MTS principal Ana Paula Fernandes stands in what will soon become a muslim prayer room at the catholic school in London, Ont. on Wednesday Sept. 12, 2012. Up to 15 students will use the room for Friday prayers.
Credits: DEREK RUTTAN/The London Free Press/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA -- While Ottawa high schools profess to offer prayer rooms for Muslim students, an Islamic leader says they don’t have a permanent space and are often relegated to small classrooms, if they can get space at all.
Washim Ahmed is the Islamic director of Carleton University’s Muslim Students’ Association and he leads a prayer service at more than half a dozen public high schools in Ottawa on Fridays.
But he said none of the schools have permanent prayer rooms, and they’re often shuffled between classrooms or the gym, depending on what’s available.
Sometimes, he said there simply isn’t a room they can use.
“That’s highly problematic because (students) don’t have any security knowing whether they’re getting the rooms or not,” Ahmed said. “If there’s a room available, they’ll get it, otherwise they don’t.”
A school in London, Ont., opened their first permanent prayer room earlier this week.
But the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said they always offer a multi-faith prayer room when students ask for one.
There’s a demand for rooms at around 60% to 70% of their schools.
“They are only accessible during non-instruction time and are supervised by staff,” said Walter Piovesan, the board’s associate director of education.
He added 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 Ahmed argued the system is often disorganized, and Muslim students have to make arrangements each week 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,” he said. “It’s not organized, it’s just random.”
The Catholic board said they offer quiet prayer space for any group upon request.
Muslims are obligated to say five prayers per day at very specific times, culminating in the most important prayer, the Jumu’ah, on Friday shortly after noon.
Carleton student Maged Arab, 23, 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.
But Abdulaziz Dahir, 27, went to Sir Robert Borden High School and was thankful to be able to take part in the Friday prayer in 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,” he said.
He added he understands it’s tough to find space for a permanent prayer room.
Ahmed wants to see more co-operation between religious groups and school boards to help fund permanent multi-faith prayer rooms in Ottawa schools.