Task Force reports on Muslim student rights

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Last week, a division of the Canadian Federation of Students released a report on human rights that is the first of its kind in North America.

The report was drafted by the Task Force on the Needs of Muslim Students at Ontario colleges and universities. It includes input from almost 1,000 Muslim students across 17 universities, including many Western students.

The report, in production since September 2006, discusses compromises Muslim students make to fit into university and aims to help colleges and universities better understand their needs.

Incorporating input from Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall, students, staff members, administration and government officials, the report proposes solutions to problems found at certain universities and addresses several areas of concern.

“The report will be applicable to all students, Muslim or not, as it has done its best to frame the Human Rights Code in an understandable manner to empower students and provide them with a tool to ensure their own rights,” said Jesse Greener, chairperson of the CFS.

“According to the Ontario Human Rights Code, it’s the responsibility of an institution to make accommodations for people with religious convictions to help with the flow of the institution,” Greener said.

“There is a real lack of information out there and administrations are slow to respond to the discomfort Muslim students face,” he said, adding universities should do much more to ensure all students feel safe and equal on campus.

Greener said some issues detailed in the report are easy and inexpensive to address, such as Halal meat, which has already been added this week by Hospitality Services at Western.

The report lists some issues which are more difficult to solve, Greener said. He explained Islam forbids taking loans requiring interest on the debt and several Muslim students have to compromise their beliefs to fund their education.

Hasan Ahmad, president of Western’s Muslim Students’ Association, said alcohol is banned by Islam and its presence at university-sanctioned events troubles some Muslim students.

“Social events are always great ways to meet people and make essential connections that can be beneficial for one’s career,” Ahmad said.

“All university students want to excel in their chosen professions, and if Muslims are being hindered from this progression because alcohol is being served at these events, then it’s something that needs to be addressed immediately.”

At Western, the MSA has tried to “spread the message and erase prior misconceptions that may be held by non-Muslims,” Ahmad said.

The MSA held an Islamic Awareness Week and interfaith dialogues and socials throughout the year.

“A failure to accommodate is the most common problem across campuses,” said Ausma Malik, Task Force panel member and a University of Toronto student.

“Many older Muslims who attended university 15 to 20 years ago said they could have never imagined an initiative such as this,” Ahmad said. “Islamic values and Muslims are congruent with the fabric of Canadian society and Muslims need to have a strong voice on university campuses across Canada.”

The report is available at www.noracism.ca.

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