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04-12-2007, 10:04 AM
Muslim students shift from stairwell to Shatner
By Sarah Colgrove and Julia Pyper
The McGill Daily

Thursday, April 5th, 2007 | Volume 96, Number 46

http://www.mcgilldaily.com/view.php?aid=6199

After two years without a place to pray together on campus, Muslim
students are starting to reconnect.

Although the Muslim Students' Association (MSA) has not yet officially
moved into its temporary prayer space two adjoined, concrete rooms
in the basement of the Shatner building it is already a popular
place to pray. SSMU gave MSA the space after evicting computer store
University Bytes in February.

MSA Secretary Sahar El-Hakim said that the space, which can hold
around 30 people at any one time, is helping the community rebuild.

"I'm sure people are seeing people they haven't seen for awhile," she
said. "When we didn't have a prayer space, everyone was scattered and
praying in different places, but this is a time to come together and
pray in congregation."

Members of the MSA have been praying in stairwells, deserted
classrooms, and outdoor spaces since McGill evicted the association
from its prayer space in the basement of Peterson Hall in May 2005. In
November 2005, the MSA filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights
Commission, which will likely be heard later this year.

SSMU VP Clubs & Services Floh Herra Vega, who proposed the move, said
that she plans to write the MSA's right to the rooms into the Shatner
bylaws until McGill agrees to provide a space for Muslims to pray on
campus.

MSA President Ayez Hyder said that while students appreciate the
space, it is too cramped to serve as a permanent solution. The two
rooms must function as a club office as well as a prayer space for
both men and women, who usually pray in separate rooms.

Pointing out that the University of Toronto and Concordia University
have recently invested in elaborate campus prayer facilities, Hyder
added that it was not SSMU's responsibility to provide a prayer space
for religious students, but McGill's.

"It is a plain and simple lack of understanding on the part of McGill
a lack of understanding of what your own people are telling you,"
Hyder said. "Now people are taking things into their own hands, [only]
it is much harder to do from the bottom up."

Hyder added that, although some MSA members had wanted to bring their
case to a higher body than the Quebec Human Rights Commission, they
had decided that it would hurt McGill's reputation with international
students.

He said that maintaining a tight-knit Muslim community at McGill is
the most important issue.

"Prayer becomes the hub of activity, [people] get to know each other
and feel comfortable within their own culture and ethnicity in a new
[campus] environment" Hyder said.

El-Hakim said that the space was also a step forward for Muslim women
at McGill, who pray more discretely and so have had a particularly
hard time with hallways, stairwells, and empty classrooms.

"It's not very adequate or proper for the women to pray in stairwells
or outside, and it's uncomfortable," she said. "Between our classes
we're [now] able to find a clean space where we can pray
freely...without people passing by."

According to El-Hakim, women currently share the prayer space with
men, praying in the back row. However, she said that the MSA is
considering using the second, smaller room as a spillover prayer
space, as well as an office, for women who feel uncomfortable.


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