The University of Southern Maine is building a new prayer room at its Portland campus to better serve Muslim students, as well as students of other faiths.

The room is part of a $100,000 project that includes an adjacent gender-neutral bathroom with a foot-washing station that Muslim students can use for the ritual washing performed before praying. The prayer room will be open to students of all faiths, and will be the only one available to students on the Portland campus.

It will occupy space where student government offices were previously located and will replace the temporary prayer room, which is in the Campus Life office in the campus center.

The temporary prayer room, according to Dean of Students Rodney Mondor, has lacked the features and the hours students need.

“The office closes at 4:30,” Mondor said. “Students whose classes run late and who might need to use it are limited.”

The current prayer room also lacks a foot-washing station. It can accommodate up to three students and is furnished with a few carpets and chairs.

The new prayer room is being built in response to students’ calls for a more accommodating space and better hours, according to Student Senate Chair Muna Adan and Student Body President PDG Muhamiriza, not in reaction to a recent spate of anti-Muslim incidents at USM, including anti-Muslim phrases written on a poster and in the student government offices.

“Anti-Muslim slogans did not encourage the demand for a new prayer room. Inconvenience did,” they said in an email.

The new prayer room will be carpeted but mostly unfurnished, in order to maintain an “aspect of purity,” according to Muhamiriza.

Unlike the Campus Life office prayer room, the new prayer room will be open during campus center hours, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and will not require a key to use. Four to five people can pray there at a time.

Muhamiriza added that students, regardless of their respective faiths, should be mindful of others while praying.

“If you pray loudly, and I pray softly, then that’s not going to work,” Muhamiriza said. “Other students should recognize when a student is meditating and needs the room to be quiet.”

Student government officials and Campus Life staff will only mediate conflicts over noise in the room if students “complain about noise to them directly,” he said.

Other colleges and universities in Maine, such as Bowdoin College, already have prayer rooms for their students. Bowdoin’s Student Center for Multicultural Life and Center for Religious and Spiritual Life are housed in one building, which has multiple prayer rooms.

The college’s director of spiritual and religious life, Eduardo Pazos, noted the positive impact Bowdoin’s prayer rooms have had on the campus community, particularly for Muslim students, who sometimes must pray five times a day.

“Prayer rooms allow our Muslim students to be fully engaged with their lives as Bowdoin students,” Pazos said, “and at the same time to be fully engaged with their faith tradition.”

Pazos said that the prayer room designated for Muslim students at Bowdoin has served not only as a place for prayer, but also for educating the campus community about Islam. On Fridays at noon, a Muslim community prayer takes place, which non-Muslim students can attend. Non-Muslim students are also welcome to join Muslim students in prayer throughout the week.

Places for prayer are not unique to private colleges. Historically, when the University of Southern Maine was the Gorham State Teachers College, the Gorham campus was once home to an inter-faith chapel, which was then converted into an art gallery.

Southern Maine Community College also has a chapel on campus, the All Faiths Chapel, and has had a prayer room and foot-washing station for about five years. According to Bob Stein, USM’s executive director of public affairs and marketing, USM’s Lewiston campus also has a prayer space.

USM’s prayer room will be completed in late October or early November. Once completed, the university will hold an opening ceremony.

Cara DeRose can be contacted at 7916363 or at:

[email protected]

This story was modified Monday to include information about prayer facilities at Southern Maine Community College

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