Last Friday, Jumu’ah prayer was held in Kenyon’s first ever space to be dedicated solely to Muslim worship: Thomas House. Formerly a faculty residence, Thomas House was renovated over the summer after members of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) met with President Decatur about the need for a dedicated space for Muslim students.
In previous years, students of Muslim faith had worshiped in the multifaith Prayer and Meditation Center, located underneath the Village Inn.
“It wasn’t very spacious,” Hamza Saleem ’22, president of the MSA, said. “You could hear the footsteps of people coming up the stairs . . . and there were always people coming into the room during our Friday prayers.”
Representatives from the MSA, along with Professor of Mathematics Noah Aydin, brought three requests concerning the needs of Muslims on Kenyon’s campus to President Decatur last spring. Their primary request was a better space for Muslim students to worship and gather.
“When this house opened up, we said ‘Oh, this actually might be the answer to all—or at least most—of the needs students had been expressing,’” said Meredith Bonham, Vice President for Student Affairs at Kenyon.
Renovation over the summer updated the carpeting and furniture and also overhauled bathrooms, allowing them to be used for preparation for worship. The new space includes prayer rugs, books, a kitchen where Muslim students can gather to break fast during Ramadan and bedrooms upstairs that may eventually be used as student residences—another request of the MSA.
The College has also been actively searching for a part-time Muslim chaplain to join Christian chaplain Rachel Kessler ’04 and Jewish chaplain Marc Bragin. “We had a candidate here this summer,” said Bonham. “Unfortunately he decided to take a position elsewhere. It’s a little challenging, frankly, because of our rural location.” However, a new candidate will be conducting prayers this Friday and students are hopeful about the search.
This increase of resources and support for Muslim students is especially timely considering the increasing number of Muslim students attending Kenyon. “Because Kenyon is committed to diversity . . . I think the number is going to increase in the future for sure,” Saleem said.
Beyond providing a physical space for worship and gathering, devoting Thomas House exclusively to the needs of Muslim students is an important symbolic gesture. “[This dedication of Thomas House] means a lot to [Kenyon’s Muslim community],” Saleem said. “It’s kind of a representation for us. Now we know that Kenyon really cares for us.”