By Lalleyah Camara
June 20, 2023
Interfaith prayer rooms, common in hospitals and airports, are not prevalent in schools, especially public schools. Students often have to push school administrations for a place to worship or meditate. So, what happens when administrations begin to downsize these prayer spaces? Does that count as a threat to religious freedom? What message does this send to students?
Baruch College students have been protesting for a new, larger prayer space since the downsizing of their previous one in 2018 and again last fall. They now argue that the space in which they pray now, besides being too small, is not a proper prayer space as it is in an area intended for student activities, and is thus unsuitable for religious needs.
Students of all faiths are now protesting alongside Baruch’s Muslim Student Association for the construction of a Multi-Faith Space. Baruch College sophomore Ibrahim Rauf said in regard to the college’s current prayer space, “We have no other space to pray. This is the only space we have.” He has stated that the space they have now is too small to accommodate other faiths as well as Muslims. He explained, “When you see so many people of one religion, you’re not going to feel comfortable to go there and do what you need to do.” According to Rauf, the number of Muslim students who go to Baruch is large, and they do not want students of other faiths to feel uncomfortable or displaced when the multi-faith room is filled with Muslim students during prayer times. Creating discomfort between students of different faiths by having a multi-faith room that is too small is detrimental to student morale. Thus, students from all CUNYs are gathering to speak at a town hall with their school leaders in hopes of bringing true, lasting change to the state of their prayer rooms.
When school administrations decide that prayer rooms or interfaith worship spaces should be downsized, they send a specific message regarding the importance of such areas. Although that importance is subjective, it is also critical to remember that those spaces are majorly used by people who practice two of the three largest religions in the world. Islamic Studies High School Teacher and Youth Worker Yassine Taoufik explains, "[I]t is crucial for students to find a spiritual/emotional tranquility within a school.” He continues, “It is to the benefit of any school to have faith clubs and to value them, as it keeps the peace and teaches a lot of moral and spiritual values.” As schools have proven to be a haven for students, students need to have a place to practice their religions on campus.
Schools and other institutions must value the importance of religious diversity to avoid what can be considered a threat to religious freedom. Students have a right to practice their religions and should not have to fight for something that being in this country already gives them a right to. Emphasizing such an issue allows us, as a society, to be more open, tolerant, and accepting of each other, embodying the values that this country was built on.