Times: Harvard Muslim Students' Complaints

You know that Harvard is a secular university. You are a fundamentalist Muslim and yet you enroll at Harvard. Then you decide to complain.

There is no Islamic law that says that Islamic women must work out in a Harvard gym. Indeed the consensus among Imams I am sure is that Harvard is the Muslim equivalent of treyf.

Solutions: Don't go to Harvard. Don't go to the Harvard gym (there are others). Wear modest clothes when you work out. (You've heard of the Burqini, haven't you? See picture.) Wear normal workout clothes and let the men worry about temptation.

Aside: Why is there no Islamic University in the US? Lack of money. I think not. Something to ponder.
At Harvard, Students’ Muslim Traditions Are a Topic of Debate

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Two issues of Muslim practice — whether the call to prayer should ring out across Harvard Yard and whether the university should grant women separate gym hours — have unleashed small waves of controversy over how Harvard practices tolerance.

Heated discussions have erupted on dormitory chat rooms, students said, while various opinion articles in the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, have denounced both practices.

“I think that because Harvard is a secular campus, there is a fear among some students that religious beliefs or practices might be imposed on people who don’t want anything to do with them,” said Jessa Birdsall, a 20-year-old sophomore who said she thought the university should accommodate the beliefs of all students.

The debate began in early February, when the undergraduate college restricted one of the three largest gyms on its main campus, the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center, to women only on Mondays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The college spokesman, Robert Mitchell, would not describe how the decision was reached, but various students said a small group of Muslim women undergraduates living in the Leverett House dormitory asked for the change.

The group of women felt that workout clothes violated the Muslim prescription that both sexes wear modest dress in shared environments. So they asked that the dormitory set aside its mini gyms for women a few hours each week. The request eventually made its way to the Harvard College Women’s Center and it was decided that the Quadrangle center, which Mr. Mitchell called the college’s least-used athletic facility, would be restricted to women only at certain times. He said the change was an experiment that would be re-evaluated in June.

The second controversy occurred after the adhan, or call to prayer, was once again broadcast across Harvard Yard at noon from the steps of the Widener Library for several days late last month. The broadcast was part of Islam Awareness Week, sponsored by the Muslim student club, the Harvard Islamic Society.

On March 13, an op-ed article by three graduate students denounced the practice, which has been going on for several years. They wrote that while pluralism was fine, the adhan espouses Muslim intolerance toward other faiths by stating that the Prophet Muhammad is God’s messenger. Calling it proselytizing, the op-ed article said, “The adhan, it seems, is the exception to Harvard’s unspoken rule of religious tolerance and respect.”

The arguments over both issues boiled down to whether Harvard was being admirably tolerant or was disrupting the lives of everyone to placate a vocal minority.

Rauda Tellawi, a 21-year-old senior who veils her hair, said that the animated arguments about the gym hours that unrolled on her dorm’s in-house chat room noted that even some men felt intimidated by the presence of women in the gym if they were, say, not bench-pressing as much as a buddy. Ms. Tellawi said she habitually left the gym if men were hovering nearby while she ran or did sit-ups.

“Even if you have loose clothing on, they are going to see things that we are not supposed to let them see,” she said, adding, “Islam doesn’t encourage you to physically lie down in front of men.”

Ms. Tellawi did not consider it discriminatory to set aside some hours at the gym for women. Instead, she views it as a healthy accommodation. She noted that students who follow kosher eating rules have a separate area in her dining hall and said that some non-Muslim women also supported the separate gym hours.

The new system has been criticized for not attracting enough women to warrant separate hours, and several students said perhaps only 15 people use the center during peak periods at night, despite the fact that it offered its own locker rooms, squash and basketball courts, weights and aerobic machines.

Nicholas J. Wells, a junior who used to work out in the morning, said he thought the change was “unfair to men and inconvenient for women.” While he was all for supporting Muslim women, he said there had to be a more practical way so that Quad residents did not lose access to their main gym.

A junior, Lucy M. Caldwell, echoed those arguments. She criticized the hours for women only as too drastic an accommodation to make for a religious minority, dismissing the idea that many non-Muslim women supported it.

When word of the new gym hours became public, Harvard was attacked in the blogosphere for being a bastion of liberalism run amok.

As to the call to prayer, Muslim students said the adhan was a basic statement of their creed and had nothing to do with denying other faiths. The debate focused mostly on whether Muslims were getting a right denied to people of other religions.

One student wrote in the comments section of The Crimson’s Web site that Harvard Yard was not a comparative religion class, while another said if students could romp there naked and urinate on the statue of John Harvard, surely forbearance toward other cultures was warranted.

Many students seemed oblivious to either issue, saying they were preoccupied with midterm examinations.

Taha Abdul-Basser, the Muslim chaplain at Harvard, said both episodes were indicative of the growing number of Muslims in the United States.

“There are some people who are not just comfortable that Muslims, by virtue of the change of demographics, are going to become more and more visible,” he said.

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