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A Personal Transition Inspires New Space for Prayer

December 8, 2015

Joy Johnson, a clinical compliance coordinator at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, underwent an incredible personal journey while employed by the University – a religious conversion to the Muslim faith. 

Without a doubt, converting meant significant change for Johnson at home and in her personal life, but it also meant she would need to make a few changes in her professional life in order to practice her religion. 

“When I converted (in 2011), I had been here for about eight years.  It was a change for everyone – just a learning experience, learning the difference and my beliefs,” said Johnson. 

A change in dress and a month of fasting presented opportunities to bring awareness to her colleagues of Muslim customs, but perhaps the change that most required support and understanding in the workplace was that Johnson would now need to pray five times each day. 

To do so independently, she needed nothing more than a private space and her prayer rug. Her office was suitable for her personal need. “I have always been accommodated. It really didn’t occur to me that the Center City campus did not have the facilities needed to accommodate other Muslims.” Until it became clear that this was an area that needed improvement.

“I started seeing more Muslims around (Center City) campus – on the shuttle, in Three Parkway, in the Bellet Building.” Curiosity drove her to ask them where they prayed, and lack of designated Muslim prayer space in Center City became glaring.

Though space is available in University City, for CNHP students who spend a great deal of time downtown, getting there at specific daily times allotted for prayer is not always feasible. Johnson partnered with the Drexel Student Muslim Association (Drexel SMA) to establish a space that meets all of the requirements for Muslim prayer large enough to accommodate a growing population of students, faculty and staff of the faith. 

In November, Johnson and Drexel SMA announced that the Center City prayer space is finally ready for use – and in two locations! “We’ve ironed out the guidelines, tidied up the rooms, and have all that is needed, including prayer rugs, guidelines and a log book, to open the doors to students, faculty and professional staff!” she said.

Space for Muslim Prayer in the Bellet Buidling (Room 302) can be accessed from Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. Space in Three Parkway (Room 652) can be accessed from Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Both spaces will be closed on University holidays.

Though Johnson is pleased with the University’s responsiveness and ramped up efforts to foster inclusion and respect, garnering a community-wide understanding of Muslim culture is still a work in progress. And being a member of CNHP’s board for diversity and inclusion, she is approached by peers and students and made aware of shortcomings and concerns. 

“In one instance, a student notified their instructor too late about wanting to observe a Muslim holiday. Some of our holidays are not on a calendar, so the faculty member was unaware and similarly, the student did not feel empowered to approach the subject. We have to create more awareness of our religious practices, and more awareness among students that they have a right to ask for what they need.”