University City

UNC Charlotte students seek the right setting for prayer

It’s around the lunch hour, but Keyona Shears is searching for a quiet place to pray instead of an available table to grab a quick meal.

In the silent section of the UNC Charlotte campus library, she finds a few others have knelt down between the tall bookshelves, and she joins in.

Muslims pray five times throughout the day: before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset and in the evening. On a college campus, finding the right setting to do so isn’t always easy.

“There’s been times when I have class; I’ll pray in the hallway, with students walking by,” said Shears, 22, a public relations major at UNC Charlotte. “Privacy-wise, it’s been difficult to find a place to pray.”

Called Salat, the five daily prayers are considered an essential part of the Islamic faith and an important way to demonstrate devotion to God. Preparation before each prayer requires the washing of hands and feet.

Each prayer takes around 20 minutes to complete, and involves a series of spoken words and body movements that range from standing to prostrating.

The strict rules for when the prayers must be offered center on the sun. For example, the Fajr, or “dawn prayer,” must be performed between the morning twilight and sunrise.

Many followers rely on one of the dozens of apps on their mobile devices to alert them of each appropriate prayer window.

Shears is one of hundreds of thousands across the nation to take the time to pray between classes.

Islam is growing among U.S. young adults. Although the Census doesn’t track religious affiliation, a Pew Research study estimated that of the 2.6 million people in the United States who identify themselves as Muslim, nearly 6 of every 10 – or 59 percent – are ages 18 through 39. By 2030, the study projects 6.2 million practicing Muslims will live in the United States.

UNC Charlotte has a strong Muslim community. Mohamad Konsouh, president of UNC Charlotte’s Muslim Student Association, estimates 1,500 Muslims work or study on the UNC Charlotte campus.

MSA, a national nonprofit organization founded at the University of Illinois in 1963, has grown to more than 200 chapters throughout the United States. UNC Charlotte’s chapter began in 2005 as a means to connect the Muslim community, dissolve stereotypes and do good works among local charities.

Like Shears, Konsouh said it’s difficult to always find the ideal surroundings to pray, except on Fridays, Islam’s holy day. That day Jummah, a special congregational prayer, is held in a second-floor room student union.

“Friday is our holy day, just like Jews have Saturday and Christians have Sunday,” he said.

Konsouh would like to eventually find a space on campus where Muslims can regularly go to pray.

“We don’t have a place to actually pray in – like a meditation room, where we can have our daily prayer,” said Konsouh. “We usually do it at the library at UNCC. We do it outside the union. We do it were we’re at.”