Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are sending a number of students to U.S. universities ever since the United States greatly loosened restrictions put in place after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This influx has meant the installation of Muslim prayer rooms at some schools the students attend.
Two private, religiously affiliated schools are in the news this week for their prayer rooms: Texas Wesleyan University and the University of St. Thomas.
Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. A Saudi student, Mohammed Khalid M. Alshafei, asked for and received the prayer room in 2012, reports The Rambler, the schools’ student newspaper.
Alshafei argued that such a room is vital to Saudi culture because Saudis — all of whom are Muslim — pray five times each day.
Rev. Dr. Robert K. Flowers, Wesleyan’s chaplain, offered two main reasons for the place of Islamic worship.
“One, to show hospitality to our foreign students and, two, our campus needs to be open and tolerant of other faith traditions whether it is Islam, Hindu, Jewish, or otherwise,” the chaplain told The Rambler.
The Christian News Network is not at all happy about the prayer-room development. The website quotes Christian writer Janna Brock as accusing the Methodist school of “caving to Sharia.”
Meanwhile, about a thousand miles north, there’s a brand-spanking new Muslim prayer room at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.
The Catholic school has converted a room in a former seminary building into prayer space especially for Muslim students, reports Catholic Education Daily. There are also “Wudu” stations for adherents of Islam to wash their hands and feet ritualistically, as the religion requires.
The total cost for the prayer space and the Wudu stations was $60,000.
“There’s been a growth of Muslim students across the country in Catholic universities,” explained UST theology professor Terence Nichols. “We take religion seriously, and they’re accepted.”
Afnan Alowayyid, a Muslim student at the Catholic liberal arts school, expressed gratitude for the accommodation. “They didn’t have to do this,” she observed.
Alowayyid also noted that there’s no way on God’s green earth that any university in Saudi Arabia would reciprocate.
“Not in your wildest dreams. Sorry to say, but that’s the truth. That’s reality,” she admitted. “There is no other faith, other than Islam, that’s practiced in Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia sent 66,000 students to U.S. schools in 2011, according to The Wall Street Journal.