New Footbaths a Nod to BU’s Growing Muslim Population

CELOP’s facilities available to everyone

11.01.2011 By Leslie Friday

ELOP student  Faisal Alasiri washes before daily prayer.  CELOP just updated its bathrooms ( men’s and women’s rooms) come equipped with foot baths for students. This is  in response to the increase  in Muslim students  at CELOP.   Photo by Kalman Zabarsky  for Boston University Photography

ELOP student Faisal Alasiri washes before daily prayer. CELOP just updated its bathrooms ( men’s and women’s rooms) come equipped with foot baths for students. This is in response to the increase in Muslim students at CELOP. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky for Boston University Photography

 

No one lingered in the bathrooms at the Center for English Language & Orientation Programs. They were more than a decade old and dingy. Even the janitors said they needed help.

So this summer, the center’s bathrooms were fully renovated with a fresh coat of paint, bright lights, and gleaming tiles and fixtures. But also added was a feature rare for most public restrooms: footbaths. Designed to accommodate Muslim students who must wash before prayer five times a day, the footbaths are available to everyone.

Elsie El Dayaa, CELOP’s operations manager, says the decision to add the footbaths fit nicely with the office’s planned remodel and its desire to meet the needs of its growing Muslim student population.

The number of Middle Eastern students enrolled at CELOP—many of them Muslim—has grown by 175 percent in the past four years and Middle Eastern students now comprise nearly 40 percent of the program’s total population, according to El Dayaa. That is due in large part to a significant increase in enrollment of Saudi Arabian students sent by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation. Several other Muslim students come from Africa and Asia.

CELOP is so proud of its new facilities, El Dayaa says, that “now we’re known as the office that shows you its bathroom.”

The footbaths are a first for the University. The George Sherman Union’s second floor restrooms have tiled floor basins, but they were retrofitted to existing stalls and are seldom used. The new footbaths are cutting-edge compared to what’s available at peer institutions nationwide, according to those involved in the project.

Visitors to the CELOP office at 890 Commonwealth Avenue step onto the second floor and see doors immediately to the left leading to the newly redesigned men’s room and women’s room, which each boast a foyer with coat hooks on the wall and the footbaths. A sturdy bench forms one wall of the tiled basin, allowing users to sit and rest their feet on a sloped tile surface for convenient scrubbing. Two faucets and soap and paper towel dispensers are affixed to the wall within easy reach.

Paper signs are taped to the walls above: “This footbath is for your convenience. Use it for washing.” Another urges visitors to “Please sit on the bench. Do not stand.”

Faisal Alasiri, a second year CELOP student from Saudi Arabia, says the footbaths are a vast improvement. “Before that, we used the sink,” he says. “It was high and hard to wash your feet.”

Not to mention dangerous and somewhat embarrassing. Muslims are required to perform ablution—the washing of hands, face, and feet—before prayer. “You’re not able to bring yourself before God without purification,” says Ziad Howlader (CAS’12), the caretaker of the GSU’s second floor mosque, where many CELOP students pray.

El Dayaa says students had not asked for the footbaths to be installed. Rather, office staff noticed Muslim students performing their ablutions in bathroom sinks before heading down a hallway to two quiet classrooms where they held afternoon prayers. The footbaths seemed an obvious addition when it came time to renovate.

“This is just a tiny part of how we do business at CELOP,” El Dayaa says. “We look at our population and our students and how we can accommodate them.”

CELOP staff surveyed Muslim students last year about the type of facilities they would need, did some preliminary research online, and then handed the information over to Jeff Hoseth, the University’s associate director of construction services at Facilities Management & Planning. He and Serena Bodner, senior interior designer, eventually settled on a design similar to one installed at the University of Michigan.

Five weeks of construction later, the bathroom renovation was complete. CELOP director Margot Valdivia is so proud of the new space that she’s sent pictures to others in her field.

“I risked bragging when I told them,” she says with a mischievous smile.

This article was originally published on November 1, 2011 in BU Today.