Muslim students at Carleton seek larger prayer room

Muslim students at Carleton University say they need a new place to pray, because their numbers have increased so much there is no longer room for them in the designated prayer room.

Muslim students at Carleton University say they need a new place to pray, because their numbers have increased so much there is no longer enough space in the designated prayer room.

Fifteen years ago, Carleton became one of the first universities in Canada to set up a central prayer room for Muslims, which made it possible for students to pray on campus, and not miss classes.

That space was designed to accommodate 70 people. But some days more than double that number squeeze in hip-to-hip, and more line up outside to wait their turn.

Once a week the university offers up gymnasium space for Friday prayers. But the rest of the time students have to pack into the University Centre's prayer room.

"There's no space. It's not even spacious enough to bow down and not hit someone," said Hazem Hmoud.

"People are really, like, stepping over each other," said Madiha Kham.

"Considering it's a religious obligation for us, and we have to pray on time, it's impractical; it's inconvenient. I mean prayer should be something enjoyable," said Mohammed Djeffal.

The Muslim Students Association says it has requested more space for years.

The vice-president of the association, Mozynah Nofal, said the women's section of the prayer room is only a quarter of the size of the men's area.

She said about 70 women use the space every day for prayer, and with space only for 20, she said she often uses the hallway outside the room. "I always feel kind of uncomfortable, because if someone comes in and wants to cross or wants to go down the stairs I have to get out of prayer and then start prayer over.

"It's just really not safe to pray in an exit door or a fire space or something. Plus it's not a proper place for prayer. We want to have a proper place for prayer," Nofal said.

The president of the association, Mohamed Haggag, said the Muslim population at Carleton has seen phenomenal growth. "They're recruiting a lot of people from the Middle East and overseas, and most of them are Muslim, and most of them come in even on the basis it's a friendly campus and friendly environment, and they can practise their religion freely and easily here. And that's what we're trying to work on. They expect easier," Haggag said.

Smita Bharadia, who speaks for the university's equity service department, says there are hundreds of requests for space.

"Priority always goes to the teaching and academic. That has given to us some challenges," she said.

Bharadia said the university might consider a multi-faith prayer space.

The students will present a petition calling for the bigger prayer space to a university committee later in May.