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Prayer room for Muslims opens at Long Island Jewish Medical Center

Ehsanul Islam, a pharmacy manager at Long Island

Ehsanul Islam, a pharmacy manager at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, demonstrates using the hospital's new Wudu Room in New Hyde Park Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park has opened a Wudu Room, a private area for those who practice Islam to prepare for prayer.

Wudu refers to the mental preparation and physical cleanliness of Muslims for the Salat, one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It involves a cleansing before the reading of the Quran.

Hospital officials said there were visible signs of a need for such a room in the hospital.

"We were noticing that the restrooms on the first floor were getting wet [from the water being used for the cleansings]," said Agnes Barden, associate executive director of Patient and Family Experience for the medical center. "It was causing a safety issue for us. Now [Muslim] patients, family and staff have a place to prepare for prayer."

The Wudu Room opened Sept. 29 in the main floor lobby area of the 76th Avenue hospital, in a former storage space that is about 7 feet by 10 feet. It is believed to be the only Wudu Room in a hospital on Long Island.

"This is wonderful," said Ehsanul Islam, a Muslim who has been the hospital pharmacy manager for 27 years. "It's a community that appreciates it. People like to have somewhere to go to pray and this is convenient."

Barden said the growing Muslim patient population "has been very appreciative."

She said that population in the hospital was 2.9 percent in 2012 and 3.4 percent the following year. Since September, it has reached 4 percent.

"As time has evolved, the population has changed, and Long Island Jewish has gone from a local community to a broader reach," hospital Deputy Executive Director Michael Goldberg said. "The neighborhood and employee mix has changed together."

Barden said the Jewish patient population dominated the hospital until about 20 years ago; and it now stands at 13 percent.

Ehsanul Islam noted that the Muslim tradition is to pray five times a day. "It's good if it can be five times a day, but you can catch up later at home" if prayer time is missed, he said.

Barden noted that members of the Muslim community gave suggestions for the space. Included are a sink area and bench, safety mats to prevent slipping on water, and a call bell to alert hospital staff if someone falls or otherwise needs help.

The room, open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., offers a space to prepare for actual prayers, which take place in the hospital's 24-hour meditation center, available to all religions, down the hall from the Wudu Room.

Hospital Rabbi Abraham Axelrud said a Wudu Room is a good fit for a Jewish hospital.

"I think it's a wonderful expression of the hospital, and I don't see why it wouldn't be here," Axelrud said. "We deal with patients of all different faiths, and this fits right in."

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