Canada
Southern Ontario high school creates prayer room for Muslim students

MTS principal Ana Paula Fernandes stands in what will soon become a muslim prayer room at the catholic school. Up to fifteen students will use the room for Friday prayers.

Credits: DEREK RUTTAN/ The London Free Press /QMI AGENCY

DALE CARRUTHERS | QMI AGENCY

LONDON, ON -- Mother Teresa Catholic secondary school is turning a second-floor office into an Islamic prayer room -- the first high school in the city, private or public, to do so.

Carpet will soon cover the tile flooring, speakers will be installed and prayer mats purchased to provide the school's Muslim students, estimated at around two dozen, with a quiet and private place to pray.

The idea has been in the works since the end of the last school year after a group of Muslim students lobbied administration to create the space.

"They're members of our school community. We want to ensure that all our students feel welcome, that they feel that they belong," said Principal Ana Paula Fernandes.

The prayer room, expected to be completed by the end of September, is located on a busy stretch on the second floor, just metres from the school's large chapel.

"That was very important to ensure that it was included in the main building, and not tucked away somewhere," Fernandes said.

Grade 12 student Amir Farhi, 17, was part of the group that led the push for the prayer room.

"We do have quite a bit of Muslims in this school who find it hard to practice their religion," he said.

"Having this prayer room, it's easy for them to do their Friday prayers."

Though Muslims pray facing Mecca, Saudi Arabia, five times a day, the room will mainly be used Fridays, the holiest day of the week in Islam.

Administration and students are working with a local imam, a leader of Islamic worship services, to create guidelines governing use of the room.

"We just want to come together as a community, exchange our beliefs, sharing our ideas and helping grow this school with its values," said Farhi, who applauded school officials for moving so quickly to create the room.

While baptism is a requirement to attend Catholic elementary schools, students of any faith can enrol at Catholic secondary schools.

No figure is available on how many of Mother Teresa's 1,400 students are non-Catholic, but Fernandes said the school's diverse population is one of its strengths.

The prayer room will also foster tolerance and understanding of different religions among non-Muslim students, Fernandes added.

"It certainly is meant to strengthen the sense of community and the sense of respect . . . for one's peers and the community at large."

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