Muslim prayers answered with new leader

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By Matt Kwong

After almost three years of fighting for a place to pray, the Ryerson Muslim Students’ Association has finally reached a compromise.

During that time, RMSA found itself at a roadblock with the administration, which persistently rejected the group’s requests for a permanent on-campus facility for Friday prayer.

The Muslim students had been asking for use of the lower gym for Friday prayer services, but because of its policy of being a secular institution, Ryerson’s administration refused to make proper space available.

Over the summer, with RyeSAC taking up their cause, TMSA finally acquired the Thomas Lounge, the largest room in Oakham House.

“At this point we’re okay with the way the situation is,” said Zia Bangash, the new RMSA president.

“I know we have a space that can accommodate us and we’re satisfied with that.”

Bangash is now resigned to the fact that although the solution isn’t perfect — the Thomas lounge can only hold a maximum of 156 people — it’s an effective compromise for the time being.

Bangash, who is now taking over as the third RMSA president in two years, approaches his new position with a strict sense of duty.

“Quite honestly, it’s not something that everybody jumps at,” Bangash says.

As the newcomer, however, he is unexpectedly secure in his role, and even projects a fervent optimism.

“The year looks promising and I look forward to it,” he said.

“I’m still obviously learning as we go along, but I have a lot of help. One thing that I actually look forward to is to make sure that we have services and events provided for students.”

Bangash made it clear that he has no intention of sparring with the administration fought all this year over the issue of prayer space.

Instead he hopes to concentrate on everything that has been neglected while the group has been fighting for prayer space.

“Last year, everything was focused on the prayer issue and a lot of other things were left undone,” he said.

This year, Bangash said the group will be more concerned with providing its members with lectures and classes on the teachings of Islam.

So for Bangash, the current situation regarding prayer space is a necessary compromise. After all, he said, the new student centre — expected to open in May 2004 — will be able to accommodate up to 200 students once it is finished.

But while he’s happy to have this issue behind him, Bangash is still prepared for the worst. If more than 156 people begin showing up for prayer on Friday, he knows he may have to reopen the battle for the lower gym.

“Obviously in the end we’d prefer if we had the lower gym because we have room for expansion,” he said, “But right now, we’re satisfied with what we have.”

Last year, after being repeatedly denied on-campus prayer facilities by the administration, students felt they had exhausted all other options.

In what would have been a huge move, the RMSA was on the verge of filing a claim to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, stating that their religious rights were being violated.

Bangash said that while he is content to move on for the time being, he knows that if the Thomas Lounge doesn’t work, he still has the option of actually filing an OHRC claim if things begin to get ugly.

For now, however, the committee has been doing extensive planning for a number of upcoming introductory events.

Along with a welcome back and grad dinner set for October 4th, an Islam Awareness Week is also to be arranged, during which the group will have an opportunity to educate the curious and non-Muslim students about the ways of Islam.

The IAW, which is scheduled for the beginning of October, will cover topics ranging from the fundamentals of Islam to the roles of females in the religion. Friday, as usual, will be devoted to prayer.

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