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Opinion: UCLA must follow through with promise of prayer space on campus

The front of Kerckhoff Hall. UCLA must provide a more accessible and open space for Muslim students to pray. (Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)

By Sarah Karim

Feb. 3, 2022 12:36 a.m.

All Bruins deserve to be comfortable while observing their faith on campus.

Unfortunately, with UCLA’s lack of prayer space, that’s not the case.

The Muslim Student Association at UCLA has been trying to acquire a sufficient prayer space on campus for quite some time. Since the ’90s, Muslim Bruins have been praying in a loading zone behind Kerckhoff Hall and Engineering IV. Despite extensive dialogue between Associated Students UCLA and MSA for many years, the university has not made much progress. Hamza Mirza, a fourth-year history student and treasurer of MSA, said this is because the university has insisted it cannot favor one religion over another.

Right now, ASUCLA is in the initial stage of designing and creating an outdoor meditation, reflection and prayer space on the south side of Ackerman Union, according to an emailed statement from UCLA spokesperson Bill Kisliuk. It will be a space open to all students, and ASUCLA has been working with students to make it happen, Kisliuk added in the statement.

However, a timeline for this project has yet to be established. In fact, Kisliuk said a timeline will only be decided after decisions about design and furnishings are made – which may take up to two months.

UCLA must follow through on its promise to provide a space where students can safely pray, regardless of the weather or any other outdoor distractions. It’s unfair that in the case of an unforeseen circumstance, Muslim students must uproot themselves and find a new prayer space.

The current meditation space is open to everyone, but it is mostly used by Muslims since praying five times a day is a mandatory tenet in Islam. However, the current limited outdoor space can impede Muslim students’ worship because of a lack of privacy and unpredictable weather.

Praying out in the open is not exactly a safe situation for some Muslim students.

“(Being indoors would) make it a little more isolated, so that you don’t have people passing by,” Mirza said. “There’s less potential of harassment, especially for women.”

Mirza added that if the prayer space were to be indoors, it would most likely be more comfortable. Having a larger space would also make it easier for students to focus on their prayer and reflection. UCLA is a large campus and has many rooms available. An indoor space would offer students more protection during an emergency, such as an active shooting.

On top of comfort and security, being outside presents the challenge of unpredictable weather.

“It can get hard sometimes if it’s really cold or if it’s raining,” says Amina Nakhuda, a fourth-year communication student. “Then we have to find other accommodations … to pray.”

It’s welcoming news that UCLA is finally willing to dedicate a prayer space for students, but it will not be the one funding the new space. Instead, the University Religious Conference, an interfaith organization that encourages and funds religious aspirations on campus from numerous faiths, has allocated $45,000 for a new prayer space thus far.

It’s unacceptable that students had to discuss options with ASUCLA for years, only to receive funding through a third party. As a large public institution, it should be UCLA’s responsibility to listen to students’ needs and act upon them.

“I do wish that UCLA was … faster to come up with a solution that would actually help all Muslims,” Nakhuda said.

Despite supposed plans in the works, students at MSA who are currently trying to secure this space may not be able to use it before they graduate. Mirza said he believes the prayer space may not be ready until after current freshmen have graduated.

Although it’s great that UCLA is finally taking steps to create a proper prayer space on campus for Muslims, it’s beyond disappointing that it’s taken so long.

Finding a sufficient space should not have taken more than 20 years. The long and tedious process of advocating for such a space runs counter to UCLA’s mission of inclusivity.

It’s understandable why the Muslim community might distrust promises of a timeline in the works. With two decades of failing to meet student and faculty members’ religious needs, even a timeline might not be enough to actually convince those affected that things will change.

As long as there isn’t sufficient prayer space on campus, UCLA must be scrutinized and held accountable.

But for now, Muslim students will have no choice but to continue waiting for the prayer space they deserve.

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