Last week, I visited a Muslim place of worship. A schedule for Islam’s five daily prayers was posted at the entrance, near a sign requesting that shoes be removed. Inside, a barrier divided men’s and women’s prayer space, an arrow informed worshippers of the direction of Mecca, and literature urged women to cover their faces.
Sound like a mosque?
The place I’m describing is the “meditation room” at Normandale Community College, a 9,200-student public institution in Bloomington.
Until recently, the room was the school’s only usable racquetball court. College administrators converted the court into a meditation room when construction forced closure of the previous meditation room.
A row of chest-high barriers splits the room into sex-segregated sections. In the smaller, enclosed area for women sits a pile of shawls and head-coverings. Literature titled “Hijaab [covering] and Modesty” was prominently placed there, instructing women on proper Islamic behavior.
They should cover their faces and stay at home, it said, and their speech should not “be such that it is heard.”
“Enter into Islaam completely and accept all the rulings of Islaam,” the tract read in part. “It should not be that you accept what entertains your desires and leave what opposes your desires; this is from the manners of the Jews.”
“[T]he Jews and the Christians” are described as “the enemies of Allaah’s religion.” The document adds: “Remember that you will never succeed while you follow these people.”
A poster on the room’s door advertised a local lecture on “marriage from an Islamic perspective,” with “useful tips for marital harmony from the Prophet’s … life.” Other fliers invited students to join the Normandale Islamic Forum, or participate in Ramadan celebrations.
One thing was missing from the meditation room: evidence of any faith but Islam. No Bible, no crucifix, no Torah.
Normandale’s administration is facilitating the room’s Islamization. The college’s building crew erected the barrier separating men’s and women’s sections, according to Ralph Anderson, dean of student affairs. College officials also posted signs at the room’s entrance asking students to remove shoes — a Muslim custom before prayers. This was “basically a courtesy to Muslim students,” Anderson said.
Despite the room’s Islamic atmosphere, Anderson says it “is open to everyone.”
Why is the meditation room segregated by sex? “Muslim students prefer that areas be divided into male and female,” he said. “Other students don’t care.”
Doesn’t sex-segregation present a constitutional problem in a public educational institution? “I don’t want to comment on that,” he said.
And the literature regarding Jews and Christians? “I would probably take it out if I knew it was in there,” said Anderson.