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Muslims waiting for prayer space

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The Muslim Students' Association is filing a human rights complaint against the University of Calgary because the university has failed to provide a prayer space.

The U of C club is filing with the Alberta Human Rights Commission under the Alberta Human Rights Code. According to MSA President Mubashir Iqbal, universities and other institutions must, by law, have accommodations for students, staff and faculty to observe their religious practices. Muslims are required to pray five times a day and there are few places where Muslims can, according to Iqbal.

"There is a very small space in the Chaplain's Centre for prayer but it is so small... and it is also occasionally subject to group bookings by other faith groups, which means that the Muslims do not have access to it when they are required to perform their prayers," explained Iqbal, adding 60 to 70 people would use the prayer space daily. "Muslims on campus are often forced by these circumstances to pray in stairwells, semi-abandoned corridors and the like in order to ensure that they pray their required prayers within the specified time."

Currently, the university has not been formally notified by the Human Rights Commission of the suit.

Associate Vice-President Student Affairs Dr. Peggy Patterson sees the need to ensure human rights are respected. Dr. Patterson points to the U of C's history as a secular university as the reason why there is no chapel or prayer space.

"We've had conversations with the MSA and others last year," she said. "There are concerns of the lack of space for all faiths. Meeting spaces meet only one need."

The Students' Union plans to house the prayer space along with CJSW, NUTV and the Gauntlet on the third floor of MacEwan Student Centre. However, construction cannot start until CJSW and the SU ratify an operating agreement.

"It's hinging on CJSW," said SU VP Operations and Finance Gavin Preston. "We were given [$200,000] by the U of C. If we hook all three together, put it all in one, it's cheaper to build. We'll spread the money around and build it better."

Iqbal has heard the SU is waiting to start construction, however he is troubled by it.

"If the money is available to build such a facility, there is no excuse for further delays--as a matter of law, the multifaith centre must built," said Iqbal.

However, Preston says the cost to separately build the prayer space would exceed the university's money.

"Unfortunately, bureaucracy takes time," explained Preston. "It's not done for next week but by the time I'm getting out, it's done. It's something I'm working towards."

A multi-faith prayer space has been planned since summer 2002. Administration looked for space in their buildings but there was none. However, on Aug. 1, 2002, then-Students' Union VP Operations and Finance Robbie white offered space in MacEwan Student Centre. Also included in the prayer space would be enhanced washroom facilities.

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