Observant Muslim housekeeping staff struggles to find places to pray
Although some practicing Muslim housekeeping staff find space in campus buildings to pray daily, others cannot find sufficient space and do not have time to search elsewhere.
Though there are designated prayer rooms on campus, these spaces are not utilized by housekeeping staff due to factors such as time constraints during breaks and the housekeepers’ comfort.
Members of the staff have varying experiences with daily prayer based on where they work. Some housekeepers would like a better place to pray, a hope some students share.
Eniska Sekic, a housekeeper in the Village, prays daily in a storage room.
“I have one storage room in Millbrook One, and I pray on one blanket. In the storage room, I have one yellow blanket that I wash my part of my body that is necessary for Muslims before they start praying. Then after that, for break time, I am going to pray in this room, storage room, for years. I’m working 16 years here,” Sekic said.
She does not pray in Lopata House in the Village, which houses the closest prayer room to her building. According to Sekic, none of the housekeepers pray there, and she would not have time to do so during her 15-minute break.
Sekic said a co-worker used a vacant apartment in her building to pray in and was then asked not to do so by a supervisor. Sekic is hesitant to ask for a different prayer space because of this co-worker’s experience.
“I just pray on the rug. But honestly, I wish I had another place,” Sekic said.
Hodan Hassan, a housekeeper in the South 40 House, uses a closet to pray in, along with a co-worker, Nesiba Dzananovic. According to Hassan, earlier this year, a supervisor of the building notified them that the storage room needed to be used for more storage.
“The supervisor want to put a lot of [housekeeping] stuff, but Nesiba [Dzananovic] was crying, she say, ‘If you take that, [where] we are praying, I’m leaving from this campus,’” Hassan said, “She told me the boss said, ‘It’s OK. No one take it from you.’”
Izeta Makic is a housekeeper who works in a different building on the South 40 every day, which inhibits her from finding a space to pray during the workday. When she worked in Myers House, she got permission to use a resident’s suite to pray in.
“I pray in my building when I work Myers. Maybe next year if I have my building, I pray again,” said Makic.
Senior Rachel Sumption, an Islamic studies major, was the student who opened her suite to Makic. According to Sumption, Makic had nowhere else to pray on the South 40 and asked if she could use her suite’s common room during prayer time.
“It struck me then that the creation of prayer space is not only a priority for Muslim students on campus but also for many more staff members, like Izeta [Makic], who would benefit from a space like that, and having access to it—that their supervisors know that they can go to that space during prayer periods,” Sumption said.
According to junior Bilal Makhdoom, president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), the group does not extend to Washington University’s staff because of the difficulty of reaching them.
“Our MSA chapter focuses mostly on undergraduates with graduates here and there. We don’t really reach out to them for any sort of connection. At the same time, it’s hard for us to assume just based on their ethnicity whether they are Muslim or not, so it’s hard for us to approach them,” Makhdoom said.
Curt Harres, assistant director of Residential Life and director of Housing Services, said he had not received any requests from staff for prayer areas.
“My department has only regulated the break times, not what someone does on breaks. So if praying is what someone has interest in doing, they can, obviously,” Harres said. “I do not recall any staff members coming to me in recent years specifically requesting space to pray.”