The space is neutral: there are no crosses on the wall nor a minbar or confessional. If you didn't know better, -1,635 could also be a study room. But it is designed in this neutral way to offer space to all religions and people without religion. In practice we see that mainly Muslims use it, which in itself is not strange with a religion that prescribes praying five times a day.
Amaan Valiuddin (far left in the main photo, ed.), an Electrical Engineering master's student and chairman of the Islamic student association Salaam, frequently visits the silence room to pray. “Every Muslim should pray five times a day and this is a place to do that. The prayer room must remain very neutral, TUe does not allow to recruit people for a religion or any association. But I got to know a lot of people there. You can easily get into a conversation in such a small space. I also always look forward to meeting new people there. Before corona it was really full, now a little less.”
No accessories (needed)
Although the prayer hall does not look like a mosque, it offers Valiuddin a place to perform his prayer. “The unique aspect of Islam is that you don't need any help or accessories to talk to God. So praying here is no different than at home or in the office. It's a bit more neutral here, but it's quiet and I can put down my prayer rug if I want to. That's all I need to be able to pray.” When praying together, sometimes a student leads the prayer. Usually we look at those present to see who has the most knowledge of the Quran, that person then recites.”
Valiuddin has to pray at a slightly different time each day because the prayer times depend on the position of the sun. “I know the times approximately, so I keep an eye on the mosque calendar. Around that time I go to the silence room, perform the wudu (ritual ablution) in the bathroom there and go inside to see if anyone is already present. If so, then we pray together. Praying together is preferable in our religion, because then you are together with the community.”
Valiuddin thinks it is important that such a silence room is available for students and employees. “I think in order to be able to connect with others, you need a community of your own. Only when you are comfortable and your basic needs are met, you can start to look around and really meet others. The silence room helps to meet that basic need for many students and employees.”
Memorized the entire Quran
Bashar Khosro (far right in the main photo, ed.) is a bachelor's student in Industrial Engineering and a member of Salaam. “The days that I have to be at university, I use the silence room. There I often meet other Muslims with whom I pray together. That's better (than alone, ed.) from our religion's perspective. When we pray together, someone usually leads the prayer. We look between those present to see who knows most of the Quran by heart and that is often me. But in principle anyone can act as an imam, although we give priority to the person with the most knowledge.” To lead a prayer is not the same as praying alone, Khosro acknowledges. “You can compare it to giving a presentation. If you know that people are listening carefully to you, the situation feels different. Leading the prayer, you are responsible for their prayer. So you have to do well, extra well. Not just for yourself, but also for the others.”
Khosro was born in Iraq and came to the Netherlands when he was eleven. “I learned Dutch in two years. After that, it actually came as a suggestion from my father to delve more deeply into our religion.” He knows the Quran by heart. “That may be different with Christians or Jews. When I managed to do it, I also started to get more and more interested. I noticed that when life wasn't going so well, I got peace of mind from reciting the Quran and that motivated me to learn more about it.”
“It is very nice to be able to perform the prayer between lectures. In the middle of the day, that break is simply necessary," Khosro says. “It's great that you can do that here. If you don't have that space, where do you pray then? You prefer to pray in a place where people don't give you strange looks. If you just do it in the hallway, there isn't really that peace of mind.” Khosro has also rarely seen non-Muslims in the silence room. “I think I saw someone meditate once or twice, but other than that I don't feel that people of other religions or no religion come to pray.” Cursor tried to contact someone who meditates there. That was almost successful, but eventually there was radio silence, unfortunately. But the space is certainly crowded, mainly by Muslims around the set prayer times. “At certain times people have to wait outside, otherwise it is too cramped.” With about 12 m2, such a room of course fills up quickly. “It would be nice if there could be a little more space. The silence room brings people together and that is very beautiful.”
Souhaila Azdad is in the Fontys Teacher Training program and often studies on the TU/e campus. She follows a double program to become a teacher of Physics and Chemistry. She is also a board member of student association Salaam. “I also studied at TU/e for a while, but then I made the switch.” Azdad works long hours with the dual program, her internship and current job as a teacher. Yet she always makes sure that she can pray on time. For this reason, the Muslim woman is therefore pleased that TU/e has a silence room available. “This doesn't come naturally just everywhere.” However, at the high school where she has her internship, she wasn't afraid to ask for space. “And I was heard. As a result, I also have a place there to pray quietly.”
Sometimes I am so stressed from studying. Then I pray and I notice that I feel refreshed and ready again.
“Being able to pray on time gives me more peace of mind,” says the Physics and Chemistry student. “I find myself becoming a very grim person if I don't pray. It's really important. We (Muslims, ed.) tend to ask a lot from Allah, but do we give Him what He deserves? I would find it difficult to ask much of Him if I do not keep my part of the promise (praying as part of the pillars of Islam, ed.). Sometimes I am so stressed from studying. Then I pray and I notice that I feel refreshed and ready again.”
During corona, Azdad made less use of the silence room due to all the studying from home. But now it is possible to study on campus again and she is doing just that. “Certainly in winter the prayers are closer together and it is nice to have the option to pray at the university. I know that some friends would book a room to study and then take a break to pray in that room, but not everyone could appreciate that. Then it is nice if there is a room where that is completely fine and no one is bothered by it. Because it feels different if you are doing something secretly, when you just have the right to pray.”
Azdad's involvement with the silence room goes further than praying; she also takes care of the prayer rugs that are present there. “I wash them once in a while. In the summer I noticed that this was really necessary, they had been laying there for a long time. I am one of the few people who still lives at home in Eindhoven and can therefore do that a little easier.” During the summer holidays she started with her mother washing them in a relaxed pace. “Now with corona they are used less, but they can certainly use a wash every now and then." Such a prayer rug always looks very delicate, but turns out they can go safely in the washing machine, Azdad reassures us.