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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BMSA prayer suite closed due to threats

Published: March 25, 2005
Section: News

The Brandeis Muslim Student Associations (BMSA) prayer suite in lower Usdan was closed on Wednesday and Thursday due to several disturbing off-campus e-mails that BMSA members received related to Asra Nomanis appearance on campus.

Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Muslim womens rights activist who created a national stir in 2003 by walking in the front door of her mosque and praying alongside men, had sought to use BMSAs prayer suite to lead a prayer. In press releases to various news organizations, she claimed this would be the first time a Muslim woman would lead men in prayer in a Muslim religious space. Previously, she had led a prayer in New Yorks St. John the Devine Church after all mosques in New York refused to host the event.

BMSA Executive Board members who asked to remain anonymous told the Hoot that the BMSA refused Nomanis request. Despite this refusal, Nomani publicized her arrival at Brandeis as a historic event where a woman would lead a prayer in a Muslim space.

The BMSA felt uncomfortable allowing someone who had never before spoken to them to use their space to send a larger political message, the members said.

The members told the Hoot that many within BMSA agree with Nomanis views with regard to women in Islam, and in fact female members of the organization have previously led prayer services that include men. Three of the five former presidents and co-presidents of BMSA have been female.

All of the threats against the BMSA came in the form of emails, none of which are believed to have originate from on-campus.

According to the members, Nomanis press release made them targets for a political agenda that they did not agree to back.

The BMSA is considers itself a progressive, but non-political organization.

I personally apologize for the inconvenience, but these immediate and urgent precautions are necessary, Prof. Qamar-Al Huda wrote to the BMSA and numerous administrators last Tuesday.

We will resume the normal use of our facility once we have assurance of our safety, Huda wrote.

BMSA only recently was able to secure its prayer space after several years of advocacy. The members told the Hoot that the space is for spirituality, not for politics. The space should not be used as a tool for one womans quest, a member said.

Nomani spoke to a full-capacity crowd in the Shapiro Student Center multipurpose room on Wed. A visible police presence included both uniformed and plainclothed officers, a bomb sniffing dog, and a metal detector.

In her speech Nomani explained that the brutal slaying of her friend and fellow Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl opened her eyes to the danger of militant Islam and the need to reform Islamic practices. She said that it is essential that women be fully equal as part of the Muslim community, and that she would continue to fight religious condemnation of her actions.

Nomani did lead a prayer while on campus, but did so at the Womens Resource Center rather than the BMSA prayer space.

Huda was out of town and unavailable for comment. The Hoot was unable to contact Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan for comment prior to publication.