By Don McHoull
Ryerson’s Muslim students are being left out in the cold.
After years of lobbying, they still don’t have an adequate place to pray on campus.
Last Friday, in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan, students were turned away from Oakham House because there wasn’t enough room to pray. Other students were forced to pray in a dingy storage room.
As university administration enjoy pointing out, Ryerson is a secular institution. While I agree that the university should not be promoting religious beliefs, this doesn’t mean it should not accommodate religious members of the campus community.
Ryerson has a large number of Muslim students. For many of these students, group prayer is an integral part of their life.
The university should provide these students with a proper space for prayer, so that they can follow their religious beliefs.
Doing so wouldn’t be endorsing Islam, but rather respecting the province of Ontario’s human rights code.
“Where a rule conflicts with religious requirements, there is a duty to ensure that individuals are able to observe their religion, unless this would cause undue hardship because of cost, or health, or safety reasons,” the code reads in part.
Two years ago the Ryerson Muslim Students’ Association had a solution that would have caused almost no hardship for Ryerson — holding Friday prayers in the lower gym.
Ryerson rejected this solution, saying that the Multifaith Centre — which can only accommodate 50 people — was an adequate place to pray.
The university proposed that Muslim students pray at nearby mosques, but students say those mosques are already too full.
Upset by the administration’s inaction, Muslim students held prayers of protest in Jorgenson Hall loungest. The RMSA even threatened to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
The situation was never really resolved. The RMSA just grew frustrated with the administration and settled on a compromise position of holding their prayers in an Oakham House room that can accommodate 156 people.
“Obviously in the end we’d prefer if we had the lower gym because we have room for expansion,” said then RMSA president Zia Bangash. “But right now, we’re satisfied with what we have.”
This year, as the double cohort has increased the number of students on campus, prayer space once again seems to be in short supply.
Ryerson isn’t alone in facing this issue. Muslim students at the University of Calgary and Ecole de Technologie Superieure in Montreal have filed human rights complaints over lack of prayer space.
Unless Ryerson wants to be next, it should try harder to accommodate ist students.