Press Releases

CAIR Calls on Maryland University to Provide Reasonable Prayer Accommodations for Muslims on Campus, Offer Cultural Competency Training for Staff

Civil Rights Groups Schedules #LetThemPray Twitterstorm Urging Community to Support Students  

(BALTIMORE, Md., 9/17/2021) –  The Maryland office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, America’s leading Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, announced today that it is calling on the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) to provide reasonable religious accommodations to its Muslim students including granting adequate prayer space on campus, designating storage for prayer rugs, and coordinating cultural competency training for its staff at the Center for Wellness.

Since the first day of the Fall 2021 semester began on August 31, Muslim students enrolled at the university have been struggling to find ample, clean, consistently and readily accessible space for the five daily congregational prayers. 

In a letter sent to UMBC’s Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Nancy Young on September 7, 2021, CAIR’s Maryland Director Zainab Chaudry said in part: 

For over a decade, the Interfaith Center (IFC) served as a critical staple for religious organizations all across campus, including the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) who used the space not only for the daily prayers, but also for community building and social activities that facilitated bonding.

With the IFC no longer available for use, Muslim students at your university are struggling to find a proper alternative space that would suffice their needs as an organization and as a faith community on campus. Commuter students are currently forced to leave campus, drive home or to a local mosque, pray, and subsequently return to campus for classes and activities. Not only is this inconvenient, it drains valuable resources, such as gas money, and cuts into studying and class time. This is placing unnecessary hardship on them. 

While I understand that temporary space was granted for prayers, it unfortunately is inadequate and unsatisfactory for several reasons. Some of the daily prayers fall outside of the 9am-5pm window, during which it is accessible. This is also a shared space which can be reserved by other students. So even when hours are extended, in the event the space is reserved, Muslim students would again not have a comfortable place to pray.

I hope you will agree that, especially during these tumultuous times, emotional and mental well-being must be a priority for every student, including Muslims. Faith is an enormous part of many of our students’ lives, and enables them to navigate the countless challenges and stresses they encounter on a daily basis.  

Students who live on campus tell CAIR that the lack of adequate prayer space is even more challenging for them. They share living quarters with roommates, and the lack of privacy interferes with their ability to worship. Without a designated, routinely accessible prayer area, they are “left helpless on a campus that is supposed to provide for their needs” and this can lead to “students losing their faith.”

The civil rights group is calling on UMBC to:

1. Provide a clean, private, ample, centrally and routinely accessible space for Muslim prayer services, preferably open 24 hours but at least 6am-12am (midnight)

2. Provide ample storage space designated for prayer rugs (currently the bulk of this is being stored in a private residence a significant drive away from campus)

3. Offer cultural competency training for staff at the Center for Wellness 

The UMBC Muslim Students’ Association’s (MSA) cabinet said to CAIR in a statement: 

“As the UMBC MSA and representatives for the Muslim student body, we are deeply disappointed with UMBC administration for their inaction towards committing to the religious needs of hundreds of Muslim students on campus. Moreover, we are deeply saddened by the uncomfortable atmosphere created by the staff of the i3b, through harassment and other negligence. We have tried to find solutions with the administration for weeks and yet they have failed to provide us with a solution. This clearly shows a lack of dedication towards diversity and equity within the current administration.”

“Every institution of higher learning has a responsibility to provide reasonable religious accommodations for its student population, and UMBC is no exception,” said CAIR’s Maryland Director Zainab Chaudry. “The ordeal of not having a safe, clean, adequate, and consistently accessible prayer space is a distraction that has caused many students distress. We believe that UMBC is committed to student excellence and celebrating diversity, and that it has the resources to grant these requests. Working collaboratively, we have an opportunity to demonstrate this institution’s commitment to its students’ success, well-being and religious freedom. We respectfully urge UMBC administrators to expedite resolving this situation so these students can return their focus to their studies as soon as possible.”  

CAIR has launched a social media campaign #letthempray urging the larger community and allies to tweet @UMBC urging them to address these concerns. 

In December 2019, CAIR applauded administrators at Morgan State University in Baltimore for granting its request to provide a convenient, clean and comfortable space for Muslim students to pray on campus. 

SEE: CAIR Applauds Maryland HBCU for Providing Prayer Space for Muslim Students on Campus

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

END

CONTACT: CAIR Office in Maryland Director Zainab Chaudry, zchaudry@cair.com, 410-971-6062

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