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After more than 10 years, a long-awaited dream has become a reality for UCF’s Muslim Student Association.

The group’s ongoing efforts to establish an open-faith prayer room in the Student Union paid off Wednesday, when the members were handed the key to the first-ever private reflection space at UCF.

Although initiated by MSA, the UCF Prayer and Reflection room, located on the first floor of the Student Union, serves as a sanctuary for people of all backgrounds and faiths, said MSA student adviser and former President Junaid Hashami.

“This room is for everyone, and it will teach us all how to respect other religions,” said Hashami, adding that this project has been in the works since the early 2000s.

After years of unsuccessful attempts, current MSA President Mohamed Mohamed approached Student Union Director Rick Falco with the intention of finally making it happen.

In past years, there has not been enough space available in the Student Union for a prayer room, but after the Multicultural Student Center vacated, Falco approached student body President Cait Zona and the two found a solution.

“Making our campus as inclusive as possible has always been an upmost priority of mine," Zona said. "It is really important that this room is for all religions because we want to make sure all students feel equal and safe on our campus.”

The designated room is of particular importance to Muslim students, like senior Hadi Toure, who must pray five times a day as part of an essential pillar of Islam.

“When they announced that, I almost cried – I got chills just from hearing it,” said Toure, adding that finding a place to pray on campus has always been a challenge, and that she would often have to do all of the prayers when she got home from class.

Beyond Islam, Hashami said that if Muslims are trying to pray on a daily basis, he is positive people of other beliefs and religions are, too.

“Not having a private room may have been hindering people from practicing their faith, and we don’t want anyone to feel that way,” he said. “And we also don’t want our own practice and beliefs to hinder that for other people who may want to use this room.

“That’s why we want all people to come out and practice their own faith in this room so that we are united in reflection.”

In a statement made in Nevada, Rajan Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, praised UCF's prayer room as a "step in the right direction."

Zed said he hopes UCF's Prayer and Reflection Room can be utilized as a place to initiate interfaith dialogue.

"Dialogue helps us overcome prejudices, brings us closer and results in mutual enrichment," he said. "Moreover, despite theological differences, religions teach us love, sharing, respect, fairness, morality, ethics, forgiveness, compassion, tolerance [and] humility and we hope that this room would thus prove beneficial in the wholesome development of UCF students."

Zed also thanked UCF for recognizing the intersection of spirituality and education and said that because of the new prayer room, students would have a spiritually meaningful life in addition to material success after they graduated.

He suggested that UCF should consider keeping the room available to the campus community for 24-hours every day of the year.

Currently, the Prayer and Reflection room will be open daily during the Student Union’s normal hours of operation.

“It is truly an amazing new asset to our campus culture, for all members of the UCF community,” Zona said. “All Knights should be proud that we attend such an inclusive and cutting-edge university.”

Daniela Marin and Deanna Ferrante contributed to the reporting of this story.

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Daniela Marin is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @dan__marin or email her at DanielaM@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

Deanna Ferrante is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future. Follower her on Twitter at @deannaferrante or email her at DeannaF@cCentralFloridaFuture.com.

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