CAIRO - Muslim students at Murray State have celebrated the opening of their first Islamic community center, fulfilling needs of the religious minority and opening a new window of understanding with the larger community.
The idea to move to a larger worship area has always come from the students, Ibraheem Alkahtani, president of the Saudi Student Organization (SSO), told The News.org on Friday, August 31.
It was just a matter of finding someone to take that first step.
Located just off the university campus, the new community center capped a two-year process of finding a place to move to and receiving the proper permits.
The new facility would host Muslim daily prayers, weekly Friday prayer, celebrations during religious holidays as well as other special meetings.
The idea of the center was first suggested to cope with the growing number of Muslim students after two earlier places at Clark College and the bottom of Woods Hall offered limitations for the growing Muslim student community.
While Muslims had to leave Clark College small room, Woods Hall offered another challenge.
Praying for five times a day, Woods Hall closes at 3 pm making prayer very difficult to organize other daily prayers.
This facilitated a need to rent space in College Courts for students to meet and pray at after Woods Hall closed.
The new center was financed through donations by the member of the SSO and the Muslim Student Organization (MSO).
According to members of SSO and MSO, the center's dream was made possible, particularly through the help from Alkahtani, Ann Beck, faculty adviser of the SSO, Abdul Yarali, adviser of the MSO, Abdualziz Almuaibed, president of the MSO and Ihsan Alkhatib, another adviser of the SSO.
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of between six to seven million.
Offering non-Muslims a closer look at Islam and Muslims, the new community center was regarded as a good chance to find commonalities between religions, and a place to learn about Muslim culture.
Most of what America understands about Muslim culture is from its negative portrayal on the news, Alkhatib said.
But it's like watching a bus accident on TV and thinking that you know everything about buses.
At the new center, Muslims plan on being more active in the community through volunteering, doing inter-faith work and holding fundraisers.
Alkhatib said they have already been receiving emails from students and residents wanting to know more about the center and about Islam.
People tell me, I've never seen a Muslim' or ask is God the same as Allah?' he said.
There is a definite difference between ignorance and a lack of information.
Luis Canales, director of the Institute for International Students, agreed noting that the new Islamic center will be a big selling point for Murray State and will attract more international students to the campus.
The best recruitment is word of mouth, from student to student, Canales said.
I can talk about how great Murray is to prospective students, but as a member of the faculty, they expect me to say that. Hearing the experiences of other students is the best promotion.
Getting the community support, Muslim students praised Murray officials for being incredibly supportive and understanding of the group's needs.
This center is an asset for the college, students, non-Muslims and the community, Alkhatib said.
It's a win-win for everyone.