There’s so little prayer space on campus that Muslim men have to pray beside a bathroom.
The situation has been this way since I first came to the University of Calgary two years ago in 2012, and probably since the rooms opened in 2006. MacHall has two prayer rooms tucked away on the third floor, close to the ballroom. Prayer space is in high demand, and different religions worship in their own way. Muslim men pray five times a day. While the women pray in one room, the other room is open to bookings and use from other religious traditions. As a result, the men are often forced to pray in the hall. I see them there everyday.
The space is a small clearing beside a bathroom with no doors. We at the Gauntlet pride ourselves in knowing where to find a good toilet on campus. Concertgoers wreck these ones almost every week. There was so much urine and snot lining the floor after one New Found Glory show the humidity in the bathroom seemed to change. If it weren’t for the heroics of campus caretakers, that place would have a new layer of bodily fluids every week.
Even this space outside the bathrooms is becoming scarce. Construction on the new Conference and Events office started last week, so there’s a big piece of drywall now infringing on the space where students pray. Once the construction is done, traffic to the door will further disrupt them.
Daily prayer is spiritually paramount for Muslims. It’s something they take seriously. The fact that they’re forced to do it beside a smelly washroom is shameful, and making their already terrible spot in the hallway worse is a stick in the eye. Muslims make up a large, vibrant part of our campus and city. They deserve more respect than this.
There will soon be more Muslim students in the already packed space if nothing is changed. You might have familiarized yourself with the U of C’s new development strategy, Eyes High. The plan calls for an “internationalization” of the university. This means more international students, at both the undergraduate and graduate level. It’s unclear where the students will come from, but the university plans to promote more deals with schools and corporations in “regions of interest.” One of these is the Middle East. The U of C already has a nursing campus in Qatar and partnerships with schools in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
It’s safe to say many of the new international students will be Muslim and they will need a space to pray. It’s unfair to recruit Muslim students to the university, then not respect a ritual that is central to their lives.
The Gauntlet was told in October that different bodies were working to address the issue, but they’re moving slowly. University administration said it’s on their radar. The message out of the Students’ Union was similar.
That was five months ago. There is less space available now and Muslim students are expected to sit patiently for the large wheels to turn. Maybe they’ll get to pray in a quiet room before they graduate.
Forget patience. The SU should find more prayer space right now. And if the SU can’t find it, the university should step up and find a solution on their own. Not soon. Now.
We encourage Muslim students to pressure the SU and administration. The status quo is too comfortable for the powers that be. They need a fire lit under their ass. Muslim students already have some great leaders on campus who know the system. And I know they will find allies on campus. They should get together and demand an immediate solution.
Muslim students at the U of C, speak up! You’re getting a raw deal.