MONTREAL (CUP) – The McGill University administration’s continued refusal to provide a prayer space is causing some Muslims to question whether they will remain at the school, or transfer to a university where the requirements of their religion are easier to meet.
Students like Ayesha Yousuf, in her second year of Economics and International Development Studies, are beginning to seriously question their future at the renowned institution.
“I was so frustrated, I was thinking I’d much rather be attending Concordia University than McGill University because [prayer] is such a big part of my every day routine, and it’s just so hard for me to do it on campus,” she said.
On May 31, the administration evicted the Muslim Student Association from their space in the basement of Peterson Hall, on the McGill campus. Three months later, there is little indication that it will be replaced any time soon.
The university maintains its assertion that, as a secular institution, it has no obligation to provide space for religious purposes, while the MSA says it is an issue of accommodating diverse student needs and of basic human rights.
With no progress in sight, many of McGill’s devout Muslims have taken to praying outdoors on campus – both as a temporary solution to the lack of a room, and to make a symbolic statement they felt went unheard at the negotiating table.
“We are leaving a buffer zone for the administration to choose the right decision in helping the McGill Muslim community, and we’re going to continue with that. We’ll pray outside until we see that type of solution,” said MSA President Nafay Choudhu.ry, who, like all devout Muslims, must pray five times daily.
Anthony Masi, McGill’s interim Provost, and a principle negotiator for McGill on the prayer space issue, denied that any human rights violation has occurred. He maintained that the university only granted the MSA their previous space on a temporary basis, and that the room is needed to ease overcrowding on campus.
He said that he has been working with the MSA to find an off-campus location independent from the University, and stressed that McGill would not be making a financial contribution to this effort, but would help search for donors.
While Choudhury said the MSA would be amenable to this solution in the long run, it will take time to coordinate logistics, and an interim space is needed immediately.
“Come end of September, October, it gets pretty cold outside,” he said.
Over the summer, the Students Society of McGill University and the MSA presented a document to Masi asking him to recognize SSMU’s granting of a temporary space as a goodwill gesture.
The University never signed the document and MSA spokesperson Idil Issa said this crippled the SSMU’s ability to help.
“SSMU is in a difficult predicament. They want to help the MSA, however they don’t want the admin to shift the buck to the SSMU…it’s a matter of the admin not willing to accommodate someone willing to accommodate the MSA,” she said.
Meanwhile, Yousuf is left pondering the quality of her education.
“If McGill’s not going to facilitate the process, it makes me think about what kind of education I’m getting at this school.”