Muslim Students’ Association calls for accessible prayer spaces
By Nazeefa Ahmed, January 30 2022—
The University of Calgary (U of C) has a large population of Muslim students that use the MacEwan Hall multi-faith space often to perform their religious obligations. The space is used by many faith groups, such as Christians, Jews and Buddhists, which has created high traffic in a place that can only accommodate so many.
In an interview with the Gauntlet, Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) President Faizan Ahmed described how a large population of Muslims and other faith groups makes it difficult for all faith groups alike to access the limited space in Mac Hall.
“Muslims on campus have grown on an exponential basis,” said Ahmed. “There are so many of us but there’s not enough facilities to allow all faith groups to have access to the spaces all at once. Mac Hall, specifically, is a central hub. Students, professors and teachers pray there, making the space a hot commodity when it comes to all faith organizations.”
Followers of Islam pray five times a day: before dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, before sunset and at night. Since prayers must be timely, there is a high demand for the rooms at certain times of the day, especially noon and mid-afternoon. When the space is booked or full, however, people have been praying outside the room. This has created a fire hazard, according to a sign placed by the Faith and Spirituality Centre (FSC) in front of the two rooms.
Ahmed describes how the lack of space creates a barrier for Muslims to perform their religious obligations, stating that the other spaces offered are not accessible for students who are rushing between classes.
“Salah [prayer] is one of the five pillars of Islam,” said Ahmed. “It doesn’t matter where we pray, but we need a few feet of space, which is why we pray outside if the room is booked. The sign says for us to go to Vitruvian, but it’s in the middle of nowhere and inconvenient. Going there for Juma [Friday prayer] makes sense, because the capacity is way more, and people are going there specifically for Juma, but when it comes to daily prayers we need greater accessibility. Vitruvian is frankly not feasible.”
Ahmed states that he has begun conversations with the university administration to find a long-term solution. Currently, there is a petition to bring back the Mathison Hall Prayer space due to how far the building is from the rest of the university.
“Discussions are starting with the FSC and the university administration to see what a feasible solution for [prayer spaces] would be,” said Ahmed. “Of course, you know Matthison Hall is far from the rest of campus. There is the ballroom which you have to book out and there’s the conference center, but we need an open space. For now, it’s an ongoing conversation and inshallah [God willing] something good comes out of it.”
U of C Muslim student Batool Farhan who uses the Mac Hall prayer space describes how close prayer spaces during lecture changes makes it easier to pray.
“I don’t think it’s fair to have a restriction on where to pray,” said Farhan. “Even though alternative spaces are available, it’s really far from most people’s classes. We only have a few minutes to pray during transition times, which is why accessibility is really important.”
In a statement to the Gauntlet, the FSC points to the three prayer spaces currently available to lessen the load on the Mac Hall prayer space.
“UCalgary has several multi-faith spaces available on the main campus for prayer and activities related to spiritual health, wellness and religious or cultural observances/programming. In addition to the space at Mac Ewan Hall [MH 317], prayer spaces can be accessed at the Vitruvian Space in the basement of the Dining Centre [DC 12], as well as the Faith and Spirituality Centre in Mac Ewan Student Centre [MSC 487]. Students can book a multi-faith space for a group or drop in if no one else is there,” reads the statement.
Those interested in booking a sprayer space can visit the FSC website. Maps to the three spaces can be found here.