Prayer Connects Students, Community, Environment

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After the bright, colorful carpets were laid out and all the shoes were taken off, the rain prayer ceremony began with a beautiful hymn sung by Ziad Itani, president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Those who were there knelt down, slowly brought their hands to and from their faces and sung together in Arabic. Latecomers quietly set their backpacks down and joined everyone else on the carpet.

Following the lead of a group of Bay Area Muslims who gathered on Feb. 1 to hold a prayer for rain, which was followed by several days of rainfall, Itani was inspired to hold a similar ceremony here at UCSC.

Salat al-istisqa, or Rain Seeking Prayer, is one recourse when seeking rain from Allah during a drought. It normally consists of an imam, or leader of the prayer, reciting two rak’ats, or units of prayer.

This rain ceremony took place last Friday afternoon in the Cervantes and Velasquez conference room. About 15-20 students attended and prayed for rain both individually and with the help of the student leader.

“[Rain ceremonies] are a very rare thing,” Itani said. “I’ve never done anything like this in my life and it sounded like a really cool idea.”

Itani reached out to all the MSAs on the West Coast to help spread the word about the ceremony and decided to use the “eco-friendly sermon” in supplication to the normal Friday prayer. This sermon emphasized practices leading to a healthier planet and its inhabitants, and how this current drought is just an example of the repercussions of our actions.

“We don’t expect anything from these prayers. We ask for rain and hope it comes,” Itani said.

The MSA has about 90 members this year, a large majority of the total amount of Muslim students attending UCSC. Every Friday the MSA meets to pray, and every other week they hold general meetings to discuss socials and other future events, promote Islam and educate people, Itani said. He believes more student outreach activities that everyone can participate in, such as the rain ceremony, are fundamentally important for people to understand other perspectives.

“I joined because I wanted to connect with other Muslim students and find a network of like-minded students. I’ve made a lot of good friends there,” Itani said.

According to a team created by the UC President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion, UCSC is generally known for having a safe and tolerant environment for students to practice and express themselves.

“When I immerse myself in my religion I feel like I can completely shut everything and everyone out, and I feel safe,” said first-year student and MSA member Thooba Samimi. “I joined MSA because I know I can do so much in the world and in my community.”

Samimi’s parents cautioned her about the small Muslim community at UCSC, but she was excited about the intimate community because she wanted to stand out.

“I love the feeling of walking into a classroom and being the only girl wearing a scarf,” Samimi said. “It’s empowering and a way to distinguish myself from others.”

UCSC has a wide variety of religious groups on campus, including the University Interfaith Council, which meets to discuss different religions to enhance cross-religious understanding.

“When I first wore my scarf, there were a lot of people who did some bad things to me, but I feel like people should be aware of what they do, how their actions affect others and of other religions’ customs,” Samimi said.