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A Japanese garden on the campus of Normandale Community College in Minnesota
A Minnesota community college has “a Muslim place of worship” featuring “a schedule for Islam’s five daily prayers,” according to a local newspaper columnist who visited the campus.
Tax-supported Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minn., also has a “sign requesting that shoes be removed” and a barrier that divides men’s and women’s “prayer spaces,” writes Katherine Kersten of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
College officials denied it was anything more than a “meditation” room available for “all faiths.”
The description of the facility, however, led one faculty member to tell Kersten the room is “unprecedented” and “goes beyond religious toleration.”
“For all practical purposes, this meditation room is essentially a Muslim prayer room,” said Chuck Chalberg of Normandale’s history faculty.
WND has reported on “accommodations” for Muslims in public institutions, such as schools and airports, and the outrage triggered by the expenditure of public funds on a religion-specific facility.
At Normandale, Kersten reported, an “arrow informed worshippers of the direction of Mecca, and literature urged women to cover their faces.”
She reported college officials converted a racquetball court into a “meditation” room during remodeling of some school facilities, which held another “meditation” room for students’ use.
Her description continues:
A row of chest-high barriers splits the room into sex-segregated sections. In the smaller, enclosed area for women sits a pile of shawls and head-coverings. Literature titled “Hijaab [covering] and Modesty” was prominently placed there, instructing women on proper Islamic behavior.
They should cover their faces and stay at home, it said, and their speech should not “be such that it is heard.”
“Enter into Islaam completely and accept all the rulings of Islaam,” the tract read in part. “It should not be that you accept what entertains your desires and leave what opposes your desires; this is from the manners of the Jews.”
“[T]he Jews and the Christians” are described as “the enemies of Allaah’s religion.”
The document adds: “Remember that you will never succeed while you follow these people.”
A poster on the room’s door advertised a local lecture on “marriage from an Islamic perspective,” with “useful tips for marital harmony from the Prophet’s … life.” Other fliers invited students to join the Normandale Islamic Forum, or participate in Ramadan celebrations.
One thing was missing from the meditation room: evidence of any faith but Islam. No Bible, no crucifix, no Torah.
Normandale President Joe Opatz did not take a reporter’s call with questions, instead deferring to college spokesman Geoff Jones, who said the article is “not accurate.”
College chief Joe Opatz
Jones said the school is open to “diversity in terms of beliefs, values and cultural backgrounds.”
The room, he said, was “created for use by any person for meditation purposes.”
Jones confirmed it does have a partition that partially divides the room “that is something that was placed there.”
But he denied there are any brochures, information or religious symbols or representations in the room.
“When I visited the room … there were no postings other than announcing it was a meditation room,” Jones said.
“We’ve always sought to have persons of all cultures and backgrounds welcome here. As such we have student clubs and speakers from the community … that promote the dialogue and the discourse,” he said.
“As a public institution, we have a responsibility to allow freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This is America,” said Jones.
But he also confirmed there is no set schedule for the various groups to use the room.
“It’s just been the ebb and flow [of meetings],” he said.
Opatz, on his website welcome to the school, called Normandale the “crown jewel” of the community college system.
He suggested the “clubs, student government, recreational sports and other organizations” provide “a winning combination for a lasting success.”
The school website lists the Baha’I Club, Campus Crusade for Christ, College Democrats, Dental Hygiene, Ethiopian Student Union, Gay & Straight Student Alliance, Latter-day Saint Student Association, Muslim Student Association, Oromo Student Union, Somali Student Association and other special interest groups active on campus.
Kersten wrote that her visit to the meditation room revealed literature titled, “Hijaab [covering] and modesty,]” and instructions that women’s “speech should not ‘be such that it is heard.'”
“Enter into Islaam completely and accept all the rulings of Islaam,” said a tract she said. “It should not be that you accept what entertains your desires and leave what opposes your desires; this is from the manners of the Jews.”
She noted the document said, “Jews and the Christians” are “the enemies of Allaah’s religion. … Remember that you will never succeed while you follow these people.”
Ralph Anderson, dean of student affairs, told Kersten the college not only prepared the room but also posted signs at the room’s entrance asking students to remove their shoes, which is a Muslim custom.
Anderson called it, “basically a courtesy to Muslim students.”
He also told her the room is divided by sex, because “Muslim students prefer that. …”
Anderson refused to respond to questions about such segregation in a public facility.
“I don’t want to comment on that,” he said.
Chad Lunaas, a former student at the school, told Kersten he frequently on Fridays would discover that “every sink and toilet stall had someone washing his feet.”
He said he was intimidated by Muslims who “seemed to be in charge.”
The student also said Muslims took over the meditation room.
“They made people who are not of the Muslim religion feel very uncomfortable, especially if they were female,” he said.
Comments on Kersten’s column blog were vehement.
“Each and every time this topic comes up I see my former Liberal friends compromising their principles of ‘Separation of Church and State’ by supporting the open display of religion in public places when it concerns any religion other the Christianity,” said on. “Again, if you are against the public display of religion you are against ALL public displays of religion, PERIOD.”
Another poster asked, “Why is a publicly funded instituion (sic) providing any accomodation (sic) for any religion on its campus? If you want religious accommodation (sic), go to a private educational institution that will accomodate (sic) this religion.”
WND also has reported on a decision by officials at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., to appoint a practicing Hindu to head the college’s religion department.
The issue of Muslim accommodations in public facilities such as airports already has attracted attention in Indianapolis, Phoenix and several other locations.
In a letter to Indianapolis officials, Rev. Jerry Hillenberg of Hope Baptist Church asked for a meeting over plans being developed by the airport authority to install footbaths on the airport property.
“I still desire to speak personally with you about this issue. It cannot go unchallenged and unattended to,” he wrote. “It remains a concern of the public at large, and certainly is a concern of this pastor and our congregation.
“All of the input that we have received from the citizens of this city, county, surrounding counties, across the country, and around the world; has run 10 to one against the installation of these religious implements,” he said.
“Most realize that public property, owned by the taxpayers, cannot be used by Christians for religious displays or implements of their religiosity. Then, the question amongst them becomes: Why can it be used for Muslims?”