New Islamic community center fills student need

Books written in Arabic adorn the wall at the new Islamic community center in Murray.

Books written in Arabic adorn the wall at the new Islamic community center in Murray. || Kristin Allen/Contributing photographer

Ibraheem Alkahtani, president of SSO, Sayez Alsalooli and Nesser Almasoud discuss ways to educate the student body about the Muslim religion. Their goal is to reflect a Muslim culture to their surrounding community that is not found on TV. || Kristin Allen/Contributing photographer

 Muslim students at Murray State now have a new Islamic community center at which to organize, worship and call their own.

The new Muslim religious center is located just off campus, on Coldwater Road, in a renovated day care center across the street from Baldy’s Grill.

Before the decision to move in January, students had first used a room in Clark College and then the bottom of Woods Hall for prayer, but both offered limitations for the growing Muslim student community.

One of the limitations was the size of the areas made available to students on campus. The other more pressing limitation to Muslim students was the availability of the spaces.

In the Muslim faith, followers offer up prayer five times daily corresponding with the different times of the day: morning, midday, afternoon, sunset and evening. Woods Hall, however, closes at 3 p.m. making communal prayer, which is pivotal, as Muslims see praying as a group to hold more merit, very difficult to organize. This facilitated a need to rent space in College Courts for students to meet and pray at after Woods Hall closed.

Ibraheem Alkahtani, president of the Saudi Student Organization (SSO), said the whole process of finding a place to move to and receiving the proper permits took about two years, although the idea of finding a

larger space in which to worship was with the group from its beginnings.

“The idea to move to a larger worship area has always come from the students,” Alkahtani said. “It was just a matter of finding someone to take that first step.”

Alkahtani said, during the week, 10-15 students will pray at the new facility at one time. On Fridays however the center is filled with 60-70 worshippers, because the day is especially important to Muslims. The word Friday, in Arabic, comes from the name for the special prayer that is done only on that day. The facility is also full on religious holidays and during other special meetings.

Members of the SSO are the largest users of the community center, and have a membership of approximately 300 students.

None of the money for the new center came from Murray State; the money was instead raised from donations by the members of the SSO and the Muslim Student Organization (MSO).

The SSO and the MSO manage the new community center and share it as their headquarters. It is through these two organizations that the move was made possible, particularly through the help from Alkahtani, Ann Beck, faculty adviser of the SSO, Abdul Yarali, adviser of the MSO, Abdualziz Almuaibed, president of the MSO and Ihsan Alkhatib, another adviser of the SSO.

Alkhatib said the new Islamic community center should not be seen as a political or religious statement, but is instead a good chance to find commonalities between religions, and a place to learn about Muslim culture.

“Most of what America understands about Muslim culture is from its negative portrayal on the news,” Alkhatib said. “But it’s like watching a bus accident on TV and thinking that you know everything about buses.”

Now that the SSO and MSO have the new center in which to organize, they plan on being more active in the community. Through volunteering, doing inter-faith work and holding fundraisers, the groups hope to reflect a Muslim culture to the surrounding community that they claim is not represented in the mass media.

Alkhatib said already they have been receiving emails from students and residents wanting to know more about the center and about Islam.

“People tell me, ‘I’ve never seen a Muslim’ or ask ‘is God the same as Allah?’” he said. “There is a definite difference between ignorance and a lack of information.”

Alkahtani said the new center’s first goal is not to be informative and this was not why the new center was created. He said its purpose is to act as a place to organize and worship, but if someone did have a question about the Muslim faith they could find answers through SSO and MSO members.

Luis Canales, director of the Institute for International Students, said the new Islamic center will be a big selling point for Murray State and will attract more international students to the campus. He said the Muslim students who use the new facility have already been very active in letting other Muslim students on campus know about the center and even other Muslim social clubs at other universities across the U.S.

“The best recruitment is word of mouth, from student to student,” Canales said. “I can talk about how great Murray is to prospective students, but as a member of the faculty, they expect me to say that. Hearing the experiences of other students is the best promotion.”

Canales said Murray is an attractive destination for international students because it is a safe, friendly, welcoming community, and the addition of the new community center and its success is a sign of that.

“Just 15 years ago there were only about 20 Muslim students at Murray,” Canales said, “and now numbers have gone through the roof.”

Both Alkhatib and Alkahtani said the school, staff and community of Murray have all been incredibly supportive and understanding of the group’s needs, and that they have not had any resistance to its opening.

“This center is an asset for the college, students, non-Muslims and the community,” Alkhatib said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer.