Disclaimer: These are my personal thoughts, reflections, and feeling. The aim of this post isn’t necessarily to be historically, proportionally, or chronologically accurate, but to instead give an overall feeling of what Rutgers Jummuah has meant to me for the past four years, why I think that it’s important, and what I believe the most important takeaways are. I have purposely left out specific names because I feel that the anonymity holds more true to the Jummuah culture. Please forgive me for any oversights or inaccuracies.
Back in the first half of the decade, a few Muslim students (mostly through coincidence, activism, and a very generous Pastor) struck a deal with The Second Reform Church on College Ave. After a narrow majority vote, the church would allow Muslims on campus to use their space to pray in.
This was important in a lot of ways. For decades, Muslim students had been trying to get a permanent spot on campus to pray in, but were marginally successful. The church’s offer to the Muslim community was the first step in a long process that has, eventually, yielded progress. But it wasn’t perfect. Like any place that would be used so often, the church space came with a fee.
We operated entirely on donations, adrenaline, and tolerance. A few streets from Rutgers Student Center, the location could not have been better. Details were ironed out and an event page went live, marketing free lunch after prayer service. Everyone–and I mean everyone–was there.
Friday March 15th, 2013. The first Rutgers Jummah was nothing short of a movement. I will never forget walking up those wooden stairs for the first time to see the bright red carpets and the pure, unfiltered enthusiasm that literally filled the room from end to end; I will never forget the happiness and peace that truly resonated with me and made me reflect on what it means to be part of something. Rutgers Jummah made it very clear, from the first day, that this movement was about every single one of us.
At this time, there was no forum where people from different organizations and different sects of Islam all collected in one place. There are a few things in the past few years that have really brought our community together: No Rice, Chapel Hill, Eid, and, of course, Jummah. But Jummah worked in a special way. This was my absolute favorite part. Nothing brings people closer like standing next to someone while you make sujda; it just reaffirms that, despite our differences, we bow down to the same creator. Jummah filled in the gaps of unity that should have been there already. Jummah got Muslims on campus honestly, genuinely excited for something that was much bigger than us. We looked around and, for the first time, we saw a place that belonged to us–the Muslims at Rutgers University– even if it was just for a few hours. We felt energized and important and it gave us the momentum we needed to grow and keep developing into what we have now. We were in this together.
Jummah did little things to spice things up, like hosting a calligraphy class, an instagram contest #RURugLife, and a Salat All Kasoof prayer
People graduated, things got complicated. I found myself sitting in long, confusing meetings where we tried to figure out what direction this whole thing was going on. We didn’t know much and lots of people had lots of opinions, even though we all wanted the same thing: a place to pray on campus.
Although we sincerely appreciated the church’s efforts in reaching out and providing a space for us, we were beginning to realize that paying rent every month wasn’t sustainable. More importantly, we felt like it wasn’t our responsibility to pay for our own Jummah space since we were attending a public university. But, at the same time, we didn’t know what the alternative was–it wasn’t realistic to wait around for enough cash to build our own center and we couldn’t’ just stop holding Jummah.
Eventually, we decided that the best strategy for moving forward was to persuade the administration that it is their responsibility to figure out a way to accommodate a prayer congregation for us. And, the first step in doing this was to register as an organization. This was because we wanted a legitimate way to appear in front of the people who decided things like this. Instead of “Individual X Y and Z” asking for a prayer space, we could be representatives of 200 people asking for prayer space.
Yes, we could have let MSA take care of it. But we didn’t want to. There were a few reasons, one being that this was that this was too pressing and too important to be handled by an organization that literally has endless other things to worry about. Another big reason is that we were not MSA. Not every Muslim identifies or feels comfortable with MSA and we never wanted Jummah to be about alienating part of the community–that would be completely counterproductive, because the best part of Jummah is how it did the exact opposite.
Organizations need positions. The Jummah movement wasn’t about positions or power or “change” and “influence”, so it was sort of awkward for us to transition into a collective of people who wanted to work together into a board with rigid duties. Reluctantly, people signed sheets of paper and roles were given out. The positions didn’t change much–we were adamant on maintaining a fluid, collaborative team environment. But, there are always leaders in a movement, and we’re very lucky to have the leaders that we did during this sensitive and crucial time in our history: people who knew how to balance authority and democracy, as well as chill vibes and organization.
We established ourselves and were appointed an advisor who was able to open the correct doors for us. We collaborated with CILRU (center of Islamic Life). After many meetings, phone calls, emails, and most of all, relentless passion and diligence through a combined effort by all three parties, we were promised Cooper Dining Hall every Friday from 12-3. This was unprecedented progress–we had no idea what this would mean or what to make of it. After years and years of praying in hallways and staircases, years of talking to administration, years of going unrecognized, Rutgers finally conceded to giving us a place to pray in? On a consistent basis?
The first Jummah at Cooper Dining Hall was held on March 27th 2015.
Cooper quickly became our new home, except this time we weren’t outwearing our welcome somewhere. We are establishing a tradition for generations to come.
Since then, Rutgers Jummah has grown in size, demographics, and influence. In addition to our BBQs, we now host a biannual event encouraging people to “Bring A Friend to Jummah,” bimonthly “Kahffee Houses,” where we facilitate a guided recitation of surah Kahf before prayer, and are working to create a female scholar lecture series. The goals of Jummah have remained the same: host Friday prayer. It’s just easier to do so when we have paper towels in the bathroom and something to look forward to at the end of the year.
“Humans of Jummuah” Social media project to create a space for individuals to tell their stories.
I didn’t grow up around here. I was the only Muslim in my graduating class in high school. I don’t have a great youth group at my masjid. The first Rutgers Jummah in 2013 is the first time in my life that I felt like I was part of a Muslim community. Rutgers Jummah sculpted a culture in our community that did not exist before.
There was no concept of “after Jummah” lunches, hangouts, and events. We are so used to thinking about things in terms of “after Jummah,” that we think it’s inherent to our practice as Muslims, but, I assure you it’s not–at least not for women. I know because the phrase wasn’t embedded into our agendas before 2013. That’s one of the reasons I love our organization so much–it single handedly facilitated the welcoming of women into a practice that is far too often male dominated. Sometimes I count the rows of men and women and I always find that they’re almost equal if not exactly equal, a wonderful feat in equality that you don’t get anywhere outside of a college campus.
Not only that, but Rutgers Jummah has reclaimed Friday as our day. I can confidently tell the people I work with or my nonmuslim friends that I’m unavailable Friday afternoon. When Jummah is over, I often find myself leaving the scene with a group of Muslim friends, and spending the rest of the day with them. This is how it should be, and it was only made possible because of our space.
It’s human nature to take things for granted. We’ve gotten so used to hopping on a bus and getting off at Cabaret Friday afternoon that we often forget to think about how we got there.
Make dua for our founding Jummah fathers and for every person who went to this school and worked tirelessly to ensure that there would be no student who would have to wonder about where they could pray Jummah next week. Although we deserve a place to pray on campus, we are lucky for the opportunity to get one. It didn’t come easy.
Like most people who are on “Jummah board,” I’m not really sure where I began to fit into all of this. One day, I was cutting tomatoes for our end of the year BBQ, at some point I was added to a groupme, and now I fill up percolators (mostly because I think chai is important). Jummah got me excited and I wanted to help out. It still gets me excited, so I keep helping. That was it.
But Jummah isn’t about the people who are “on board.” Jummah isn’t about sending any specific message out to the Muslim community. Sure, we try to class it by putting out tea and cookies and we want to celebrate the end of the year with an annual BBQ, but these things are just garnishes in the bigger picture.
First and foremost, Jummah is, was, and should be a representation of what our community wants and needs out of Friday prayer. Jummah is all of us.
Maintaining the space isn’t especially difficult–getting khateebs, dealing with administration, managing a budget–but someone has to do it. And that’s the thing–anyone can do it. If you want to help out, come help. Set up starts at 12pm. But if you pray at Cooper, you’re already part of the movement. Just keep it alive, because it’s one of the most important things we have.