Wichita State University receives backlash after renovating chapel to accommodate Muslims

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Wichita State University has announced it plans to consider changing a campus chapel again after critics took aim at the school for renovating the religious area to accommodate Muslims.

When the school renovated the Harvey D. Grace Memorial Chapel in May, the tiny altar and pews were removed so Muslims at the university could have space to kneel and pray, the Wichita Eagle reported.

The family that made the chapel possible in 1964 specified that it remain open to all creeds and races. However, when Wichita residents learned about the renovation, they took to Facebook to clamor against the renovations. They argued that taking out the pews marginalized Christians.

After the backlash, university donors, alumni and others began posting comments and contacting university administrators.

Wichita State President John Bardo said Tuesday in a statement on the university's Facebook page that the school will consider changing the chapel's furnishings once again.

"I don't think that change (the renovation done in May) was undertaken with enough consideration of the feelings of all elements of the campus and broader community," Bardo wrote. "Our goal should be exactly what Mrs. Grace set out to do in her gift, to have an all faiths chapel that is welcoming to all religious groups on campus."

Wichita State’s student body president Joseph Shepard, a church-going Christian, told the Wichita Eagle argued the move was a fear tactic.

“This is Islamophobia,” said Shepard. “It’s coming from off-campus, not from the students here. “They say we’ve taken a place of Christian worship and turned it into what they call a mosque.”

Some Muslim students are taken aback by the move. They asked for the accommodation in part, because they had difficulty finding prayer spaces on camps; there are 1,000 Muslims among Wichita State’s 14,450 students.

"How would you feel if I said that because you are a Christian that you are bad?" said Fayez Al-ruwaili, a 20-year-old junior studying biomedical engineering.

Bardo appointed Eric Sexton, vice president for student affairs, to study whether to come up with a plan to hear ideas and concerns. Sexton said Tuesday he'd spend "whatever time it takes" to talk to students, donors, alums and the Wichita community.

"We'll do this in a professional way, in a respectful way, in an interfaith way," Sexton said.

Click for more from the Wichita Eagle.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.