For many years Muslim students at Smith College built a sense of community among themselves with little assistance from the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. They organized events, planned activities and led holy observances largely through the behest of the Muslim Student Organization, Al Iman. After carefully considering ways to provide more support for Muslim students, Religious Life staff actively worked to cultivate an atmosphere of trust with the Muslim student body. It took many semesters of reaching out to students in various places on campus with a multiplicity of individual meetings to establish a different relationship with the Muslim community. Now Muslim students hold regular programming in the Helen Hills Hills Chapel including the Muslim Prayer Lunch, EID Celebrations, org meetings and social gatherings. They also use the Center as a study space and conduct community service in collaboration with other faith partners.
At the same time The Center for Religious and Spiritual Life designated the Blue Room as a dedicated space of devotion, reflection and contemplation and later added the Wright Hall Prayer Space as a central location on campus for the performance of prayers. Muslim students embraced these spaces as communal prayer rooms in which they could meet Islamic obligations. To see diverse cultures, religions, and traditions being welcomed in Chapel-hosted spaces had long been an important goal of the Center.
When I became the Muslim Student Adviser last year, I knew that students were still expecting more from the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. My position was created on the heels of students asking President McCartney for a Jummah service similar to what was being offered at Mt. Holyoke College. Our staff responded by offering a Jummah Lunch where students could gather with other Muslim-identifying peers and share their culture. We learned that students yearned for specific camaraderie; an environment that celebrates their Muslim identity, culturally and spiritually. At Jummah some students swap notes about classes they have in common; others cherish the warm greetings they receive from classmates; and others are overjoyed seeing Muslims praying together. Renamed Muslim Prayer Lunch, the gathering is designed to strengthen the Muslim Ummah (family) at Smith.
In the Muslim Student Adviser role, I give guidance on programming and event planning as well as serve as a connector to resources on and off campus. Muslim students benefit from programming at the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life in thoughtful ways. The Muslim Prayer Lunch offers deliciously prepared Halal food and inspirational topics based on scripture and the Hadith, on which students feed. We encourage students to lead the Zhur prayer after lunch and stay after the meal for as long as they desire. Recently, we began offering transportation to the Hampshire Mosque every other Friday for students who are able to attend. We remind students that Muslim life can be whatever they want it to be – spiritual, ethereal, promising, thoughtful, challenging and supportive. From the 2018 “Women in Islam” conference organized by Global Studies, students learned from Muslim female scholars that the Muslim woman’s footprint is long and extensive in Islamic history; and that the future is theirs to create.
Next semester I have invited students to attend a Muslim Student Life Conversation Group that will discuss Muslim real-life experiences and future opportunities. We seek to convey the blessings of Allah to students, with the intention that they should not worry about where their path will lead but rather take the first step on their journey. We urge students to talk about their successes, frustrations and future aspirations. Students are also welcome to sit on the CRSL Student Advisory Board, join the CRSL Interfaith Council meetings, and visit the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life as often as they want.
With prompting from Smithies we are thinking more expansively in the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. This semester we held a training workshop for dining staff on Halal dining, led by a local Imam, to improve the quality of Halal meals at Smith. Additionally, we will offer a two-day accelerated prayer workshop, led by a prayer teacher from Hampshire Mosque to strengthen the ability of students to practice their faith. More great ideas are on the horizon. In fact, the future is bright for Muslim Student Life at Smith and with Allah’s grace and mercy, our progress will be unlimited.
Kim Alston is a program Coordinator and Muslim Student Adviser in the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.