With nowhere else to go, Muslim students at McGill University - some wearing their graduation gowns - prayed on the grass across from a convocation tent yesterday. Just after midnight Tuesday, security guards went to the room Muslim students had been using for prayer, asked those inside to leave, and changed the locks on the doors, said Sarah Elgazzar, spokesperson for the Muslim Students' Association. "The manner in which this was handled was very irresponsible, very juvenile, as if we were criminals," she said. The controversy over a prayer room arose in 1998, when the association first requested a central location for prayer. The McGill Students' Society was unable to provide such a space and asked the university for help. "It was understood and it was explained ... that this would be on a temporary basis," Joe Zackon, a communications officer for the university, said in a phone interview.
"The university does not provide permanent prayer space to any group. McGill is a secular institution." As a result, Muslims were provided a room in the basement of Peterson Hall in which to pray. After several renewals, the agreement ended Tuesday, May 31. "We're very short of space," Zackon said, noting the room is needed for an archeology lab. The university has about 2,700 Muslim students, faculty and staff, of whom 200 used the prayer room daily. The Students' Society offered to provide Muslim students space in classrooms in its building this summer, on the condition the university recognized this as a temporary solution. The university rejected this offer. "We fought rather hard to provide them such a service, and it just wasn't possible in the end," Students' Society president Adam Conter said. (MORE)