New washing stations at student center accommodate Muslim population
“It is not just the cleansing of the feet. It is just a way for us to be pure and clean before we stand in front of God and start our prayer.”
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Every Friday at 1:30 p.m., Muslim students gather in Bacchus Theater in Perkins Student Center to perform one of their five daily prayers. Prior to the installation of new foot washing stations, students had to struggle and splash using the bathroom sinks in order to perform a pre-prayer cleansing, called Wudu.
“An obligatory and necessary part of the prayer, preceding the actual prayer, is attaining a state of purification,” Rudi Matthee, the John and Dorothy Munroe Distinguished Professor of History, says. “You can’t pray, or rather, your prayer is invalid if you don’t perform it in a state of ritual purity.”
This includes washing not only feet, but also hands, arms, face and neck. No soap is used during this process because the goal is a state of ritual purity rather than cleanliness, according to Matthee.
Using the sinks for Wudu could be not only messy, but also uncomfortable for students according to Mahnoor Alvi, a junior international relations major and president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) on campus.
“The university actually reached out to MSA a while ago because a lot of other universities within the East Coast have a similar washing station, so they wanted our input,” Alvi says. “We helped them out with the design and architecture of it to see what would fit the Muslim population best.”
The project first went into design last winter, after programming meetings with students and administrators in late fall. Construction was scheduled for the summer, to avoid complications with school in session, according to Shelley Einbinder, associate university architect with the Planning and Project Delivery department.
“What has happened is that as the university has become more diverse, we have been trying to facilitate multicultural use of the campus,” Einbinder says. “For this project, the biggest problem was that our space was tight. So we had to reconfigure the toilet rooms a little bit, while making them remain functional.”
After the installation of the wash stations, which are simply labeled as “Washing/Ablution Station” there has been speculation among non-Muslim students about their purpose.
“I’ve been in the Perkins bathroom and heard people saying ‘What is a foot wash station, why would we need to wash our feet?’” Alvi says. “I think it would be important for people to know that it is not just the cleansing of the feet. We actually cleanse our hands, our arms, our face and even a little bit on our hair. It is just a way for us to be pure and clean before we stand in front of God and start our prayer, so that is the purpose of that.”