For many Muslim students on St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick’s shared campus, prayer is a priority.
The Islamic faith requires Muslims to pray five times a day. For students, finding a quiet, clean place to practice their religion is an everyday challenge.
“When I first came here I would go to my dorm room to pray. Once I stopped living on campus I couldn’t. I started asking around about where the mosque was, where’s the Muslim community on campus and off? I saw lots of Muslim people on campus but there was no community for students,” said Khairunissa Intiar.
Intiar is a fourth-year student at St Thomas University. While there is a multi-faith room behind STU’s chapel in George Martin Hall, it’s inconvenient when much of a student’s time is spent down the hill at UNB.
Intiar spends a lot of time at the Harriet Irving Library and finds it difficult to hike back up the hill at appropriate prayer times.
UNB has a prayer room available to students on lower campus, but female students can’t use the space.
“It’s very small, only 15 feet by 15 feet, and one of the complaints is that females want to go there but it’s so small that they feel very uncomfortable because the majority is men who go there,” said Naveed Majid of the Fredericton Islamic Association.
The Muslim Students Association lobbied for a room and for five years, the multi-faith room has been filled by Muslim students – all male.
Intiar says because of the nature of Muslim prayer, many women feel uncomfortable praying in front of men. There is lots of bending, stooping, and kneeling.
Intiar isn’t alone.
“I’m at the university until like 9 or 10 p.m. I still haven’t found a place to pray, so it’s really frustrating and it does make me sad,” said Muhana Mostofa, a second-year UNB student. She also spends much of her time in the library.
UNB and STU have made accommodations for Muslim students but access to prayer rooms are a symptom of a bigger problem. Muslims in Fredericton – especially Muslim students – are searching for a sense of community and a place to call home.
The Muslim community of Fredericton has 50 families and many more students.
“There used to be a Muslim Students Association which is over now,” said Intiar. “They all have kids and stuff now.
When I moved off campus I was looking for places with congregations I could pray with especially during Ramadan.”
Intiar found the mosque, or masjid on Lincoln Road. At first, she had trouble finding an address, and then she had trouble making her way there.
“I was trying to figure out how I get there and realized I have to stop in front of Dunn’s Crossing by bus and walk about 10 minutes by the side of the highway with no sidewalk,” she said.
“At first it was ok but then it was winter and more dangerous so I just don’t go in the winter.”
While there is a walking trail of crushed gravel leading up to the mosque, it’s snowed over during the winter and not plowed.
Communications director Naveed Majid is also a former president of the Fredericton Islamic Association. In 2006 an accident prompted change.
“There was no sidewalk at the masjid and people would park on the roadway on Lincoln Road and the quickest way out was to park in front of it and then make a u-turn and go back,” he said.
“Somebody made a u-turn at the wrong time and was hit. The car had four people in it, and the driver was in the hospital for six months.”
Majid lobbied the city to put in a sidewalk, curb and gutter in front of the mosque. After a year, he was successful. The parking lot is now connected to the building by a sidewalk.
“No one can park on the side of the road, though, but they still do because of the high number of people who come to the masjid,” said Majid. And people still walk on Lincoln Road without a sidewalk.
Majid and the FIA have been trying for several years to move the mosque to a new home. In 2009, a church on Grandame, close to the universities, came for sale. The Muslim community raised close to $100,000 within a few months, but the deal fell through.
“We should be looking for something better,” he said of the small, outdated church building.
Intiar finds it difficult to participate in her faith in a non-Muslim country and recognizes the universities aren’t obligated to remedy this issue for her. But this doesn’t make it any easier.
“It’s more of a community issue,” she said, “and it’s something missing for me.”