A safe place

The Islamic Center of Tucson is surrounded by high-rise student apartments on the University of Arizona campus. The Mosque was one of the first built in Tucson. Before that, students used to pray out of an apartment and when that apartment got too crowded, they built the Mosque on campus. Yet because of its location, the Islamic Center has had to deal with rowdy students and in some cases, possible hate crimes.

Muhammad Zaki is a student at the University of Arizona and also works at the front desk of the Islamic Center of Tucson, one of the first built in the city. Having lived in Tucson for over 20 years, he remembers a time when there were no high-rise apartments surrounding the Islamic Center, and his reaction to when he first heard about the apartments being built.

“We were definitely surprised that these apartments were going to be built. It started off with one apartment and then now we have about five apartments,” says Zaki.

He believes the location of the Islamic Center is ideal despite the fact that it is completely surrounded by college student apartments.

“It’s so convenient for many students. If not, they would have to maybe skip class or skip the prayer in order to (make it to) class,” said Zaki.

Prayer is very important for Zaki and other members of the Muslim community who pray six times a day. Sometimes, he leads prayer but when he doesn’t feel comfortable, he taps others on the shoulder to let them take over.

Yet despite its long history as a place of refuge for local Muslims, the mosque has also been at the center of chaos. Five years ago, students threw glass bottles off a balcony from the high-rise apartments directly above. This has continued to happen, as recently as two months ago.

“Whether there’s an incident—whether it’s bad or not—students still come,” says Zaki. “They don’t really have a choice. Students still show up on a daily basis.”

Some responsibilities at the mosque are beyond Zaki, so when incidents do occur, he passes it onto someone else: Rehmatullah Mir, an older man in his 50s, and a longtime resident of Tucson.

Mir says he has not tried to confront the students throwing bottles directly.

“It’s useless when they are doing these kinds of things,” says Mir.

Both Mir and Zaki agree that the mosque is—and will continue to be—a safe place for them and all other Muslims despite all the incidents.

This is the Luna apartments located on the University of Arizona campus and right next to the Islamic Center of Tucson. This is the view of the building from the Islamic Center parking lot. This is also where the glass bottles were thrown from the balconies near the 10th floor.

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