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Muslim students shut out of prayer

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By Taeeba Sadar

Muslim students still don’t have enough prayer space at Ryerson and after three years of battling the administration they see no hope for a solution.

“Currently we aren’t pursuing any strategy in terms of getting more prayer space,” said Nauman Abbasi, vice-president of the Ryerson Muslim Students Association.

“The administration claims that they are a secular institution, which they feel gives them the rights to deny basic human rights.”

The controversy stems from the need to accommodate a large number of Muslim students every Friday afternoon when they perform the special Salatul-Jum’a prayers, an integral part of worship in Islam. In the past, close to 400 students have shown up to take part, but the lack of adequate space has caused numbers to dwindle in recent months.

Currently the RMSA makes use of an arrangement with RyeSAC to hold prayers at Oakham House. However the RMSA says the situation is far from ideal.

Last Friday Muslim students were forced to congregate in a first floor room after getting bumped from the Oakham House lounge, despite having booked in advance. Many worshippers were turned away for lack of space, while some students prayed in a storage area adjacent to the main kitche.

“We brought the issue to RyeSAC,” said Abbasi. “Student groups should get first priority to use the rooms in Oakham House over external clients and firms. But repeatedly, the external clients and firms are given preference because they pay.”

Over the last several years, RyeSAC has helped the RMSA lobby the administration to secure access to the lower gym in West Kerr Hall for Friday prayers. But their requests have been repeatedly denied.

Linda Grayson, vice-president of administration and student affairs, told the Eyeopener that Ryerson is “a secular institution.”

She explained that “While the university’s policy is not to inhibit religious freedom, it is also not its place to accommodate and promote any particular faith; and in turn not to provide prayer space.”

Grayson went on to say that the use of the lower gym isn’t feasible because it “is intended for recreational use only.”

Instead Ryerson proposed three other alternatives to the RMSA: to pray in smaller groups in separate rooms at the same time; to pray in shifts at the multi-faith centre; or at off-campus mosques.

But Abbasi says the first two suggestions would mean splitting the congregation, which is against Islamic custom. Moreover, the multi-faith centre only holds 50 people at any given time. To go off-campus also poses a problem.

“The two nearest mosques to Ryerson university run at full-capacity and have said there would be no way to take additional worshippers [without violating the Fire Code],” he said.

Grayson sent an e-mail to the Eyeopener on Monday stating: “We had hoped to have the RMSA join with the administration in supporting the application made about a year ago to the City to expand the mosque at 100 Bond St. Unfortunately, that did not happen.”

Ahmed Arshi, president of the RMSA, says he was never informed of the proposal, which was made to last year’s president Zia Bangesh, who has since graduated.

“I’m not aware of that,” said Arshi. “They tend to give promises they don’t implement.”

He also claims to have examined the architectural plans for the Student Campus Centre and said it is surprising that the Multi-Faith Centre being built is smaller than the current centre in the basement of the Business Building.

“Next year there won’t even be place to pray our [five] daily prayers,” said Arshi. “It doesn’t look promising.”

The RMSA and Ryerson’s administration have been embroiled in this bitter dispute for over two years. In 2001, relations between both sides deteriorated so badly that the RMSA threatened to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and solicited help from a human rights mediator to negotiate a solution.

In the end, Grayson refused to meet the representatives.

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