Like many Duke students, when Yossra Hamid isn’t in class, the senior is most likely studying in Perkins Library.
And that has posed a daily quandary for Hamid, a devout Muslim who prays five times daily. Sometimes she walked to the Bryant student center or Duke School of Divinity, where there are rooms set aside for prayer.
Other times she has sought out a spot in the stacks, where she can pray quietly among the shelves of books.
But Hamid doesn’t have to make that choice any more. Earlier this month, library officials at Duke dedicated a small conference room as a prayer and meditation room.
“We decided it was something we could easily and happily do,” said Aaron Welborn, a spokesman for the library. “It’s for members of the Islamic or Hindu or Buddhist faiths on campus. We want to make it available to everyone.”
The library’s stark spiritual retreat – a bare-walled conference room with a small bench and several rolled up prayer rugs – is one of two recently opened interfaith prayer rooms on campus. The other is known as the Mosaic, a warmer and better appointed room in Keohane dorm, open for prayer and meditation by students of all faiths.
Hamid said she welcomed the university’s willingness to accommodate the diverse religious practices of its student body.
“Duke can be a stressful place,” she said. “Mental health and spiritual health is very important.”
Hamid, whose parents are from Sudan, found Duke to be a very welcoming campus for Muslims.
“I was overwhelmed in a good way,” she said. “That was one of the reasons I came to Duke.”
But events in 2015 cast a shadow over that feeling of inclusion at Duke, where more than 700 of Duke’s 14,850 students identify themselves as Muslim.
In January, Duke gave permission for the Muslim Students Association to broadcast a Friday call to prayer from speakers on the bell tower of Duke Chapel. Duke officials touted the move as a way to promote religious inclusiveness at the school, but the ensuing uproar caused Duke to reverse the decision.
The university received hundreds of calls and emails, “many of which were quite vitriolic,” Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said at the time. “The level of vitriol in the responses was unlike any other controversy we have seen here in quite some time.”
In February, a bigger shock wave ran through the area’s Muslim community when three Muslim students in Chapel Hill were murdered in their apartment.
And in December, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims seeking to enter the United States.
These events, and particularly the murders, have caused great stress among Muslim students and their families. Hamid said her father worries about her safety every time they speak on the phone.
“My father talks about it every time we speak on the phone,” Hamid said.
One of the obligations of Islam is to face the holy city of Mecca and pray five times a day. But in the bowels of Perkins Library, how does one determine where Mecca lies?
With an app, of course. Hamid uses iMuslim, which uses GPS to point to the holy city. The app also supplies the times of prayer, which are timed to sunrise and sunset and vary through the year. (On Sunday, iMuslim gave the times as 5:38 a.m. and four times after noon: 12:30, 3:31, 5:38 and 7:17.
Hamid, who is president of the Duke Muslim Student Association, said it is deeply satisfying to have a safe and dedicated place to pray.
“The room is always open,” she said.