Commentary  Looking for shelter

Muslim students at McGill still don't have a prayer space

Prayer forms one of the five pillars of Islam: Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Prayer is a means of communication with Allah, and also one of the important means that Muslim students rely on to cope with the demands of an exhausting university life.

As a Muslim student at McGill, I have always longed for a proper prayer space on campus. When I arrived in Canada three years ago from 10 time zones away, I was shocked and disappointed to learn that the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) had recently been evicted from its former space.

Among the reasons the administration gave for the eviction was the idea that McGill is a secular institution and therefore not obligated to provide prayer space for any particular group on campus. Presently, a portion of the MSA office within the Shatner Building serves as a “temporary prayer corner.” However, the maximum capacity of the room is around 20 people, and I often have to wait outside as long as 15 minutes to find a spot. Many times, additional prayer services need to be held in order to accommodate all students who want to attend.

Moreover, the present prayer space within Shatner is not accessible for prayers when the building is closed. In such circumstances, like other Muslim students, I anxiously search for a spot around campus where I can offer my prayers and connect with my Creator. These spots include places underneath stairways; various locations within the libraries, such as desolate corners and areas between secluded bookshelves; the grounds of Lower Field, weather permitting; and the basements of the McConnell Engineering and Lorne Trottier buildings.

However, at these various makeshift praying areas, I cannot offer prayers with any devotion. It is hard to concentrate when there are people walking on the stairs above me, or when someone wants to get a book off the shelf that I happen to be praying next to. Many times, these places are not very clean – and “cleanliness of the place” is one of the prerequisites for prayer in Islam.

Prayer involves kneeling and prostration on the floor. Therefore, I always hurry, lest someone should trip over me. Therefore, I am unable to garner any of the spiritual or mental satisfaction that Muslims seek from their daily prayers.

For me, praying in such conditions transforms the act of prayer into a mere series of mechanical operations, devoid of any real connection with Allah. Many times, I have delayed or even missed prayers as a result of not being able to find a suitable location. At the end of the day, I lose out on an important tool that would otherwise provide me the strength and courage to deal with various problems (financial, academic, personal, et cetera).

Muslim students across the campus share the same experience. My friend Obei El-Kurdy, U2 Mechanical Engineering, pointed out to me, “Praying is really a simple and enriching experience for a Muslim…. However, we need a proper space, as the current one in the Shatner Building is by far inadequate to the Muslim students’ needs.”

Omar Balaa, U3 Civil Engineering, another friend, also stresses the importance of having a proper praying space. “Apart from fulfilling my obligations toward my Creator, it would help me focus on my studies, enhance my undergraduate experience, and allow me to contribute to the community in a much better way. I would basically be freed from this constant, nagging worry of having to figure out the next praying spot.”

In the end, I pray and hope that the administration wakes up and addresses Muslim students’ needs. Campuses across North America have provided accommodation for Muslim students, so I fail to understand why McGill, world-renowned for its rich cultural and ethnic diversity, has to be an exception.

Salman Hafeez is a U2 Mechanical Engineering student. Write him at