South prayer room offers inclusivity, sparks discussion

Powerful   Praise: With heads bowed in thoughtful prayer, members of the Cornerstone Christian Club, formerly known as H2O, sing and recite verses at their weekly meetings. Club president John Park believes that school-provided prayer rooms are an important part in ensuring all students feel comfortable practicing their faith at South.

Maddy Ruos

Powerful Praise: With heads bowed in thoughtful prayer, members of the Cornerstone Christian Club, formerly known as H2O, sing and recite verses at their weekly meetings. Club president John Park believes that school-provided prayer rooms are an important part in ensuring all students feel comfortable practicing their faith at South.

Yoon Kim, asst. photos editor

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Buzzing with the excitement and relief that comes with Friday afternoons, a herd of students rush to their long-awaited final block of the day. Meanwhile, senior Adna Mujović seeks out an empty classroom as her typical Friday SRT first and foremost includes performing her daily prayers in accordance with her Muslim faith. Along with Mujović, several other students at South pray throughout the day and have requested a room where they can pray in private.

According to Principal Lauren Fagel, South has a prayer room that is located in one of the Dean’s office conference rooms for students of any religion to use. While controversy exists over public schools offering these prayer rooms, it is required by Illinois state law, Fagel says, and it is also something that she highly advocates for.

“Personally, I am happy to provide that space,” Fagel said. “I believe very strongly in freedom of religion and if that’s a part of [a student’s] belief system and that’s something that’s important to them, then I’m glad it’s [required by] law, but I would [provide] it anyway.”

For Mujović, she has been performing her afternoon prayers at school since her sophomore year. She remembers the first time she reached out to a teacher in the Social Studies Department and requested an empty classroom to pray in. Although she was nervous at first, Mujović remembers feeling grateful for the warm reply and room granted to her.

“I was so relieved at [the teacher’s] response,” Mujović said. “Even though it is not common whatsoever for teachers to get such a question, their willingness to provide me with [that] empty room [was] very, very heartwarming. […] It’s just strengthening the idea that GBS is [a] very inclusive community.”

Mujović believes that having a school prayer room is not so much about the room itself but more so about how the individual student chooses to express his or her own personal prayers within it.

“We’re not building a full-fledged mosque or a temple or a church in this school,” Mujović said. “It’s a room that doesn’t hold any sacred value to it. […] Praying is something [that] can be made very personal, so that’s why the room [is] just a room and it would be up to each individual to make it into something.”

Although Mujović chooses to pray at South, junior Jonah Frese practices Catholicism and does not believe students should pray during the school day. According to Frese, he believes that schools and other public state institutions should stay separate from religion and therefore, should not provide students with any form of religious accommodations for fear of interreligious tensions.

“I think that [because South is] a [public] institution dedicated to a secular outlook, I don’t think that sponsoring any type of religion within the school would be appropriate […],” Frese said.

While aware that many do not support public schools offering prayer rooms, sophomore Ahmed Malik, another Muslim student at South, is grateful for the opportunity he has to pray during the school day. Malik leaves school every Friday during his lunch block and visits his local mosque in order to practice his religion. Although this idea seemed very uncommon to him at first, Malik says that he was reassured by South’s accepting community to leave school to pray.

“[Praying is] generally a topic that I don’t bring up just for fear of [getting ridiculed], but anyone who I have discussed it with has never made me feel uncomfortable,” Malik said.

Drawing from his own experiences, Malik urges other students not to be afraid to request for any accommodations they feel they may need.

“I would tell others [that] no matter how awkward you think it might feel or how unconventional it might be, that you should not be afraid to try to ask for something that would make you feel more [welcomed] or accommodated […],” Malik said. “Ultimately, it would benefit you more as an individual and benefit South more as a community if you just ask for what you need, and people will provide for you.”

Although not practicing the same religion as Malik, John Park, leader of South’s Cornerstone Christian Club, also chooses to pray during the school day. According to Park, the club recently initiated an additional weekly prayer group in which students can meet after school in a designated classroom and pray together. Park believes that because praying alone at school may be difficult for some students, praying collectively encourages students and their fellow believers to grow together in their faith.

“[I would recommend to open] up about your faith [and make] yourself just a little bit more vulnerable because doing it alone is hard [and] you need people around you to go through it together,” Park said. “[Take] the courage to take advantage of the room that [South] provided.”

While Frese disagrees with Park on prayer rooms being beneficial to the school environment, he recognizes that taking them away from schools that have already implemented prayer rooms could be more harmful to the environment than not. According to Frese, if the room promotes inclusivity and can accomodate all religions, he would not argue for its removal from the school.

“I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I would not advocate for it being [removed] if it’s inclusive and [has] been working in the past,” Frese said.

Based on her own personal experiences, Mujović advises any student that either wishes to pray or is hesitant towards doing so to take advantage of the resources and liberties that South provides for their students and to take heart in the accepting nature of the students and faculty. To Mujović, prayer rooms are symbolic of South’s welcoming environment.

“We’re privileged in this school specifically to be very inundated in opportunity and possibility and freedom,” Mujović said. “If you’re hesitant, I’d say [that] there is always, always going to be at least one person in this building that wants to help you out and make it happen. […] This situation with the prayer room isn’t meant to be a spectacle; it’s an opportunity to learn more about your Muslim peers at GBS as you would any other friend.”

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