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Home | Resources | Auburn Blog | Religious Dedication Leads to Interfaith Connections: Muslim Students Find a Home at Catholic Universities
Religious Dedication Leads to Interfaith Connections: Muslim Students Find a Home at Catholic Universities
By Common Ground Campaign
January 31, 2011
“Because it is an overtly religious place, it’s not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority…They have the same values we do.”
So states Reef Al-Shabnan, a 19-year-old Muslim political science major from Saudi Arabia, about the comfort she finds in the spiritual atmosphere of her school, Catholic University in Northeast Washington, D.C.
As William Wan at the Washington Post reports, there has been a sharp increase in recent years in the number of Muslim students enrolling at Catholic universities across the country. While the students cite many of the usual reasons for applying to and enrolling at the universities–great academic programs and beautiful campuses–they also note the vibrant religious culture that permeates both the institution and the student body. Wan writes:
“Echoing Islam’s conservative culture, [Catholic University] separates men and women in its dorms and imposes visiting hours. The university prohibits sex before marriage. Daily prayer and periodic fasting are common concepts.”
Shabnan and other students like her are finding such a religious environment attractive in locating a school that will be, for the next few years, a home away from home.
However, integrating into scholastic communities of Christians has not been without difficulty or obstacle. While some Catholic schools, such as Georgetown, have established prayer rooms, a Muslim-Christian understanding center, and Muslim student associations,others, such as Catholic University, have not. Muslim students following orthodox dietary restrictions must often look outside of school grounds for halal meat, reciting daily prayers and meditating in chapels and classrooms adorned with crucifixes is not exactly “ideal”, and the proposal of Ali Basiri, a Catholic University Iranian graduate student, for a Muslim students association to foster Muslim community and promote interfaith exchange was rejected by university administration.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these challenges, interfaith and intra-faith communities continue to grow at Catholic universities. With increased religious diversity amongst the school community, both students and administration are having to navigate and define their own religious identities and learn about and engage with others’. While the resulting reflective process can foster insularity and encourage distance between adherents to different faiths, it can also lead to respect for different traditions and a richer understanding of one’s own faith.
Kenny White, a 20-year-old sophomore from Annapolis and a friend of Basiri, explains:
“”We do this thing where he teaches me his prayers in Arabic, and I share with him the prayers I say as a Catholic..I’ve learned about God by learning about him and his own faith. It’s been a really important and beautiful part of being here.”
Basiri concurs–after four years of “studying in buildings named after Catholic leaders, in classrooms adorned with crucifixes, and with classmates often named after saints”, he states that his faith has grown and “[t]he face of my prophet and my God has changed…It is even more beautiful now.”
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