The prayer space inside the Multi-Faith Centre, seen in 2014. Photo: Lindsay MacMillan/Fulcrum
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Third space on Lees campus is ‘perfect’ size-wise but difficult for students to access

Muslim students at the University of Ottawa say they’re in need of more prayer space on the main campus and are still waiting on an ablution space they were told was in the works four years ago.

Back in 2014, the University of Ottawa Muslim Students’ Association (UOMSA) campaigned the university to provide their association with more prayer space when their location in the Multi-Faith Centre grew too small for their constantly growing population of members. 

Three weeks ago, the university granted the association a temporary prayer space at Lees campus, but it’s located all the way on the extreme south end of the campus.

“Size-wise it’s perfect, but it’s inconvenient for a lot of members,” said Yousuf Ahmed, a UOMSA executive member. “A lot of people come using the new (LRT) but some of our members are employees of the university so not everyone has a bus pass and it’s an added expense for them.”

The UOMSA is now in the process of once again lobbying the university to find a new prayer space that is closer to the main part of campus.

“It’s a top priority for us right now,” said Ahmed. “We need a place to accommodate all members and provide storage for our prayer carpets and speakers, which Lees doesn’t have.” 

Currently, the UOMSA uses a volunteer car to transport their speakers. As for their prayer carpets, they have been using temporary mats available at the Lees campus as they are yet to find a way to transport their carpets from the University Centre and store them at Lees.

In 2015, the UOMSA made another complaint to the university, requesting that there be washing stations installed so Muslim students can perform their washing ritual — ablution — before prayer.

“We lobbied the university for a special washing station and a representative from the university said that this request was processed in 2015 and that there were plans to implement one,” said Ahmed. “As of right now, there has been no washing station added and I don’t know of any plans to do so.”

“Given an increase in the demand, the University offered a third location at Lees campus,” the U of O said in an emailed statement to the Fulcrum. “We appreciate that it is not located on main campus but as one can appreciate, access to spaces is limited at UCU and anywhere else on the main campus.” 

The university also addressed the UOMSA’s request for the addition of an ablution room in their statement, saying that there was no space for the room to be added at the UCU.

“The U of O has a growing Muslim population, and while we do feel the need for a bigger and more central place on campus, we appreciate the university’s efforts,” said Ahmed.

Judy El-Mohtadi, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union equity commissioner, said the administration is falling short when it comes to supporting religious students on campus in an emailed statement to the Fulcrum.

“The new multi-faith space that has opened in Lees is inconvenient to most students because of its location,” she said. “For example, a Muslim student who has class at 1 p.m. on Friday must choose between attending Jumu’a prayer or attending class; they are having to choose between two of their fundamental rights.”

“People’s religion should not be a barrier to their education.” 

El-Mohtadi added that she plans to work with the coordinator of the Multi-Faith Centre and religious groups on campus “to address this barrier posed to students of all religious backgrounds.”

Editor’s Note (16/10/19, 9:18 a.m.): A previous version of this article said ablution is a ritual performed before eating. In fact, it’s a ritual performed before prayer. The Fulcrum regrets this error.