More on this story, and on the Muslim demands that are likely to come in the near future.
By the indomitable Katherine Kersten in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Last week, I wrote about Minneapolis Community and Technical College, which is planning to install facilities to help Muslim students perform ritual washing before daily prayers. It’s a simple matter of extending “hospitality” to newcomers, says President Phil Davis — no different than providing a fish option in the college cafeteria for Christian students during Lent.
MCTC is apparently the first public institution in Minnesota to enter this unfamiliar territory. Where is it looking for guidance?
Dianna Cusick, MCTC’s director of legal affairs, is overseeing the project. She referred me to the Muslim Accommodations Task Force, whose website she is using as a primary resource (www.startribune.com/2617). “They’ve done all the research,” she said.
On the site, I found information about the handful of public colleges that have “wudu,” or ritual bathing, facilities.
But I also discovered something more important for colleges seeking guidance on “accommodations”: Projects like MCTC’s are likely to be the first step in a long process.
The task force’s eventual objectives on American campuses include the following, according to the website: permanent Muslim prayer spaces, ritual washing facilities, separate food and housing for Muslim students, separate hours at athletic facilities for Muslim women, paid imams or religious counselors, and campus observance of Muslim holidays. The task force is already hailing “pioneering” successes. At Syracuse University in New York, for example, “Eid al Fitr is now an official university holiday,” says an article featured on the website. “The entire university campus shuts down to mark the end of Ramadan.” At Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich., “halal” food — ritually slaughtered and permissible under Islamic law — is marked by green stickers in the cafeteria and “staff are well-trained in handling practices.”
At Georgetown University, Muslim women can live apart in housing that enables them to “sleep in an Islamic setting,” as the website puts it. According to a student at the time the policy was adopted, the university housing office initially opposed the idea, on grounds that all freshman should have the experience of “living in dorms and dealing with different kinds of people.” That might sound appealing, Muslim students told a reporter in an article featured on the website. But in their view, the reporter wrote, “learning to live with ‘different kinds of people’ ” actually “causes more harm than good” for Muslims, because it requires them to live in an environment that “distracts them from their desire to become better Muslims, and even draw[s] weaker Muslims away from Islam.”
The task force isn’t operated by overly enthusiastic college students. Its professional staff, based in the Washington, D.C., area, includes coordinators who provide legal advice, teach students to lobby, write letters on their behalf, and help them overcome “obstacles” such as college administrators’ concerns about violating the separation of church and state.
The Muslim Accommodations Task Force is a project of the Muslim Student Association of the U.S. and Canada. MSA’s mission is to enable Muslims here “to practice Islam as a complete way of life,” and its “main goal” is “spreading Islam,” according to its website. The association calls itself the “landmark Muslim organization in North America,” and says it has chapters on 600 campuses.
Activists should also frame their objectives in language that Americans embrace. “Most Americans identify with concepts such as ‘justice,’ ‘self-determination,’ ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy,’ ” the guide explains. “These terms will be constructive when delivering your message, regardless of the issue.”
Read it all.