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A Muslim prayer was held in the Interfaith Prayer Room on Nov. 19 and was attended by both Muslim and non-Muslim students.

“The opening of the Prayer Room in what was previously the Jesuit Chapel marks a new era in the religious life of Fairfield. It means that Fairfield recognizes the gift of religious pluralism on the campus, and desires to respond to this reality intelligently, respectfully and sensitively,” said University Chaplain Gerald Blaszczak.

The Jumu’ah or Friday prayer is a congregational prayer that takes places at noon every week. Muslims pray five times a day and the noon prayer, known as Dhuhr in Arabic, is replaced by this prayer on Fridays.

Unlike the other prayers, it is preceded by a sermon that addresses the spiritual needs of the community. The sermon is usually offered by an imam.

“In some cases an imam is the person who leads the prayer, but the most comprehensive definition of an imam is a leader and a righteous person who serves as an example to the community. The imam serves to benefit others and acts as a resource for those around him/her,” said Heba Youssef, the new Muslim Chaplain at the university.

The imam, Amjad Tarsin, is a student at the Hartford Seminary’s Islamic Chaplaincy Program and offered a sermon on “Mercy, Compassion and Service in the Islamic Tradition.”

Tarsin was raised in Ann Arbor and has a degree in English and Islamic Studies. He performed the pilgrimage to Mecca and was impressed by the diversity. He met people he never thought existed in the world and who spoke different languages.

After the prayer and a short meet and greet with the Muslim Chaplain, there was a question and answer session with a panel consisting of Youssef, Tarjin and Dr. Martin Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies in the Religious Studies Department.

Many non-Muslim students and faculty observed the prayer and began asking questions on topics such as gender separation in Islam.

Youssef explained that, historically speaking, there was no barrier between men and women during prayer and that women prayed behind the men. The current situation where women are isolated from the men is more of a cultural adaptation.

Also, the topic of Jihad was raised. Dr. Nguyen said that Jihad is either a personal or community struggle. Linguistically, the root of the word does not mean holy war and it applies to any struggle.

For example, Muslim women who go out with their Hijab or head scarf and represent their religion, despite the societal misconception that they are being oppressed by the men, are performing Jihad and struggling in the way of God.

The event was concluded with the performance of the third prayer of the day, the Asr or afternoon prayer.

“I wanted this event to appeal to our non Muslims friends as a way of breaking any barriers, stereotypes or misconceptions that people may have about Muslims and Islamic piety. It is important that our campus community does not feel as though Muslims are ‘the other’ and feel comfortable observing and/or participating in our events,” said Youssef.

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