I guess nothing says “Christmas” like complaining.If it’s not Frisco school parents griping about their vaguely festive “ winter holiday parties,” it’s xenophobes bashing Texas Wesleyan University over its prayer room for Saudi students.“Submitting to Sharia!” screams one of 30 similar headlines on political or religious websites.“Methodist university in Texas touts Islamic prayer room.”Look, tiny Texas Wesleyan is not an ecclesiastical school. It is a university for the world, and a success at attracting international students.Some online readers of the school newspaper, The Rambler, seem confused about that.“Methodists have lost their way,” commenter “Mark” beefs on the newspaper’s Nov. 19 report about the prayer room.A long-distance reader from the Citizens Militia of Mississippi, that renowned haven of religious tolerance, accuses Wesleyan of being “fully submitted to Sharia.”Over a prayer room?“Oh, for gosh sakes,” said Joe Brown, dean of freshmen, 36-year theater professor and faculty sponsor of the Saudi Students Club.“I’m proud that little Texas Wesleyan is getting more international students now, and they asked for someplace of their own to pray. It’s a little meeting room in the fitness center. This is not any big deal.”Most local universities have Saudi clubs. More than 70,000 Saudi students nationwide attend U.S. colleges under a 2005 goodwill scholarship program set up by President George W. Bush and King Abdullah after 9-11.In July, Wesleyan President Frederick G. Slabach joined the Saudi students in fasting during the first full day of Ramadan, saying it’s important for the university to “embrace other cultures.”Club President Mohammed Al-Shafei is from a Saudi diplomat’s family. In a Rambler video, he said the club’s goal is to showcase Saudi culture and encourage other students to mix with Saudis. The Rambler quotes the campus chaplain, the Rev. Robert K. Flowers, saying that the interfaith prayer space is meant to “show hospitality” and that Wesleyan is “open and tolerant of other faith traditions.”Brown said he’s sad about the online comments but not surprised.“I’ve been here a long time,” he said, “and I’ve seen a lot of nasty things said by Christians to other Christians, or even between Methodists.“I just hope the international students don’t take the comments seriously. These are all nice young men and women here enjoying their freedom.”That includes the freedom to complain.
Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy