CFS Report on the Needs of Muslim Students

Today the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario released a report on the needs of Muslim students at Ontario universities.  There are points in it that I agree with and points that I disagree with.

I believe that universities should declare academic amnesty for any religious holiday which is significant to a substantial percentage of their population including Muslims.  I agree that professors should be well versed in Islam if they are teaching about it.  They must, however, treat it with the same academic objectivity as other faiths including my own; Christianity.

I believe that “islamophobia” does exist.  It do me, is not when people fail to “accommodate”, it is when people fail to treat someone the same because of their religion.  This is to say when they treat someone poorly, stereotypes, or mistreats based on their being Muslim.  (Mind you, I have no problem with accommodation as long as it is reasonable, of course that is a huge debate in Quebec right now)

I am disturbed by the calls for multiple prayer spaces that are exclusive to Islam.  This is recommended even at schools that have multi-faith rooms.  Yes, I know that some schools have churches or chapels on their grounds.  They are “relics” from the past when most universities were religious institutions or run by churches.  We have grown as a society and made our universities public secular institutions.  It be unacceptable to me for any public university to build a chapel for Christians today.

However, say enough people in the Muslim community get together, fundraising and want to have their own college at a school with the college system, I being very supportive of this provided that no public funds go into the creation of a religious based college.  The building of classroom space attached to the college by public funds is great in my opinion.

I understand there is tensions at some schools over the use of multi-faith space, these tensions need to be solved.  The solution to me does not include segregation of space for each religion.  We must share space like we must learn to co-exist in the world.

Having an ablution area beside a multi-faith prayer space is something that I support.

In terms of halal foods, this one is tough for me.  I want it to be available and I want people to be able to afford it.  It be great if it were the same price.  The reality is that volume is a key factor in pricing of food on campus especially residences.  It is cheaper per capita to make a lot of something for a lot of people.  I have spoke with many food service providers and am aware of the higher costs to purchase halal foods.  The reality is that to have halal food at the same price, it must be subsidized.  That subsidization must come from other sales usually meaning that prices will have to increase for other students.

I believe that halal food should be provided at a rate equal to the cost of providing it.

In terms of alcohol at events; I agree with the recommendation to have the first hour of events alcohol free.  I am concerned that much like multi-faith prayer space, that the accommodation will eventually not be enough.

In terms of athletic facilities, off-peak women only times make sense.  If the demand is there, enough people want and use it, go for it.  I know that The Pulse at McMaster has a strict dress code for both sexes to make people more comfortable working out.  Basically, one cannot wear anything tight fitting.  In terms of The Pulse, I would not like having the time I can use it restricted.  It is busy even in off-peak times, and I know that is when I prefer to use it.  I am not very comfortable working out with a lot of people around, plus it is hard to get equipment during peak times.  However, if enough people are going to use the space to fill it because they cannot use it any other time, who am I to be so greedy as to not allow them?

I noted that the study took a swipe at the University Students’ Council at Western.  A favourite of Jesse Greener and the CFS to kick at.  They cannot stand the USC especially since the USC won the Travel Cuts case.

Overall, I think the CFS has provided a service in bringing this forth for discussion.

In my experience, it is tough to balance religion with society on a whole.

I remember the Danish cartoon incident last year.  I supported the publication on grounds of freedom of speech.  I remember many of my friends trying to get me to sign a petition to the government to ban insults to all religions.  I did not sign it.  My friends asked me why and I told them.  We all had a good discussion on it and I stated why I felt the way I did about it and they told me why they (and their religion) felt the way they did.  We had no problem among us.  During the later part of the discussion, one of their friends entered the discussion.  She eventually called me a racism for supporting the publication of the cartoons and for a banner on my site that read “I Support Denmark and Freedom of Speech”, I remember how hurt I was to be called a racist.  I know that a student group wanted to form to have a discussion on the cartoons, which would have required showing the cartoons to talk about them.  After some of the leaders were called racist, they decided against it and felt it would only make things worse.  There were also some students that called for me to be removed from my position as Disability Co-ordinator in Diversity Services because of my stand.  Many people failed to see that I was disgusted with some of the cartoons (not all of them) especially the turban bomb one, yet I supported the right of free expression to publish most of the cartoons.

I believe that one can disagree with parts of this report without being racist.  Of course, there are idiots out there that do not like the report and are bashing those that wrote it and generally being idiots over at