Thursday, May 26, 2005

Muslims accused of taking over a "Meditation Room" at the University of Michigan-Flint

Shena Abercrombie:

A room for peaceful reflection and prayer at the University of Michigan-Flint has become anything but.

Instead, Room 386 at the University Center - known as the Meditation Room - is at the heart of a months-long religious dispute between Muslim and non-Muslim students.

The non-Muslims began complaining in November that Muslim students were monopolizing the room and filling the tiny space with religious paraphernalia and anti-Israel literature.

The Muslim students countered that they were being unfairly targeted and appealed to the university for religious tolerance.

"I do think that the current political climate does contribute to Islamophobia," said Bishr Aldabagh, a former UM-Flint Student Government Council president and student commencement speaker.

"The room serves the needs of students from different religions, but I do think that the reaction would have been different if the room was used predominantly by Christians or Jews."

UM-Flint student Zea Miller, 22 of Flint asked the university, in a written petition, to allow a more balanced use of the room, urging it to "whitewash" the walls and remove all religious items - a move that he said caused him to be stalked and harassed.

The university investigated Miller's claims about being harassed and said they were unfounded.

"There are people who feel offended and intimidated being in the Meditation Room or within the presence of artifacts representative of beliefs not their own," Miller said in his petition.

Miller said he was acting on his own, but others feel the same. Miller, a staff member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center, doesn't belong to any of UM-Flint's four student religious organizations.

The walls of the room, about the size of a storage room, once held posters, Muslim Student Association awards and framed pictures. Prayer rugs and other books also were stored in the room. Muslim students use the space to perform religious practices, such as praying five times a day, as required by their faith.

"I took it upon myself to file the petition; I did this on behalf of others who were afraid to," Miller said. "It was not bigoted. I would have done this against any group who usurped the room. Now, at every move I'm being accused of anti-Muslim behavior. I am not anti-Muslim."

Some UM-Flint students appear unaware of the dispute or regard it as old news. But the other student religious groups weigh in on both sides.

"We don't have a problem sharing that room," said Tom Coy, a member of Students Defending Christian Principles. "(Miller) is using that as a basis for his own intolerance."

The Hillel Student Organization, a predominately Jewish group, issued an open letter supporting Miller's petition.

"The room is really important to us also, (and) we don't feel comfortable using it the way it is right now," said Katie Segal, 20, president of Hillel. "The inside and outside had a lot of anti-Zionist propaganda and pictures and paraphernalia."

Segal said one of her organization's members had discussed the matter with members of MSA.

"The MSA group had a lot of pro-Palestinian (literature) that I was not bothered by. It was the anti-Zionist stuff," Segal said.

"There were news articles, posters and pamphlets. It was a very unfriendly place, (so) we just walked away and went to a different room. I understand people who frequent the room need certain supplies to pray or meditate. I was in favor of the white washing."

Segal said the suggestion of "Islamophobia" simply was not true.

"I think they're going to use that as their cover," she said.

Meditation Room conflict takes new turn

Disquiet Over a Meditation Room

University of Michigan-Flint faces controversy with prayer room


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