When Nadha Illikkal ’17 needs a safe, quiet place for the five prayers she performs each day as a Muslim-American, she doesn’t have many options.
“Right now, we’re utilizing the top part of the staircase at the back of the library, basically just empty floor space. There’s no rugs, nothing to designate the area, there’s no sign. Actually, this year, they’ve put a bench there so students can sit there and work, which is very uncomfortable because when I go up there to pray, there might be someone sitting there, working,” said Illikkal in an inter- view with The Phillipian.
Over the past decade, many Muslim students at Andover have utilized the top of the staircase in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library for religious prayers. While many other faiths have designated worship places on campus, the Muslim community at Andover lacks sanctioned space to pray.
This was one of the many issues Illikkal discussed on Friday in her Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) presentation, “Diversifying Youth From Every Quarter – An Action Plan for Muslim Students at Phillips Academy.” Illikkal, the presi- dent of Andover’s Muslim Stu- dent Association (M.S.A.), is one of this year’s CAMD Scholars. llikkal said during her presentation, “Islam requires a space where one can stand, kneel, prostrate, and bow. In past years, a prayer space for all the religions has been open in the basement of the Cochran Chapel, yet due to misuse it is often locked and can be only opened with prior notice. A permanent prayer space needs to be in an area that is easily and regularly accessible.”
In her presentation, Illikkal shared her personal experience as a Muslim student at Andover.
“For my swim test, I didn’t feel comfortable with being in the pool with boys, so I just sat on the side during P.E. while the others were in the pool. I took my swim test afterwards and Ms. Birecki, my P.E. teacher at the time, covered up all of the windows so no one could peek in. That was really touch- ing to me,” said Illikkal in an interview with The Phillipian.
Following Illikkal’s presentation, a group of panelists comprised of Meredith Rahman ’10, Teaching Fellow in
Biology, as well as Zahra Mar- hoon ’17, Saadiya Lakhani ’17, and Zizo Bahnasy ’17 discussed issues such as the lack of prop- er halal meals regularly acces- sible in Paresky Commons.
Bahnasy said in an inter- view with The Phillipian, “Last year, we worked something out with Agatha Kip, the nutritionist on campus, and we had [Paresky] Commons begin to buy halal chicken. Halal means that it’s cut properly and pre- pared properly for Muslims. It doesn’t cost that much more to get halal chicken, so they did it. The thing is, they only did it for certain forms of chicken at Andover, and we don’t always know what those forms of chicken are, and we also don’t have halal beef.”
Illikkal was inspired to present on Muslim representation at Andover because of her experience with M.S.A. Over the course of her time at Andover, she became more passionate about the club after noticing the diverse group of Muslim students that are pres- ent on campus.
“Everyone came from a dif- ferent background, so some of the students were practicing while others weren’t, some were international, and some were local. It was such a wide variety that I wanted to cap- ture these students experienc- es because they were so unique and I think most people think of Islam as a monologue when actually it’s quite a mosaic,” said Illikkal in an interview with The Phillipian.
M.S.A. was mostly inactive throughout her Junior year. However, after arrival of David Fricke, Sports Information Di- rector and current M.S.A. fac- ulty advisor, the club became more engaged. Fricke served as Illikkal’s faculty advisor throughout her project.
“The vibe I got from the audience was that there was a connection and the students were able to open up during the panel and talk about the difficulties of being Muslim, but also times when they felt that Andover presented a sup- portive community. It looked like people really related to her on different levels when it was about very personal experiences,” said Fricke.
Illikkal remains positive that Andover’s growth envi- ronment will facilitate the change towards a better Mus- lim student experience.
“Despite the many challenges, change at Andover is definitely possible. As one student said, the faculty and students are very understanding. Andover wants to engage with things we don’t yet know or fully understand. Andover has both the desire and the devotion to make the changes that I mentioned. I hope that all of you will join me in creating a more supportive community for the Muslim students here,” concluded Illikkal in her presentation.