I just received this comment from someone who describes himself as being the former president of the Muslim Student Association (the Ahmadiyya part being new to me) at George Mason University. It's interesting to note that, yet again, those of us who have spoken out against the MSA's behaviour to date are accused of "misunderstanding" Islam, whereas any attempt by the MSA to expand this space (which was previously claimed by the MSA to be for an Islamic education center) can only be understood as innocent in nature.
I can't possibly do it justice, so be sure to read it for yourself:
I'm surprised to find this site mentioning some of the comments I made, and it seems that many people are misunderstanding Islam once again. If a couple of Muslims did kick out a person of another faith, then what does that have to do with Islam? Since when did they come to represent Islam? Do I need to mention witchcraft and how Christians behaved as a representation of Christianity? As far as someone saying that other religions do teach how to pray, then he missed the point. There is no other religion that emphasizes prayer as much as Islam and teaches how to go about it so clearly. From the ablution before prayer up to the prayer itself, Islam has made prayer crystal clear. I think that it might benefit the discussion for me to post the answers to the questions that the reporter asked me on that day so that people will get a better idea of at least my views (the former president of the AMSA) on this issue:
Thanks for asking for my input regarding these issues. What I'll say is strictly in my own view, so please note as such.
Have you or members of your religious organization used this space before?
I have used the meditation area before, as have the people of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Student Association.
Usually, the meditation space is used in between classes at prayer time. It is a very handy space for Muslims as it is mandatory upon every Muslim to pray five times a day.
Do members of your group keep their belongings in this space?
Members of our group keep no belongings in this space.
Is the space big enough for your needs?
Yes, the area is large enough to fit our needs, but as the Muslim population in GMU is so large it would not hurt to increase the area.
Do you think it needs to be expanded?
Not necessarily, but during Ramadan when Muslims are even more attentive to saying their prayers and doing it in congregation, the area becomes a bit small. The solution is to temporarily apportion another part of GMU during prayer time, and so expansion is not really an issue as such.
[Ed.:—Here's a good followup question, Luqman: What is stopping
the Muslim Student AssociationMuslim student groups (corrected per Luqman's comment below, though notice that my same basic point is unchanged) from going through the standard room-reservation process that all of the other religious groups on campus are forced to use to get space for additional attendees?]
In the current set-up of the room, there are dividers separating genders. Is this a necessary component to daily prayers?
As long as there is no free-mixing of genders, then perhaps women can stay behind men while praying without a divider--although this is not the most wise way to go about things. A divider is meant to separate men and women from looking at each other and getting distracted, and so a divider becomes an important part of promoting concentration in prayer. If asked why women are not allowed to pray with men or in front of men, then the answer is that concentration in prayer and developing a link to God is compromised in such situations. With women standing next to men or bending and prostrating in front of them, the attentions get focused elsewhere and not on God.
Islam is a practical religion, it does not only tell you what you should not do but explains how you can go about not doing it. Even in the Bible it says that punishment for adultery is death [Ed.:—Name a single Christian nation in the world today that carries out this punishment. Anywhere.] and that even if a person looks at a woman in a lustful way he is an adulterer. In the Holy Qur'an, God commands that both men and women look down when in the company of the other (unless married or related) and that women should cover their beauty so that men will not have impure thoughts about them. The teachings are the same in the Holy Bible and the Holy Qur'an, but how to carry out the teaching is explained in the Holy Qur'an.
If a divider is put up in between men and women, it is not because of any gender inequality issues, but because Muslims thought the best way to keep their thoughts and glances chaste was not to even give rise to the opportunity to see the other gender while praying. So God bless those people who put in those dividers, the dividers have been a boon for the concentration of any person who desires their whole attention be focused on the One God who not only commanded us to do something for our own good, but gave us great examples and role models to follow by way of sending prophets such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
What is the reasoning for it- are there religious commands to the sort?
Explained previously, but the simple reasoning is to keep thoughts and glances chaste as well as focus being paid towards prayers rather than some girl or guy. If we look even deeper into it, then some people may prefer the divider so that women don't see a guy praying and start thinking he is very religious or vice versa and use it as a method for impressing each other. Prayers are meant to be solely for God as a method of establishing a connection with Him. There should be no ulterior motives involved. God is the King of kings, so when going into His court it is necessary all attention be focused upon Him. The main point being is that concentration is vital in prayer.
I have heard that there are footbaths in the Johnson Center bathrooms set up for a ceremonial washing of the feet before prayer. Is this true?
Muslims perform ablution and at the end of ablution it is necessary to wash feet three times up to the ankles, so it is necessary to wash the feet--at least in the morning. If the feet are washed in the morning then socks are worn after taking a shower or ablution, then it is not necessary to go about washing your feet when performing ablution the rest of the day. As long as a person is wearing shoes with socks, then wetting your hands with a little bit of water and going over your socks is all that is necessary to perform this last act of ablution. Of course, some Muslims might prefer to wash their feet each time they peform ablution, but that is completely up to them. Islam is a practical religion as I have said before, and so God has already made provisions for doing ablution in every kind of situation. Wetting the hands and just going over the socks once as the last act of ablution is like God giving me a glass of lemonade on a hot summe r day, He is just trying to make things easier for me.
In some cases though, even non-Muslims may feel their feet are smelly and the need to wash their feet rises up in their minds. There is no problem with this, as cleanliness is a part of faith. So all the blame should not go on Muslims for going out of their way to wash their feet. We thank those people who clean their feet from the bottoms of our noses.
Do the members of your group use it?
I am not sure if any members of my group use it, but I do not.
What need do these address?
[Ed.:—No response was listed here.]
The need to keep your feet clean?
What do you think about the articles written on this issue in the past in Broadside, USA Today, and others?
I guess I must be out of the loop, I don't remember reading any articles concerning this. If there has been an issue over meditation areas then it is pretty senseless. A meditation area fulfills a need. Muslims, no doubt, use these areas almost exclusively but Islam is the only religion that describes how to pray, when to pray, and how many times to pray. Other religions do not have such a clear teaching about prayer, which is why Muslims use these areas so much in proportion to people of other faiths. Anyhow, God bless anyone who goes to a meditation or whatever area the with sole purpose in mind to pray to God or meditate in their own way.
[Ed.:—It should be noted that his remark about Islam being the only religion that describes how to pray is a lie. Christians are instructed by Christ, in Matthew 6:5-6, to "go into your room, 1 close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you." Not to be too brash, but in my opinion
the MSAMuslim student groups would be wise to heed this advice from the Prophet Isa, rather than attempting to bully GMU into meeting their demands. Update: Reader Sean Osborne provides a far more detailed list below—Thanks, Sean!]
Do you think the furor over the issue is valid?
The furor over this issue is not really valid. If there is a meditation area that is great, if not that is fine. No one can stop Muslims from praying. [Ed.:—Can you point to a single instance where a critic of
the MSA's policies on campus(Again, per Luqman's comment, this refers to the policy of taking over public space for solely Islamic use, not the MSA or AMSA as a particular group.) have even suggested that we stop Muslims from praying?] If Mason or another place does not provide a place [Ed.:—Again, why can the MSAMuslim student groups not "provide" their own place, like the rest of us?] to pray/meditate, then Muslims will start praying in between tables and chairs [Ed.:—... or perhaps you can humble yourselves enough to use reserved rooms?] and it would probably make the people who are in a furor even more furious. It hurts me that people are so misunderstood about Islam, [Ed.:—Misdirecting lie. (Luqman: The problem is not that we "misunderstand" Islam. The problem is that we understand it all too well. As I said above, it is my understanding that the Ahmadiyya is a more moderate, less aggressive form of Islam—If that is truly the case, then I have no "beef" with you or your compatriots.)] because the prayers some Muslims do might even be for the other students at GMU. When some Muslims pray for success on their tests they might also include other students and their success as well. After all, being religious means that we should like for others what we like for ourselves.
Why do you think so many people at Mason are angry about this?
I'm not really sure what the anger is about. If people are getting mad that Muslims are praying and utilizing a space given by the school for prayer, then it seems to be a very unusual thing to get angry over. In reality, I think that there is a prejudice against Islam by the people who get angry at these petty things. I hope that these people will take the time out to learn more about Islam and come into contact with Muslims. Our organization openly discusses the similiarities between different faiths and welcomes any questions regarding Islam. If there are specific issues that need to be addressed then a question and answer session can be conducted where people may freely ask any question that is on their mind concerning Islam. Perhaps knowledge will open the doors to better understanding between those who oppose Islam and Muslims themselves. As far as I'm concerned, I love to answer questions about Islam by people who are intereste d. People who won't give Muslims a chance, keep an open mind and ask any question you like, I will try to answer it as best I can.
[Ed.:—I think I have been very clear since the beginning of this debacle that I am angry over the unequal treatment given by the school to
the MSAMuslim student groups, and the fact that the MSAthese same Muslim student groups refuse to go through the same channels that other student religious groups go through to reserve large spaces. While they've backed off from it publically, the initial demands by the MSA (NOTE: the previous does apply specifically to the MSA.) that the school build for them—at my expense—an enlarged Islamic resource area is what caused this to be so offensive to non-Muslims.]
What do you think of the existence of the Meditation Space- in your opinion, does it abide by the law or violate it?
I don't really see how having an area to pray or meditate would violate the law. Perhaps I don't understand the basis behind the question.
[Ed.:—Thanks to decades of aggression against religion by the American court system—for good or for bad—the basis behind the question is who pays for said area. Privately-constructed areas are generally lawful, whereas areas built with tax funding are generally not.]
If the Meditation Space did not exist, where would people in your organization go to pray?
Anywhere. Praying is mandatory upon every Muslim five times a day. Any open space would do. [Ed.:—Again he (Luqman, this is directed specifically at you—Care to respond?) neglects to even consider using the school's room reservation system, which serves the rest of us quite well.] God is everywhere so we can worship Him anywhere, although we would try to take care that peoples movements would not be disturbed while we were praying. Loving our neighbors is a wonderful commandment, so we would not want to prevent our neighbors from getting to class!
Would you be in support of a new Spirituality Center being built elsewhere in the Johnson Center with separate rooms in it that can be reserved by groups for activities such as prayer, yoga, praise or meditation?
Yes, any center built for the promotion of spirituality is fine by me.
[Ed.:—Notice that this is not the same position that the MSA was taking back in April, when it was calling for an Islamic education centre to be built in the expanded space.]
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to address these issues, but please remember these were all my own opinions.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Student Association