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January 10, 2013

A Muslim prayer room at a Christian College

The Canadian Charger

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In keeping with Toronto's Emmanuel College's goal of fostering an inclusive society with religious pluralism, that includes interfaith dialogue and respect; it is launching a Muslim Prayer Room on Jan. 22, 7 - 10 pm. Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Chair of Islamic Studies at Huron College, is giving the keynote lecture "Rooting a Canadian Muslim Identity."

Emmanuel College is the largest theological school associated with the United Church of Canada, and is a theological college of Victoria University, in the University of Toronto.

Dr. Kathy Bullock, Coordinator of the Certificate of Muslim Studies Program at Emmanuel College and President of The Tessellate Institute - a non-profit research institute focused on exploring and documenting the lived experiences of Muslims in Canada - said Muslims are and, have been part of Canadian society for a long time; and Dr. Mattson will be speaking about how to marry the Canadian Muslim identity with the grander story of what Canada is.

“We want to demonstrate compatible visions of what's good for society, the rootedness of Muslims as Canadians, not have them seen as aliens or immigrants.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Bullock said she and the other organizers wanted the launch of the prayer room to be a community event.

“For the launch, we've invited the community to come and see. We want to make it known that it's the only dedicated prayer space for Muslims on that side of the campus. In conjunction with the launch we've got a well-known speaker.”

Dr. Bullock said the Muslim prayer room includes separate ablution facilities– special washing facilities used before prayer – for men and women, new carpets and a refurbished ceiling, and a wall so that worshippers are not disturbed when people come into the room.  Emmanuel College and Victoria University covered the approximately $70,000 cost of preparing the ablution facilities and various sources in the Muslim community -  including the Canadian Jaffari Muslim Foundation, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, the Islamic Institute of Toronto, the Muslim Chaplaincy, and the Muslim Students Association of the University of Toronto – donated the approximately $25,000 to renovate the prayer  room.

Mark Toulouse, Principal of Emmanuel College and Professor of the course The History of Christianity at Emmanuel College, said the University of Toronto has a large number of graduate and undergraduate Muslim students at its St. George Campus; and while there are multiple prayer facilities on the west side of the campus, the east side didn't have any.

“It's significant to provide a prayer room for Muslim students. As an interfaith school, we want to show how important these relationships are.  This theological school is historically Christian, but we want dialogue with other faiths to show how much we respect them. Prayer is very important to the daily exercise of the practice of Islam, so we need to provide space for their religious practices. Hospitality is most important.”

In an effort to include the broader community, Dr. Bullock said Emmanuel College began a Muslim Studies Program in February 2010. All community members are welcome to study topics such as the Koran in a Canadian Context and how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms affects religious communities. The course is taught by highly-qualified Muslim professors over a four to six week period, once a week for two hours.

Emmanuel College also has a Muslim Chaplaincy Program, which is recognized by the Ontario government. Dr. Bullock said the Muslim Chaplain is available for hospital, prison, military and university or college settings, in the same way that Protestant or Catholic chaplains are also available.

“The Chaplain program fits into the need for spiritual nurturing needed in these institutions. It's available to Muslims and people of other faiths. Hopefully it will help alleviate the concern people expressed when the Harper government decided to have only Christian Chaplains for these institutions.

Moreover, since the winter semester of 2010, Emmanuel College has offered a Masters Program in Muslim studies for students interested in becoming Muslim Chaplains.  The course, which includes a history of Islam, study of the Koran and Muslim ethics, prepares graduates to work as Muslim Chaplains in prisons, hospitals, the military, social services and a variety of non-profit organizations. The course is being taught by Dr. Nevin Reda, an internationally known Muslim scholar from the University of Toronto.  Dr. Reda has a PhD in near and Middle Eastern Civilization and the Hebrew Bible.

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