Muslim students in Ottawa are demanding permanent prayer rooms to accommodate their religious needs during school time
CAIRO – Forced to move from class to another for daily and weekly prayers, Muslim students in Ottawa are demanding permanent rooms to accommodate their religious needs during school time.
“That’s highly problematic because (students) don’t have any security knowing whether they’re getting the rooms or not,” Washim Ahmed, the director of Carleton University’s Muslim Students’ Association, told Toronto Sun.
“If there’s a room available, they’ll get it, otherwise they don’t.”
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Muslims pray five times a day, with each prayer made of a series of postures and movements, each set of which is called a rak‘ah.
The five prayer times are divided all through the day which starts with Fajr prayer at dawn.
As the prayer time falls, Muslim students slip between classes into any empty room to start their daily prayers to Allah.
With no permanent prayer room for Muslim students, they are often shuffled between classrooms or the gym, depending on what is available.
Maged Arab, a 23-year-old student, said without a permanent prayer room, Muslims have to either find a quiet place at school or else cram in all five of their daily prayers into their evenings.
“Thankfully, if there’s no prayer room, you’re excused and you can catch up on all the prayers when you get home from school,” he said.
Abdulaziz Dahir, 27, who goes at Sir Robert Borden High School, was able to take part in the Friday prayer at one of the school’s English classes.
“Looking back now, we would have wanted more time to pray at school but back then we were just happy to have a room at all.”
Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population.
A recent survey showed that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian, and that they are more educated than the general population.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said they always offer a multi-faith prayer room when students ask for one.
“They are only accessible during non-instruction time and are supervised by staff,” Walter Piovesan, the board’s associate director of education, said.
With a demand for rooms at around 60% to 70% of their schools, Piovesan said none of the schools have permanent prayer rooms.
“While there may be no dedicated room, there is a duty to accommodate under the Ontario Charter of Human Rights,” he said.
But Muslims complain that the system is often disorganized, finding themselves obliged each week to make arrangements to reserve a room.
“It’s happened in a couple of schools where I went to lead the prayer and I couldn’t find a prayer spot,” Ahmed said.
“It’s not organized, it’s just random.”
Earlier this week, a school in London, Ontario, opened the first permanent prayer room.
The idea has been in the works since the end of the last school year after a group of Muslim students lobbied the administration to create the space.
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