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New Footbaths a Nod to BU’s Growing Muslim Population

CELOP’s facilities available to everyone


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 in summer 2011, 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 rooms, 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.

Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

Follow Leslie Friday on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

37 Comments on New Footbaths a Nod to BU’s Growing Muslim Population

  • Mohammed Alqahtani on 11.01.2011 at 9:36 am

    Thank you so much for this report
    and good to see my friend Faisal

  • Cmulderig on 11.01.2011 at 10:39 am

    I am so glad to see BU providing these kinds of services to our Muslim students. It is important to provide ways for all members of the community to express their unique identities peacefully, piously, and comfortably. This is the kind of tolerance our society needs to improve the lives of all, and I am proud of BU for being so forward thinking. Muslims and non-Muslims alike have seen the BU community grow stronger today. Shukran kitheeran for this thoughtfulness.

  • Abdullah on 11.01.2011 at 12:22 pm

    what a great effort
    Thank you

  • cpbcpb1 on 11.01.2011 at 1:34 pm

    Fantastic. Proud of BU!!

  • Amy M Laskowski on 11.01.2011 at 1:37 pm

    Great story, and very cool that CELOP did this.

  • Muslim Student on 11.01.2011 at 1:55 pm

    In our school, Purdue Calumet, even a prayer room we don’t have. What a shame.

  • WTF on 11.01.2011 at 3:24 pm

    Why would you need to clean your feet in a campus building? There are such things as showers.

    • TC on 11.01.2011 at 5:19 pm

      Muslims have to perform a particular ritual ablution before performing their prayers. Washing the feet is part of that ritual.

      • Student on 11.02.2011 at 6:53 am

        Couldn’t you wash it in the shower? I am Muslim and that is what I do…

        However, very happy to hear about the foot baths!!!

        • Leslie on 11.02.2011 at 10:22 am

          Not if you’re in a classroom building and prayer falls during your regular class schedule. CELOP students use the facilities for ablution before conducting their prayers in reserved classrooms down the hallway.

          • Overlord of the Underclassmen on 11.16.2011 at 9:58 am

            So…..would they stop in the middle of lecture to pray???…..

          • SD on 07.15.2012 at 1:13 pm

            @overlord: yes, actually we do step out in the middle of lectures to pray.

  • BU alum on 11.01.2011 at 6:26 pm

    this is wonderful!! way to go BU :)

  • L.H. on 11.05.2011 at 10:53 am

    Way cool.

  • Lisa on 11.07.2011 at 3:24 pm

    What a good idea. A nice little convenience for when you’re on campus.

  • Hamza on 11.08.2011 at 11:37 pm

    I wish they were BU Mngt were all muslim 2 b rewarded by Allah 4 that amal swaliha.

  • Michael on 11.14.2011 at 3:09 pm

    I am wondering if the King Abdullah University too is now planning to accomodate the needs of its Christian visitors, by building a Chapel on its territory.

    • Basim Almutawa on 11.16.2011 at 6:42 pm

      It’s a good question. I am Saudi, and I’ve asked myself this question when I saw this story. I think they should have provide many differnt things of other religions needs. In many places in KSA, they try to accomodate other cultures needs; based on the coalitions of the other nationalities, religions, and cultures.
      Anyway, I am really proud of BU. This is a great experience I have ever had. It tells us a message that we are all brothers, we have to live together, even if we have other religions or cultures, because we are all humans.

      Thank you

  • Muni on 11.16.2011 at 10:03 pm

    Proud of you ‘BE YOU’ <3

  • artur on 12.20.2011 at 5:57 am

    This isn’t just a footbath. It’s another step in the support of theocratical LUNACY. Wht next, face covered completely for the women? I forgot bu gets kickbacks from these groups for it’s growing muslim studies. A joke!

    • Jackson on 07.05.2012 at 2:48 pm


  • Rawan.87 on 12.20.2011 at 8:01 am

    That’s very thoughtful, proud of Islam and how it proved its power even in the most prestigious universities!
    looking forward to being one of BU’s students <3.
    My warmest regards,

  • Robin Olson on 12.20.2011 at 8:32 am

    Excellent! I am proud of BU!

  • confused on 01.03.2012 at 11:19 am

    While I think it’s great to accommodate the needs of people from around the world, I wonder at what cost we are doing it. I grow more and more frustrated every time I see something like this. Kids today can’t even pledge allegiance under God in the classroom but here we are building footbaths for the muslim population. Give me a break. This is disturbing.

    • Leslie on 07.05.2012 at 9:35 am

      Just FYI, this project was completely financed by CELOP, which runs on a budget separate from BU’s.

    • Sane Student on 07.05.2012 at 2:21 pm

      BU has given a Hillel house to the Jewish population and Marsh Chapel to Christians. Why is it such a problem to give a footbath to Muslims?

    • Em on 07.05.2012 at 3:30 pm

      I totally agree with you. God is just being shoved a little further away from the big picture in America. Disturbing indeed. Why is Christianity mocked in this country, but Heaven Forbid the Muslims should go without footbaths?

      • Sane Student on 07.07.2012 at 11:15 pm

        It’s not in Christianity to say the pledge of allegiance… It wasn’t in the ten commandment or the bible the last time I checked. Furthermore, BU’s efforts have brought God a little bit closer because the fact of the matter is more muslims will be praying since ablution will be more convenient and they too believe in god.

        Christianity is being mocked? Are you serious? Tell me the last time something was made inconvenient for you to practice in your religion?

  • Scott Knapp on 07.05.2012 at 9:35 am

    Isn’t it ironic that the same online edition of this newsletter includes an article to examines why Mormons are reviled, especially by Evangelicals and liberals? Inclusion of both articles suggests some religions are acceptable and others are not. The basis of such acceptance (or lack thereof) seems to be political. I suspect we’ll see much more of this dynamic during the run up the general election.

    • Sane Student on 07.05.2012 at 2:19 pm

      Had you read the article about why Mormons are “reviled” you would gained insight in to the fact that the article was pointing out misconceptions and how much of the knowledge about Mormonism is ill-formed. It was clearing the perception. HENCE, in no way was one religion being shown acceptance over another.

      • Jackson on 07.05.2012 at 2:52 pm

        Yeah, but the titled of the article was over the top: “Why We’re Afraid of Mormons.” Cmon. I’m Christian and have never “been afraid” of Mormons.

        • Sane Student on 07.07.2012 at 11:17 pm

          It was meant to an informative article, with an eye-catching title. I means thats truly the only reason I read it. Neither have I, but we have all heard the misconceptions and I can say that I learned a lot, and did in no way think that the article was sending the message that Mormonism shouldn’t be accepted.

  • AP on 07.05.2012 at 3:55 pm

    Wasn’t there just an article the other day about how BU can’t find appropriate space for the Hindu students to worship without defiling their dieties by stuffing them in a closet?

    • Gabriella May on 07.05.2012 at 9:29 pm

      yes, shows you how “politically correct” BU’s administration really wants to be concerning these issues. Give the muslims what they want before they create a ruckus and do nothing for the hindus who are known to be passive anyways. Keep it classy BU.

    • Sane Student on 07.07.2012 at 11:17 pm

      Wait, isn’t there a temple on campus?

  • ousider on 07.06.2012 at 3:21 pm

    i am not a BU student, but very proud of this university. looks like there are some negative comments, but way more positive. shows you that BU did the right thing this time.

  • SD on 07.15.2012 at 1:15 pm

    to all the haters who seemed to have missed the memo: Islam is the 2nd largest and fastest growing religion in the world. how long do you think you’re going to be able to sweep it under the rug? its in yo face whether you like it or not. recognize.

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