space is not always available."

Yousuf said she viewed the accommodations as the first step toward meeting the needs of Muslim students.

"It's suitable for now," Yousuf said, "but we'll brainstorm some more options."

Reach Paul Takahashi at
Can I brainstorm some options too?

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