By Nader Ramadan
Muslim students at the American University in Cairo have been circulating a petition aimed at getting the school to reserve more areas on campus for daily prayers.
Ola Ismail, a business student, is currently heading the petition drive, which calls for the university to make efforts to assign areas on the new campus for prayer.
“We are patient because we know that some buildings are not yet ready,” Ismail said, clutching a sheaf of petition papers. “We are trying first by negotiations.”
The group has yet to hand in their petition, but the university is already working to create prayers accommodations.
At a forum on Monday, AUC President David Arnold said new prayer areas in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences building, and the School of Sciences and Engineering would be added by next month.
But the Muslim students are asking for more than just a place to pray, Ismail said. The petition also asks for providing students with prayer places that are comfortable, and air-conditioned.
Washrooms on campus are also without facilities for wudu, the ritual ablutions required before prayer. Without separate washbasins, worshippers are forced to wash themselves in the sinks, leaving the floors wet.
Currently, the only designated prayer area on campus is located on the roof of the Moustafa Core Academic Center, where students pray under scant cover, enduring the midday heat of New Cairo’s desert sun.
Without drinking water and little shade, students who are fasting said they found it difficult to pray in that environment, and are concerned about the risk of dehydration and sunstroke.
“We were expecting it [the prayer room] to be ready for Ramadan,” said Norhan Salama, an Intergrated Marketing Communications graduating senior. “It is not air-conditioned, but what can we do?”
Some students complained about being kicked out of the prayer room by workers.
Asmaa El-Zohairy, a Broadcasting Journalism senior, said she was told to leave the Core prayer area by workers who claimed that the area was not be used for prayer. Now, El-Zohairy finds a quiet space in the study room in the library to perform her daily prayers.
“Workers were not happy because they said this [Core building prayer area] is not a place for prayer,” El Zohairy said.
The shortage of areas for worship has led some campus workers to also seek other places to pray.
A regular sight in the dusty courtyard of the School of Business, Economics, and Communications are workers kneeling in prayer on small blue and green straw mats. Some use chairs as a barrier between the worshippers and people entering the building.
Security guards and workers sitting down in the shade and reciting the Holy Qur’an are other examples of the devout behavior during the month of Ramadan, which started just before the semester began.
Muslims believe daily prayers are one of the main pillars in their faith, and are required to perform them in a clean area. Many put a special emphasis on prayer during the month of Ramadan, and some Muslims believe without fulfilling the daily prayer requirement, their fast could be rendered invalid.
Ismail seized on this point, explaining the petition is not just for students, but for everybody.
“It is something related to the whole student body, but even professors should participate,” she said.