"I'm not sure [school name] is still a true Christian college/university anymore.”
"Are they going to also hold bomb-making classes in this ‘prayer’ room?”
"It should be burnt down!”
When a list is made of things that might make students screaming, cursing mad at their universities, “prayer” isn’t often at the top. However, the above quotations are just a sample of a larger, negative online reaction to a university in my hometown allowing a room on its campus to be used by one of its student groups: the Saudi Student Association, utilizing the space for Muslim prayer.
The issues at the heart of this controversy? Whether this school is compromising its Christian values — and whether we should assume that all Muslim students might be terrorists.
Those who decry the prayer space express concern that this university undermines its principles by offering support for students practicing a non-Christian religion. They view the campus exclusively as Christian territory. However, upon examination of the university’s professed values, we see that allowing a Muslim prayer room upholds what our school claims to support.
The “Mission and Core Values” page on the university’s website states that “[school name] provides a liberal arts education to every student” — not every American-born student, not every Christian student, but every student.
Earlier, on the same page, the school declares its intent to “help students grow … spiritually.” Letting the Saudi students peacefully assemble on campus allows them to nurture their own spiritual development, which is one of the hallmarks of a holistic education.
In a campus-wide email, university chaplain Jeff Lust reminds us, “The Golden Rule and biblical teachings on hospitality instruct us to be welcoming to all, whether they share our faith or not.” The Muslim prayer room does not eclipse the vibrancy of Christian activity on campus, which includes weekly Christian worship and praise, many Bible study group options, a full-time Christian chaplain and 24/7 access to the campus chapel for Christian prayer.
Our school in no way compromises its values by letting Muslim students use a room for prayer; rather, by offering Christian hospitality, it actively fulfills its declared identity as a Christian university.
Perhaps the most common and opprobrious assertion against the Muslim prayer room on the campus is that Islam is an inherently terrorist religion.
To those who believe this, "Muslim prayer space" appears to rhyme with "bomb making classes." We all want to be safe, and it is reasonable for Americans to fear terrorism. What is not reasonable is to conflate the definitions of terrorist and international student — a conflation evident by online comments about the prayer room, such as “Are they going to give them a gun to shoot up the place, too??”
There are people who do evil in the name of religion in every religion. ISIS is a violent, evil, terrorist organization. The KKK is a violent, evil, terrorist organization. ISIS is no more reflective of mainstream, peaceful Muslim practitioners than the terrorist organization Ku Klux Klan is reflective of mainstream, peaceful Christian practitioners (and, yes, painful as it is to acknowledge, the KKK names itself a “Christian” group).
FBI research indicates that from 1970-2012, Muslims carried out only 2.5 percent of all acts of terrorism in the U.S. Of course, we want an end to terrorism. However, we must be careful not to assign the role of domestic terrorist to one race or one religion. The facts don’t support the fears.
I am proud to call myself one of this university’s many dedicated Christian students. I am also proud to know several of the Muslim women who have come here from Saudi Arabia. These women are scholars, mothers, future nurses — people who will use the liberal arts education they receive here to make their corner of the world a better place.
To these students from other lands, every member of the Abilene community represents American values and conduct. When we threaten to burn a room set aside for peaceful assembly, what will these students learn about our beliefs? Ultimately, our school’s Saudi students will take home stories of how they were treated here — stories of goodwill that will shape their neighbors’ and children’s view of America for the better — or not.
Are Christian faith or opportunity for Christian fellowship at a university diminished by allowing Muslim students a room in which to peacefully assemble for prayer? In reality, fear limits faith, but hospitality strengthens it.
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