When McGill Muslim students perform the ablution ritual, in which they wash their feet and hands multiple times before daily prayers, it can lead to wet countertops in Shatner bathrooms. To avoid the inconvenience and to ease the the ritual’s practice, the Students’ Society is attempting to take initiatives towards installing ablution-friendly facilities.
In 2005, Muslim students lost their prayer space in Peterson Hall and are currently forced to pray in the Muslim Student Association office in the Shatner Building.
“No one really brought it up as a serious issue,” said Anushay Khan, SSMU vice-president clubs and services. “But there were complaints from people at Gert’s and many other services in the ground floor [of the Shatner building], because there often is a lot of water spillage.”
Many Muslim countries have public washrooms with special facilities for ablution. Although the same expectations do not exist at McGill, SSMU is still taking steps to facilitate the ritual.
“Being Muslim, I figured I can best understand the issue myself, so I did a bit of research and there are many universities in North America that have installed things like this,” Khan said. “I felt that it was something that Muslim students needed [and] considering that their space had been taken away in the past they were already in an unfair situation.”
After research on the issue, Khan decided a sink that allows its users to sit down was found to be a suitable solution. She contacted the McGill administration, since SSMU was unable to undertake the project alone.
“It is something that the university should have provided as part of a culture of sensitivity, so we are definitely trying to push for the university to pay for at least a portion of it,” Khan said. “But I really don’t think that this is something the university is interested in doing.”
Even though improved washroom facilities would be beneficial for the Muslim community at McGill, Muslim Students’ Association VP External Aya Salah explained that the issue is secondary to their prayer space problem.
“It’s not really a priority right now with us,” Salah said. “The fact that it’s wet, that’s something we can control.”
Prayer space on the other hand has been a constant issue for the MSA. Their biggest concern is to acquire a room other than their office where prayer, which Muslims must perform five times a day, can take place.
“We pray in the MSA office, [which] is not meant as a prayer space,” Salah said. “But there is nowhere else on campus.”
Unfortunately, Khan explained that space in the Shatner building is extremely limited, and increasing the prayer space would be a difficult task.
“Right now the space that we give them is small,” Khan said. “I understand that, but at the same time many other services don’t have space, and every Friday we always give them the ballroom.”
The only action that SSMU can take right now, according to Khan, is to assist the MSA with the complaint they have filed under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms against McGill for taking away their prayer space.
Erin Hale, a U3 philosophy student and former McGill Daily editor, had been concerneds, but was relieved to find that it was not their biggest concern.
“I guess I’m happy it’s a non-issue,” she said.