Bethany College Creates Prayer Room in Time for Ramadan
As the 2020 COVID-19 semester began, we were holding classes outside and Zooming in on one of our professors from the Gaza Strip for our “Interreligious Ethics” class. We were piloting an exciting new team-taught class with a Jewish, Christian, and Muslim professor: our class emphasized dialogue in the service of intersectional ethical issues and utilized portions of IFYC’s curricula.
One of the goals of the class was for students to serve the Bethany and wider community through interfaith dialogue and action. As the final project for the class, we wanted to do something that would make our campus a more inclusive, interreligious place. We knew that is If Israel would allow her travel, our co-teacher would need a prayer space once she got here. Additionally, we hoped that others would also use the space if it was set up.
Our students in the class, all Christians and non-affiliated students, met on Zoom with our Muslim professor, and they ascertained what we would need. We obtained prayer mats, curtains to separate prayer spaces, a Qibla indicator, and a Qur’an. The students divided into groups and we began to construct the space out of an empty office on our Religious Studies hallway. We publicized this initiative at a faculty meeting and were able to get some donations. One professor donated some calligraphy that came from her family to beautify the space. We installed a digital lock on the door to provide some security and privacy. We reached out to students who were Muslim who might want to use the space, but we did not think space got used that semester.
During Ramadan this semester, we know that multiple students are using the space, including some of our international students. We are happy that we have been able to offer this space of hospitality that also offers snacks and water to help students fasting and eating outside of normal cafeteria hours. Our students were all eager to meet our Fulbright professor but unfortunately, her permission to travel was denied, complicated by COVID and the political entanglements in the Gaza Strip.
The students are proud of their work, as it aligns with their interreligious values. Levi Goddard, a Religious Studies minor, says, “The inclusion of this prayer space solidifies what I’ve come to know about Bethany: diversity is the driving force of our education. Despite Bethany being a Christian-affiliated college, there is always room for other traditions. Our hope is that this prayer space offers solace and refuge for those of other traditions. At Bethany, there is always room for people of other cultures, religious beliefs, and practices. I am very proud of how this idea manifested into something tangible.”
Geoff Foster, a Religious Studies double major, says of the project, “This provides a way to help make Bethany more diverse with religious beliefs. When looking on the school website you don't see options for other religious beliefs outside of Christianity, and by adding a Muslim prayer space it provides another opportunity for a place to celebrate a different belief.” Jennifer Oberthur, also a Religious Studies double major, says, “It is important to understand the intricacies of religions not my own and to give others the opportunity to openly and freely practice their religions.”
At Bethany College, in a little town in West Virginia, our students, with the help of IFYC, have understood interfaith ethics by putting their interreligious values into action. They learned from differences and diversified their thinking. We have a prayer space to show for it that our students can use now and in the future.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.