Short hours and improper use lead to controversy

Illuminated by sunlight breaking through an otherwise cloudy afternoon, the peaceful swirling of a cloud of dust within Capilano University’s designated prayer and meditation space indicates the conflict brewing therein.

The room, so purposed by the University in response to requests by various religiously observant members of the student body, is meant to provide a safe and tranquil environment for the spiritually inclined to observe prayer times, meditate, or conduct other religious activities. However, those who stand to gain the most from the space are increasingly reporting frustration due to misuse, even abuse, of the space by students of lesser piety.

They told us that [the room] was only for prayers, but ... when I come here, there are groups of other people using it for studying,” stated Fahad Alanazi, a practicing Muslim who attends Capilano.

He informed the Courier that, prior to the opening of the prayer space, he was forced to pray, "in empty classrooms ... I had to look for empty classrooms anywhere and [pray there.]"

While there has also been a small area of the CSU lounge designated as a prayer space for some months, Fahad reported no awareness of its existence, and suggested that the public nature of the lounge would be inappropriate for religious rites.

After the addition of the new space, Fahad and other religiously observant sorts at Capilano have faced difficulty in making use of the space, as reports of its misuse are widespread. "I found some students studying, eating and relaxing ... even the teachers. I came one day to pray but I could not because I found [a] teacher with his students [in the room.]"

During a prolonged two-hour stakeout, a representative of the Courier observed seven students utilizing the prayer space, which is located in classroom AR119. Of these seven, only one appeared to be observing any form of religious rites. The six others were seen yawning, stretching, reading, tapping pencils against their kneecaps, and attempting to catch a piece of fluff floating through the air.

First established in response to climbing demand for such facilities in the Fall of 2009, the classroom’s hours of operation have been infringed upon by the demands of other departments. Presently, the room is designated a prayer space from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm daily, with the latter cutoff being imposed due to the Community Music School’s need of the space at 3:30 for another program.

In an email, CSU representative Trevor Page said that “the CSU has continually advocated for the University to provide the prayer space to be available for students during regular school hours,” and referred the Courier to a posting in the prayer space for information regarding the intended uses of the space.

In this document, it is asserted that “the university will monitor the room to ensure sufficient and appropriate usage,” although Page stated that, “The prayer space is meant to be a safe place for people of faith to meditate or participate in silent prayer. As such, the room is not under surveillance or otherwise monitored.”

For now, it seems that the controversy will remain. Fahad himself stated that he was "very glad and happy" about the space itself, while also noting that "[he would] like to send [an] email to CapilanoU students and tell them ... [it] is for prayer and you cannot use it for other things."

// Max MacKay

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