Fulfilling a Need Across Faiths

How one room creates a sense of belonging across spiritual lines

By Esra Hashem

It’s 3:15 p.m. and 19-year-old  Nadia Jassim just finished her third class of the day. She walks from the Peters Business building to the Henry Madden Library, eager to find some quiet time before her 4 p.m. class.

The finance major goes to the south wing of the library and rides an elevator to the third floor, where she reaches her destination: the University’s Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Room.

“The room is kind of like a safe zone,” Jassim says. “Like a little break from everything around us.” It’s no wonder Jassim is looking for a break: on Mondays like these, she is on campus from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Jassim spends more time on campus than any other place so that she can one day reach her dreams of becoming a college professor.

But between exams and group projects, Jassim needs a space to pray.

“When you’re around people all day, sometimes you just want to be alone with God for a second — or whatever you believe in,” she says. “It’s nice to have that moment to yourself where you don’t have to think and stress about due dates and exams. It’s nice to get 10 minutes of peace in your day.”

The afternoon prayer Jassim performs in the Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Room is one of five she performs each day as a Muslim. Muslim prayer is based on a lunar calendar, which causes the timings for the five daily prayers to vary between morning and night. With limited time to complete her afternoon prayer before the next prayer time, Jassim uses the Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Room to fulfill her spiritual needs and still make it to her 4 p.m. marketing class on time.


A Spiritual Solution

No matter their religious beliefs, research shows maintaining spiritual and emotional health is critical to the success of college students. That’s why Fresno State joined at least 100 universities in Canada and the U.S. in creating the Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Room in 2015. The room is open to people of all faiths and non-faiths alike, and can be used for prayer, meditation, reading or any other quiet activity.

“One of the things that is important to Fresno State is that our students, faculty and staff have a sense of belonging on campus,” says Dr. Francine Oputa, director of the University’s Cross Cultural and Gender Center. “Providing that sense of belonging impacts retention rates and graduation rates.”

That sense of belonging is felt by students, says Zinab Attia, a sophomore biology student.

“The room shows that the University is welcoming to all cultures and faiths,” she says. “It’s the University saying, ‘We have space for you.’”


A Room for all Religions

According to the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of California adults pray at least once daily, with 14 percent praying on a weekly basis. Forty-one percent of adults in California meditate at least once a week.

At Fresno State, there are 12 religious student organizations and nearly 40 cultural clubs.

“I’ve seen different types of praying methods that I’m not familiar with, and it makes me think, ‘Oh, that’s cool, I wonder why they do that?’” Jassim says. “I mean, [Muslims] do certain movements when we pray that I’m sure people think, ‘I wonder why they do that type of movement.’”

As Jassim finishes her afternoon prayer, she folds her prayer rug and adjusts the purple headscarf she wears — a hijab, symbolizing modesty and a commitment to God in her faith. She smiles at another student using the room before quietly making her way out.

“There’s no reason for anyone of any faith to not use this room,” Jassim says. “Everyone’s accepted in here.”

— Esra Hashem is a marketing strategist at Fresno State.