Reverend Greg McGonigle and the head of the Fletcher Islamic Society Mariya Ilyas sit in the new meditation room on Feb. 23. (Max Lalanne / The Tufts Daily)

New prayer room in Fletcher School provides convenience and community

Tufts opened a multifaith meditation and prayer room, or musallah, inside the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy earlier this month. The room is intended for use by Tufts’ Muslim community, but is open to use by people of all faiths and was organized by a group of both Muslim and non-Muslim students, according to Jack Whitacre (F’16).

According to a 2015 Daily article, the construction of the prayer room follows that of Tufts’ first musallah, which was opened in Curtis Hall in 2015.

The creation of the space was spearheaded by Tufts Muslim Chaplain Celene Ibrahim, who was concerned about the lack of availability of prayer spaces for members of the Muslim community at the Fletcher School.

“I was aware that Muslim students in Fletcher were having to find little corners in which to pray between their classes and events,” Ibrahim told the Daily in an email. “The university generously constructed a prayer space in Curtis Hall, which was extremely convenient to the many Muslim engineering and computer science students, but it was too far across campus to serve the students, faculty and staff of Fletcher on a daily basis.”

This concern was echoed by Seher Vora, a Fletcher School student who actively uses the prayer space.

“As a Muslim, I do try my best to pray five times a day, but it’s a bit hard when you’re running around from place to place, and the other prayer room on campus is all the way across campus at Curtis Hall,” Vora said. “It’s really nice to have a space close to us that I can go and use and then it doesn’t become inconvenient.”

According to Vora, although Muslims do not necessarily need to complete prayers and ablutions (ritual washing that accompanies prayer) in a designated space, it is often difficult and uncomfortable to find a suitable location for prayer.

“If there’s an empty room or just an empty corner I could definitely go and pray there,” said Vora, “but I think a lot of times, it doesn’t necessarily put people off, but makes them feel awkward at times to do prayer in public.”

The space contains certain features intended to enhance the experience of worshippers, such as carpets and an area for performing ablutions, according to Ibrahim and Vora.

“Performing ritual washing and prayers several times a day is one of the most central components of Islamic spiritual practice,” Ibrahim said.

The room also contains features and accommodations that increase comfort within the space regardless of faith, such as pillows for people who want a place to meditate or relax, according to Vora.

“I think people like to use it as a meditation space as well, to use apps like Headspace or mindfulness apps like that to just sit and get away from the hustle and bustle for five minutes or so,” Vora said.

Although the financial statements for the new project have not yet been finalized, the Fletcher School did not have any serious trouble completing the project because they repurposed an existing room rather than adding a new room, according to Valerie Wencis, the director of communications, public relations and marketing for the Fletcher School.

“We were very fortunate to be able to make use of an existing resource,” Wencis said.

The project was completed very quickly. It was first proposed in fall 2016 and recently opened, according to Vora. Ibrahim and Vora both said that they were satisfied with the recent actions taken by Tufts and Fletcher administrators to accommodate Muslim students and faculty within the Tufts community.

“The administration at Fletcher was a joy to work with in designing the space, and their attention to detail is apparent to anyone who visits,” Ibrahim said.

Likewise, Vora said that she appreciates the community spaces currently available on campus.

“What [Tufts] has here already is amazing, you have the Muslim House, I went there for dinner a couple of weeks ago, the Interfaith Center, the Friday services are wonderful and the community is very approachable,” Vora said.

Importantly, according to Ibrahim, the new space helps to foster a much-needed sense of community among Muslims both at the Fletcher School and across the Tufts campus.

“Having a strong spiritual community is key to Islamic practice, and this sense of community is all the more important for international students and others who are far from their home support networks.”

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