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Muslim Students Navigate Challenges with Prayer Space at Tech

Signs+that+were+put+up+in+the+1st-floor+breezeway.
Franka Etkin
Signs that were put up in the 1st-floor breezeway.

Every day at 1:45 PM, the time of Zuhr—the second daily Islamic prayer—the Brooklyn Tech cafeteria is adorned with colorful and intricately designed prayer mats. This gathering is an important part of daily life for many Muslim students at Tech. 

Until this school year, Muslim students prayed in the first-floor breezeway, the hallway between the first-floor gym and the auditorium. This quiet, unfrequented part of the school became a comfortable place where they gathered throughout the day.

Architecture major Emaan Fatima (‘24), the Vice President of the Brooklyn Tech chapter of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), expressed that the Muslim community at Tech is very tight-knit and helped her make some of her closest friends early on. “I think [MSA] is the first friend group that every [Muslim] freshman makes,” she said. 

In September, those participating in prayer in the breezeway faced an unanticipated decision from the school administration. “[Principal David Newman and AP of Health and Safety Ms. Lisa Iacono] came in one day in the middle of our prayer and were just staring at us,” explained Fatima. After the prayer was done, Ms. Iacono explained to the leaders of the group that their prayer posed a health and safety violation for the school and that the students would have to move. 

This came as a surprise to many students who had become accustomed to using the breezeway for prayer. Law and Society major Yassin Mohammed (‘25) said that although he had heard rumors about this change, “[He] never really thought it would happen.” 

Another student, Hanaa Naji (‘25), commented that because she didn’t have eighth-period lunch, she turned to the breezeway as a more accessible place to pray between classes. “I don’t see the issue with praying in the breezeway, it takes five minutes and it’s done silently,” said Naji. 

Mr. Newman explained that, with the growing group of students gathering in the breezeway, “the biggest consideration was space.”  The breezeway simply did not have the capacity to safely fit students and had to be clear in the case of an emergency. 

The administration’s proposed replacement space at the southwest corner of the cafeteria was initially met with student resistance. “We were thinking about sending emails to Newman because no one really liked the cafeteria,” said Fatima. “It’s really unsanitary here and a dirty place to pray.” 

Additionally, given that custodians clean the cafeteria after ninth period, students now lack space for the third prayer, Asr.  Mr. Newman attempted to solve this problem by asking the custodians to wait for the students to finish, but this request has not been respected thus far. 

Students had come to feel connected to the breezeway. “We had prayed there for around seven years so when we were moved upstairs, it was a different feeling,” Fatima commented. 

However, over time, they have grown to appreciate the new environment. Fatima expressed that she appreciates the accessibility to seating and food surrounding the times of prayer,  both of which the breezeway did not have.

The location change, although not ideal, was an administrative necessity, contrary to some students’ preconceptions, given the ever-expanding group. As Mr. Newman put it, “It’s great that more kids want to pray. This is a good problem to have.” The cafeteria is the most adequate space for them, where they will continue to pray for the foreseeable future. 

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About the Contributor
Franka Etkin, Staff Writer
Franka Etkin (she/her) is a Staff Writer. Franka is part of The Survey because she has always had a passion for writing and social justice. She feels that journalism is the perfect incorporation of both into one craft. She reads The New York Times, and finds their word games delightful. She aspires to be a public defender with a focus on providing legal aid for minors tried as adults. In my free time, she plays the spelling bee and gets the pangram lightning fast every morning. Her favorite book is Einstien's Dreams, a short collection of fictional essays about Albert Einstein before publishing his theory of relativity.

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