Rambam's Muslim Patients Get Prayer Center

Seven people gathered yesterday on the lawn of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. Six stood in two rows, while one stood in front, facing south toward Mecca. The mild weather enabled them to pray outdoors, otherwise they may not have been able to pray at all. The hospital does not provide a prayer room for Muslims, although they comprise an estimated half of Rambam's patients and visitors.

This situation is about to change. Rambam's management has engaged Architect Houssam Majadele, of Baqa al-Garbiya, to design the prayer room in the hospital. Majadele is busy setting up prayer rooms in the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and in Ben-Gurion Airport.

The Airport Authority yesterday announced, in response to a Haaretz query, that a 20 square meter Muslim prayer room was being planned in the airport, not far from the synagogue in Terminal 3.

Majadele told Haaretz yesterday that he was undertaking the project at no charge. He said he would design the prayer room in Rambam on the basis of his experience in similar projects. A prayer room must have a special place for removing off shoes, a place for the purification of the face, hands and feet in water before the prayer and a Mihrab - a niche in the mosque wall indicating the direction of Kaaba that Muslims should face when praying.

"It is customary to decorate it in a special way - with vitrages, Koran proverbs, and decorations round the Mihrab," Majadele said.

The room will have Korans, prayer mats, a Mihrab, a picture of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and perhaps of the Kaaba in Mecca, he said. Signs will guide Muslims to the prayer room.

Rambam spokesman David Ratner said the hospital's management had discussed the prayer room already before the war in the north and would resume efforts to open it now.

Dr. Mohammed Asalia, a surgeon in Rambam, said he proposed prayer rooms for Muslim worshipers to the management.

"The Muslim patients were always praying in the corridors or on the lawn. It wasn't dignified. So I suggested opening prayer rooms for Muslims and Christians, like there's a synagogue and rabbi for the hospital's Jewish patients," he said.

Asalia said he had seen prayer rooms for the three religions in a hospital in the United States, on a visit, with a Star of David, a cross and a crescent in each one.

MK Raleb Majadele (Labor), the chairman of the Knesset's House Committee, asked the directors of all the hospitals several months ago to allocate prayer rooms for Muslims. "After 60 years, it's time a Muslim citizen is also able to feel like part of this country. Every hospital has a synagogue. If there were a prayer room as well, the Muslim patients might, perhaps, feel that these institutions were also meant for them," he said.