After over a year of requesting a prayer room, Muslim Student Association expresses frustrations at Associated Students board meeting
MSA members feel unsupported by SF State after continued disappointment over their effort to find a permanent prayer room.
November 17, 2022
Members of the Muslim Student Association and General Union of Palestine Students voiced their frustrations about SF State’s failure to provide a prayer room at Associated Students’ board meeting on Wednesday.
During the meeting’s open forum, MSA member Ruqaiyah Angeles spoke about her experience as a Muslim student at SF State and the continued disappointment she and other MSA members felt after more than a year of advocating for a prayer space.
“I would just like to say that as a Muslim student on campus, I do not feel supported or included or anything of that sort of priority when it comes to university staff,” Angeles said at the board meeting.
Angeles said that MSA is not advocating for an office space or its own personal prayer room, but a prayer room for SF State’s entire Muslim population. She added that not only were they promised a space by SF State President Lynn Mahoney more than a year ago, but they were also promised a Muslim Student Life Coordinator who has yet to be hired.
“To sit here and explain and educate every person on why it is important to have a dedicated, safe, clean respectful space to pray my five obligatory prayers every single day on this campus, for a campus that thrives off of our diversity, is disappointing,” Angeles said.
After fighting for a dedicated prayer space for so long, MSA has shifted its efforts to asking the university to increase safety measures at their temporary shared space.
“We have discussed keypad locks, keywatchers — things that can increase security because, at this point, it’s a safety issue,” Angeles said. “We’ve had men doing yoga and putting their private parts in front of women while praying, we’ve had women do satanic circles on the men’s side while men are praying.”
In her statement, Angeles called out Associate Vice President of Equity & Community Inclusion Frederick Smith for allocating Room 404 in the Student Services Building as a prayer space without consulting MSA board members.
“Whether we liked the room or not, it was going to be our dedicated prayer room,” Angeles said. “They made that decision themselves, they had no student input, they didn’t inform any of us before putting a work order in.”
Smith, who attended the meeting via Zoom, did not respond to student comments.
Angeles added that the fight for Muslim facilities on campus goes as far back as two decades ago when her parents were students on campus.
“We’re not coming in here and telling you to change the name of the building or that we want a million dollars for an event we’re doing at the end of the year,” Angeles said. “We’re asking for a prayer room to pray. One of the basic rights of being able to exercise the freedom to practice our religion.”
Angeles said MSA is willing to work with the AS board as long as they maintain clear communication and progress.
As her statement came to an end, she posed a question to the AS board.
An applause from the room followed her question.
AS Chief of Staff Iese Esera told Angeles she did a great job and invited the MSA board to a private lunch meeting with Mahoney on Nov. 30.
AS President Karina Zamora thanked Angeles over Zoom for her statement and said she would reach out to Mahoney to try and move this process forward.
President of GUPS Ashar, who preferred to be identified by her first name due to safety concerns, voiced her support for MSA’s efforts.
“Admin not understanding Muslim needs is kind of Islamophobic,” Ashar said. “When you walk outside or you go to the student center you’re going to see a lot more than eight Muslim students.”
Ashar and the other members of GUPS said that Muslim students need a safe place to pray that can properly facilitate more than just a couple of students at a time.
She added that it’s unfair for MSA to be the ones advocating for all Muslim students on campus, stressing the need for a Muslim student life coordinator.
President of MSA Faheemah Shaikh also spoke out at the meeting and called out Director of the Office of Diversity, Student Equity and Interfaith Programs Christian Lozano Cuellar.
“I’ve been in meetings with Christian, at the office of Diversity, I was like ‘we’re going to need prayer mats, hijabs and everything,’” Shaikh said. “He’s like, ‘oh, so you guys are going to need costumes to pray?’ I’m not lying he called our … hijabs costumes.”
During the meeting recess, AS Vice President of Facilities & Services Ersa Rao said she feels for MSA, but there is a process for room allocation in the Cesar Chavez Student Center.
Rao said a step was missed, which caused a lot of confusion for the AS board and that MSA should have gone to the operations committee meeting first to collect facts and data to bring to the AS board.
“I could feel the frustration MSA has — we do too,” Rao said. “They have brought it up to the board meeting a couple of times — But in the end, it’s gonna come to Facilities and Operations.”