Thirty students sat together on mats in Packer Memorial Church on a Friday afternoon, listening to their leader and teacher deliver his sermon.
Waleed Mosaad, the director of Muslim Student Life, moved his Muslim Friday Prayer from the Dialogue Center’s Prayer Room into the traditionally Christian chapel to accommodate for the growing number of students interested in participating in the Muslim service.
Attendees acknowledge this transition as essential for the weekly prayers, as well as for the future of Muslim culture on Lehigh’s campus.
Ibrahim Hashmi, ’18, said the move to Packer Chapel has enabled more people to attend the services.
“The basement of the Dialogue Center isn’t that big, so the space is congested,” he said. “But now, in Packer Chapel, the great thing is it’s a much larger area. If we need more room, we can always add on more mats and move the chairs back. We aren’t confined to a restricted space.”
Anas Kamal, ’18, the vice president of the Muslim Student Association, said until recently, students would rotate giving the Friday sermons. Hashmi said the two sermons he gave were great opportunities to learn public speaking and share ideas with the community.
Now, Mosaad gives every sermon, which range from spiritual to social topics. Though Hashmi enjoyed giving sermons, he said it is a much better experience when Mosaad delivers the speech.
“I don’t want to bore people, so I have to come up with a different topic every week that’s hopefully relevant and interesting,” Mosaad said. “I used to write them, now I just go with the flow.”
Attendees use the topics discussed in the sermons and prayer as reminders of how to act and behave.
“We have a saying from the prophet which translates to, ‘Tell people to do good and prevent people from doing evil,’” Kamal said. “That goes for both Muslims and non-Muslims. My duty is to inform people about who we are and what we stand for. In our community, if you see someone doing something out of line, you should tell them, but nothing is forced.”
Though Muslims are required to pray five times a day, the Friday prayer is the most important, making it crucial that Muslim students on campus have a consistent and accommodating space. Mosaad considered holding services in Lamberton Hall or the University Center, but the spaces would have to be reserved separately each week, which runs the risk of being left without a space to pray.
The services are open to everyone, both Muslims and non-Muslims. Though some texts are read in Arabic, the majority of the service is held in English.
With the new setting in the Packer Chapel, Mosaad hopes members of the Bethlehem community will begin to come as well. He said he has already seen the number of attendees rise.
“Men are supposed to pray in congregation,” Ibrahim said. “Women can too, but they can also pray alone. In the Dialogue Center, the whole space would be filled by men, so women would prefer not to go so that they don’t take up the space for men. Now, since there’s more space, women can join the prayer, so that’s great.”
At the service, the ratio of men to women was skewed — 25 men to four women. Waleed expects the numbers to steadily increase, especially for women. Men and women were seated separately — the four women sat in a row behind the cluster of men, separated by a row of chairs.
“There’s no hard and fast rules that women have to be in the back, but when we pray, women should be with women and men should be with men.” Waleed said.
Despite the changes, attendees are grateful to have a place to come together and pray.
“It felt great to know that there’s a (Muslim Student Association) and there’s a prayer space,” Hashmi said. “The whole week, we are busy with our courses, and it’s hard to find time to get away from homework and grades. (The prayer service) is my escape.”