The University of St. Thomas (UST) in Minnesota has converted a former seminary building room into a prayer space to accommodate the growing number of Muslim students, according to the Star Tribune.
The university has reportedly created its own Islamic prayer rooms, as well as “Wudu” stations for the ritual washing of hands and feet in Loras Hall, which used to be part of a seminary, at a cost of approximately $60,000.
In recent years, the number of students from Middle Eastern countries attending Catholic universities has grown. The number of students from Saudi Arabia alone at UST has reportedly grown from 12 students in 2008 to 121 this semester, many of whom reportedly received scholarships from the Saudi government.
Theology professor Terence Nichols, who is co-director of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center at UST told the Star Tribune he’s not surprised. “There’s been a growth of Muslim students across the country in Catholic universities,” said Nichols, “because we take religion seriously, and they’re accepted.”
Lori Friedman, director of international student services at the school, agreed. “In a Catholic university, faith is pretty important in general,” she told the newspaper. “Our Muslim students feel that they can have their faith valued here as well, and be respected.”
One student, Afnan Alowayyid, said she was thankful to UST for accommodating Muslim students. “They didn’t have to do this,” the Star Tribune quoted her as saying. “But they did it, which I appreciate.”
She did, however, add that she could did not believe any university in Saudi Arabia would be willing to do the reciprocal for Christian students attending their universities. “Not in your wildest dreams. Sorry to say, but that’s the truth. That’s reality,” Alowayyid said. “There is no other faith, other than Islam, that’s practiced in Saudi Arabia.”
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