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Students seek prayer room on south side of campus

Photo by Lindsay MacMillan.

Muslims across the world will soon be celebrating Eid-al-dha, one of the major holidays of the Islamic calendar, but Muslim students at the University of Ottawa are frustrated by a lack of prayer rooms on campus.

The Multi-Faith Centre was opened in 2010, but a growing student population has since rendered it insufficient, according to the University of Ottawa Muslim Students’ Association (UOMSA), which is now demanding a space on the south end of campus.

The UOMSA is the largest association on campus, with 3,000 active members. The Multi-Faith Centre, located at UCU125, sees 5,000 visits per week with the numbers growing each year.

The student group, along with the larger Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), sent a letter to U of O president Allan Rock asking for a prayer room for the science and engineering faculties.

Their current room in SITE just isn’t big enough, according to Mahmoud Dief, president of the UOMSA.

“It doesn’t fit the demand,” said Dief. “It’s a closet that holds 10 people. So there’s lineups there, and students walk to the UCU to wait in a line that goes into the cafeteria. It directly affects education and productivity.”

The UOMSA has been informing the university administration about the demand for the last four years. They’re hoping the letter opens up the chance for formal negotiation.

The university said in an email that the Space Management Committee has been notified of the request, but did not provide further comment.

The SFUO agreed to help the UOMSA with lobbying, just as they did to open the Multi-Faith Centre.

“There’s definitely an issue with space on campus for all students,” said SFUO president Anne-Marie Roy. “It’s difficult to find a place for studying, organizing, or hosting clubs.”

Roy promised an increase in multi-faith spaces in her election platform last February.

“The UOMSA is the only group that’s come forward with a specific request to open negotiations with the university, but if others asked we’d do our best to accommodate,” she said.

Dief said his association has had to be patient with the university. “They know it’s an issue but haven’t responded yet.”

The letter references other schools that have developed a long-term plan for religious accommodation. The University of Toronto, for example, has a multi-faith centre that holds 400 students for Friday prayers, with other services available on campus. Other religious groups have access to their own rooms.

Last year, the UOMSA issued a complaint against the university’s Food Services due to a lack of clarity on halal food options.

“It’s important for the campus to feel welcoming,” said Roy. “Everyone should have the chance to practise their fundamental human rights.”