Places of worship vary for religious students

No matter the religion one practices, there is always a special location – a temple, a church, a synagogue – that serves as a place for worship. In many ways, these settings are a symbol of the beliefs they embody.

Religion at GW
Part 2

Photos and Audio: Places of worship vary for religious students
Places of worship vary for religious students

This is the second article in a series about religion at GW, as seen through the eyes of the religious. The series follows four students of four different faiths in an effort to look into their life on campus and how religion plays a role in their GW experience.

Last week, the four students discussed their beliefs and their religious developments at home and GW. This week, the four students will discuss the act of worshipping while in college.

For the four students The Hatchet spoke with, though, attendance at such a place is not a prerequisite for worship. While prayer is a constant, each student had a different way of honoring their beliefs – with some preferring to pray alone and in private, while others enjoy worshipping with a group of believers.

A private celebration

“I feel that religion has to come from within. It is a personal topic to even discuss. It is between you and the higher power,” junior Habiba Belguedj said.

While some Muslims at GW worship at the prayer room in the Marvin Center, Belguedj chooses to say the five daily Islamic prayers – called Fajr, Dhuhr, ‘Asr, Maghrib and ‘Isha – in the privacy of her bedroom.

“I find prayer to be a personal commitment. I am much more comfortable doing it alone. In my opinion, religion is just between God and me,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to watch me. No one else should have a presence during my prayer.”

Before praying, Belguedj cleanses herself by washing her face, feet and arms. In Islam, this mandatory ritual is called Wudu.

“The hardest thing about praying in the United States is not having the mosque telling you when to pray. You have to set your own rhythm and follow your own time. After a while it just became part of my schedule,” Belguedj said.

Prayer through an iPod

The closest temple for freshman Ravjot Bhasin, a Sikh, is National Gurudwhara on Massachusetts Avenue. It’s a long trip for Bhasin, who has no car. He said he sometimes feels uncomfortable praying with a strange group of people.

“I don’t go to National that often. It’s different attending services here because it is a different group of people that you aren’t used to,” he said. “I still go whenever I have the time.”

He said he learned how to pray from his grandmother, while preparing to receive his first turban. In the years since, Bhasin has memorized the five daily prayers of Sikhism and wants to become Orthodox after graduation.

Though he doesn’t get to the National temple often, he said he believes in repeating his god’s name as a form of worship.

“Apart from trying to pray five times a day, repeating ‘Waheguru’ is one of the main things I do,” he said. “I just repeat his name when I’m sitting down or doing homework.”

Although his workload takes up a lot of his time, Bhasin said he tries to complete the three morning and two evening prayers each day.

“Sometimes I’ll just listen to the prayers on my iPod. Nowadays you can find anything online, so I just get the prayers off the Internet,” he said. “I’ll listen to them while I’m walking to class, or when I’m sitting on the Vern Express.”

Finding comfort on campus

For senior Julie DeMareo, the Newman Center is a crucial part of worship.

The Newman Center – the campus place of worship for Catholics – does not have an elected leadership, but DeMareo says she is one of many student leaders at the center, a goal she had even before she officially came to GW.

“I visited the [Newman] Center in April before I even started at GW,” she said. “I knew if I was going to be a student here I needed to find somewhere I could worship and be comfortable being myself.”

DeMareo said she celebrates Mass weekly – first at the Hand Chapel on the Mount Vernon campus during her freshman year, and now at the Newman Center or St. Stephen’s Church, where she said she has furthered her relationship with God.

“I have always been taught to think that prayer and church [are] important to developing a personal relationship with God,” DeMareo said.

Attending Mass is something DeMareo has done since childhood. Her grandmother would encourage her to worship and she was involved in Mass at “every stage of life.”

“A constant conversation with God is prayer for me,” she said. “Sometimes it’s formal prayer; sometimes it’s just thanking God and asking God for help.”

Worship as community time

Growing up in a Jewish household taught senior Ariel Scheer that her religion was both a personal and family affair.

At GW, Scheer has found that same family feeling at Hillel, a Jewish organization and temple on campus, where she often attends Friday night Shabbats with fellow students.

“Shabbat just involves playing games with each other and storytelling as well as spending time in synagogue together,” she said. “You just have those hours of spending quality time with other people and also introspecting.”

As a member of the Conservative Jewish movement, Scheer said she was always able to express her religious views in temple. Scheer is a peer leader at Hillel and regularly leads services.

“I grew up in a community where if I wanted to be a rabbi, I could be a rabbi,” she said, “Women in my synagogue lead services, read from the Torah and delivered speeches in public.”

For Scheer, Hillel has given her a firm foundation in the Jewish community at GW, allowing her to meet a wide range of Jewish students on campus.

“When I am here on Shabbat, it is a time for me to be part of a big community,” she said. “It is when we have dinner together and do blessings together and hang out as well. To me, worship is a community time.”

Lauren French contributed to this report.

Next Monday, The Hatchet looks at how college and religious life mix at GW.

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