SF State Muslim students unhappy with shared prayer room, fight for their own space
For months, SF State’s Muslim Student Association has been advocating for a designated prayer room on campus in order to meet their religious needs.
October 17, 2022
A member of SF State’s Muslim Student Association took off their shoes and entered the designated prayer room at Rosa Parks Conference Room F in the Cesar Chavez Student Center. This is their usual after-class schedule.
As they entered the room, they noticed three students to their right. They were facing the corner with their shoes on, one laying on a prayer mat, the others with their knees on the mat and upper body leaning on chairs.
The students began to mutter phrases praising Satan.
They said this is just one of the many incidents that have transpired in the prayer room since the beginning of the fall semester.
“There’s so many things that have happened and it’s just disrespectful at this point,” said Faheemah Shaikh, the president of MSA. “No one talks about it. It’s all underground and they think that because we’re Muslims, we’re just going to sit here and stay quiet.”
After more than a year of Muslim students using the Prayer and Reflection Room in the Cesar Chavez Student Center for religious needs, they have become frustrated with students who have consistently ignored the space’s rules.
Since the space opened in November 2021, MSA has been working with SF State officials to find a permanent place for Muslim students to pray during school hours.
Former MSA board member Ruqaiyah Angeles, who started advocating for the prayer room over a year ago, wanted to create a place for Muslim students to perform Salat, the Muslim practice of praying five times a day, but the room is open to all students as a space to “meditate and reflect.”
“Every kind of organization has different needs,” Angeles said. “So of course, you’re going to ask for more specific different things, especially based on religion.”
Both Angeles and Shaikh are frustrated because they don’t know if Associated Students and SF State administration will offer them a permanent space.
“When we talked to them about having a permanent prayer space–– a space just for prayer, they made it a half-meditation room with yoga mats in there, defeating the purpose of it being a place to pray,” Angeles said. “They said ‘it’s temporary and it’s open to everybody’ – that’s not what we asked for.”
While administration has proposed solutions like setting up specific time slots for MSA to use the room for prayer, MSA does not see this as a solution that works for Muslim students.
“They were trying to ask us when we pray and suggested creating a built-in time for us – that’s not what we asked for,” Angeles said. “We don’t all pray at one o’clock or something. I don’t think they understand our religion and the disrespect that they give us.”
Angeles said that although rules around gender seating are posted, non-Muslims still tend to break this along with other rules pertaining to their religion, such as taking shoes off before entering.
On Sept. 29, MSA, an Associated Students board member, and the director of the Cesar Chavez Student Center met once again to discuss a permanent prayer room that would be solely for Muslim students. But Angeles said no progress was made.
“They give us excuses saying that young people don’t like to email back,” Angeles said. “I think it adds on pressure to hold them accountable because they often talk in circles and give us empty promises and say that they’re working on it, yet we’re still here for a petition we had a year ago.”
According to Angeles, earlier this month, President Lynn Mahoney apologized for MSA’s frustrations, assuring Angeles it is a campus priority and they will provide additional updates on Oct. 31.
Angeles said there is an easy fix to these recurring problems: give Muslim students their own room to pray.
“If we’re asking, advocating and putting in the time and energy towards it, why is it open to everyone?” Angeles asked. “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story stated that Faheemah Shaikh witnessed students praising Satan in the prayer room. The story has been updated to accurately reflect that a student in the Muslim Student Association, who prefers to remain nameless, experienced the event.
This story was updated on Oct. 18 to include new information.