Muslims look for home

Student Association President-elect Omar Woodard said he plans to put together a committee to explore the possibility of creating a Muslim student center on campus.

The Muslim Students’ Association currently occupies an office on the fourth floor of the Marvin Center, which members use for some prayer sessions. On Friday evenings, the group usually goes to the Western Presbyterian Church at 24th and G streets for larger services.

Amna Arshad, former MSA president, said the group’s current accommodations are unable to comfortably serve the more than 200 students who attend services.

“Our space in the Marvin Center is just not adequate for our needs,” she said. “We need a larger area for prayer and office space, so we’ve been looking into obtaining something that would accommodate us.”

Two years ago, Woodard, who then served as a senator, sponsored legislation supporting a Muslim student center. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate but was not followed up on.

Woodard, a Muslim, said while he will continue to fight for a Muslim religious center, the MSA needs to overcome obstacles, including space and funding, preventing the project. He said he wants to create a five- to seven-person task force made up of MSA and SA members and University officials.

“The group will research what spaces are available and report to me in November their recommendation,” he said.

“The University has said that they too would love to see a student center but space and money are the restrictions holding the project back,” Woodard added.

Arshad said while she does not think that the University will help fund the project, she is not concerned about raising money if the issue is pursued seriously.

“Although funding is an important aspect of this project I think first we need to find the space, and then once we show that we are serious about the issue the local D.C. community will come to aid us.”

Peter Konwerski, assistant to the Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services, declined to comment on the issue, saying the University has not received a proposal.

Woodard said while the MSA has not begun actively looking for a space on campus to house the prospective center, he does not think the MSA will have difficulties finding a location.

“There are spaces on campus that are underutilized,” he said. “The Board of Chaplains office is no longer being used. Other religious groups on campus have (a religious center), why can’t the Muslim community?”

Jewish and Catholic students currently use larger facilities in the area – GW Hillel, located at 23rd and H streets, and the Newman Catholic Center, located at 22nd and F streets. Students use the centers for prayer sessions and student group events.

Simon Amiel, executive director of GW Hillel, said having a facility is beneficial to students. GW Hillel is part of the national Hillel organization, and the private facility is owned by the organization.

“It gives the organization a sense of community and encourages student who may have never before been involved an easier way to participate,” Amiel said.

When the building was built in 1987, it received no funding from GW, leaving organizers to rely on fundraising.

Woodard says he is optimistic that GW will get a Muslim student center in the future.

“I don’t think that it will be a hard fight; I just think that it is unfortunate that this issue is not getting the attention that is deserves,” he said. “If you had Catholics on campus going to a mosque to pray every week, there would be an outcry.”

Nathan Thoreson contributed to this report.

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