During Spring Concert on Saturday, May 25, two non-Muslim students were found engaging in sexual activity in the Muslim Prayer Room of the Chapel while Muslim students waited to enter the room for Ramadan evening prayers. The next afternoon, all students received an email from Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum informing them of the incident.
“Yesterday an incident took place in the Chapel that has left some of our Muslim students who worship in the Chapel feeling hurt, angry, and disrespected,” wrote Fure-Slocum. “This was disrespectful of our Muslim students, to the Chapel, to the College community, and to others who use this as a place to worship.”
Zehra Khan ’22 was present at the time of the incident. Khan and several other Muslim students arrived at the Prayer Room and were surprised to find the door locked. Khan knocked on the door and realized that two students were engaging in sexual activity in the space.
“Coming out, they had towels on their head, and they started to run away out of embarrassment. I followed them as they were running out of the chapel and I said, ‘you could have said sorry, at least.’ At that point, I went back to the room and I saw it. This was disrespectful.”
After the incident, Khan posted a photo of the prayer room to the Facebook group Overheard at Carleton. “I thought posting what had happened mattered so people know this is happening in the Chapel space,” said Khan.
Khan reported that one of the students involved in the incident went to her room the following day to apologize. “It was very genuine,” she said. Soon after, the second student involved did the same, remarking to Khan, “‘This was very eye-opening to me, and I am very aware of my actions,’ to paraphrase what the student said.” The students also apologized to the first Muslim student who was waiting at the locked door to use the Prayer Room.
Muslim Students Association (MSA) Vice President Hibo Abdi ’20 reported that the Muslim community came together on Sunday, May 26 to discuss what happened the day before.
“The reason why it really hits is because the last ten days of Ramadan are the most spiritual.”
“I’m still going through my emotions and trying to process what happened,” said MSA President Sarah Chebli ’20 in a group interview with Khan and Abdi. “Even though it’s the month of Ramadan and I know I’m supposed to forgive, I don’t feel I’m in the right space right now with all the finals I have to do to be able to process what happened, because that space has been such a vital part of my Carleton experience.”
“The reason why it really hits is because the last ten days of Ramadan are the most spiritual,” said Chebli. “It’s when the veils between this world and the heavens are the thinnest.” The incident took place during one of the last ten days of Ramadan.
Following the Sunday night meeting, the MSA conducted a purification ritual in the prayer space. Associate Chaplain for Muslim and Interfaith Life Ailya Vajid said, “A student and I ritually purified the space and spoke about the literal and symbolic meanings of water as a purifier, as well as how the presence of everyone in the room was itself a restoring of the space. A couple of students recited Qur’an, and then we opened up the space for folks to share how they felt and what they envisioned going forward.” In the coming months, the Dean of Students office plans to work with MSA to replace the furniture in the Muslim Prayer Room.
“This is not an isolated incident. This has been a recurring thing that has not just been happening in the Muslim prayer room.”
Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston attended the MSA’s Sunday meeting and purification ritual, Khan, Abdi and Chebli reported. The students expressed gratitude for Livingston’s quick response.
“Dean Livingston helped us come up with very actionable things that we can do, and she was very willing to do these things as soon as possible to make that space back to how it was for all
of us,” said Abdi. “I was personally wowed by how ready she was to take action. I can’t thank Dean Livingston enough. I don’t think I can really express how much it really meant for her to come to one of our iftars [breaking the fast], and be with us, and talk with us, follow up with us, and enact these different changes.” The primary changes include replacing the furniture in the Muslim Prayer Room in the coming months.
“I think having us all gathered in the space together helped folks to start to feel at home again,” Vajid continued. “They said it would take some time, but by the end of the night after iftar, some of us were praying there, and I think even just having everyone gathered together was healing for all those present.”
According to Abdi, “This is not an isolated incident. This has been a recurring thing that has not just been happening in the Muslim Prayer Room. I feel like, to the people who did this, whether it was the Catholic Prayer Room or Buddhist Meditation, they just wanted a space, but that obviously doesn’t justify anything, and they clearly did not care to recognize the importance of that space.”
“This is not anything new,” saud Abdi, “and it speaks volumes about the Carleton community and how much disregard people have toward religion. Religious identity at Carleton is very marginalized. It’s seen almost as taboo, I would say.”
“Religious identity at Carleton is very marginalized. It’s seen almost as taboo, I would say.”
“This incident is part of a larger conversation around sex at Carleton and how acts like these, like in the Chapel, in the Libe, in the Arb, are like rites of passage,” Abdi continued. “But it’s obviously so disrespectful.”
At the Monday, May 27 CSA meeting, Senators discussed the incident, expressing concerns about how the use of the Chapel for non-religious activities, such as the wedding during Party Week, concerts, Convocation and Stripped, sends conflicting messages to students about its role on campus as a hub for religious life. Senators also discussed a lack of religious diversity-related education on the College’s DiversityEdu programming for incoming students, as well whether limiting the hours of the Chapel is the appropriate course of action.
In a near unanimous straw poll with two abstentions, CSA Senate agreed to issue a statement on the incident in the Muslim Prayer Room. On Wednesday, May 29, CSA President Anesu Masakura ’20 emailed students a statement expressing sympathy to the Muslim community and condemning the incident “as disrespectful and degrading to the Muslim and broader communities at Carleton.”
“This incident is emblematic of the larger issue of how the Carleton community views the Chapel as a space on campus,” the CSA statement continued. “We must remember that, while the Chapel is welcome to all and often used to hold secular events such as convocations and party week traditions like the mock wedding, it still is regarded as a sacred space by many religious communities on campus.”
Both of the students involved in the incident wrote the Carletonian to publicly apologize to the greater Muslim and Carleton community. One student said that “the events that occurred last Saturday night were a result of my ignorance toward the purpose of the space and that ignorance resulted in me making the worst mistake of my life. Unfortunately my actions did hurt people and I feel terrible that I did something that hurt a community which has been oppressed in this country. This is in no way a reflection of my character or the morals that I stand for. I can’t really express how genuinely sorry I am and will continue to work to repair this situation.”
“We apologize to the entire community for behaving carelessly and disrespecting the Muslim Prayer Room and Chapel,” said the other student implicated in the incident.
“We apologize to the entire community for behaving carelessly and disrespecting the Muslim Prayer room and Chapel.”
“We know the fact that we had no idea we were in a Prayer Room demonstrates ignorance and entitlement, and this experience has been a huge realization in the ways that our actions can unintentionally harm others,” the second student continued. “We aren’t asking for sympathy, but please understand that we made a stupid, drunken mistake. We will be paying to replace the furniture in the room and hope to apologize formally to the MSA in a way that doesn’t cause further distress.”