Lebanese Muslim Students Request Prayer Room in Maronite Antonine University

We might be the only country in the world where such a request can spark a controversy. Popular Lebanese blogger Rita Kamel wrote about the issue yesterday. Muslim students had requested a prayer room in the Antonine University, an institution conformant to the Maronite order. After their request was refused, the students saw it fit to pray in the university’s courtyard as protest.

There’s nothing wrong with students praying. But provoking their university’s administration in such a way is totally unacceptable. Going to the Antonine university, those students were aware of its regulations and its rules. If that university had had a zero-tolerance policy as some people were inferring, it wouldn’t have accepted students from outside the sects it “prefers” to begin with.

When it comes to such an issue, we tend to tred sectarian lines lightly. Any wrong sentence and all hell would break loose. But let me ask one simple question. If I, a Christian, had decided to go to Al Nour University in Tripoli (I’m assuming one exists), fully knowing that it is a Muslim university with such leanings, is it my right to ask for a chapel? In simple terms – absolutely not.

A university is supposed to be an educational institution where you go for classes and for a new life experience. It shouldn’t be a place for anyone to flaunt their religious beliefs, which are surely respected by the Antonine University simply because it allowed people from all faiths to enroll without imposing on them religious courses.

The fact remains, however, that many Muslim students have found ways to pray on many campuses without making a big deal out of things. For instance, the Lebanese Southern Club at the American University of Beirut uses the club room for praying at specific hours. It doesn’t interfere with other students nor does it make a big deal out of it.

At the end of the day, when a student applies to any university with religious leanings in Lebanon, they are more than aware of what they’re going into. If a Christian student is bugged by an Islamic-leaning university, he/she can always transfer. The same applies to Muslim students. And in case students don’t feel like attending any religious institutions, there are always a multitude of secular universities for them to go to. It’s just the way things are. No, it doesn’t reflect on our sectarian system in Lebanon negatively because universities with religious leanings are present all around the world and have administrations which would have behaved in the same way in such circumstances.

The only difference is that we, as Lebanese, tend to see any negativity surrounding our religion as a personal threat. We tend to forget that our relationship with God is not one which needs to be shown for any passerby. We tend to forget that praying is a personal matter that shouldn’t be made into national headlines. The students have a right to ask for a prayer room. The administration has the right to say no. There should be no hard feelings and there should definitely not be talks about sectarianism on the rise in Lebanon because of such an incident.

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21 thoughts on “Lebanese Muslim Students Request Prayer Room in Maronite Antonine University

  1. Jersa, this is deeper than written above, (no offense I really like your posts) the fact the students were hezbollah activists can be explained as a direct harassment to their christian allies… Its not the 1st time similar incidents happen…

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  2. Are you seriously comparing this to having a chapel in an Islamic university? It is Muslim’s religious duty to pray on a daily basis. Any university in Lebanon should be aware of the fact that people from all religious backgrounds are going to apply. Praying in the courtyard to provoke the university to provide them a praying room is not a bad thing. Freedom of religion should be accompanied with the accommodations and the openness to provide them.
    And concerning AUB, every year a petition to have a praying room is signed but it is still rejected. The Cultural South Club has a room provided for praying at specific time is because there is enough space in the university. While in Antonine University there is no appropriate place or space for Muslims to pray.

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    • A Muslim student going to a Christian university has no right to complain about the religious rules of that university. Same applies for a Christian going to a Muslim university.

      A Muslim student going to a Secular university (AUB) has no right to complain about the lack of a prayer room.

      The fact that it is require from Muslims to pray 5 times a day doesn’t mean they get to have a prayer room everywhere. Students go to universities to learn. They can pray at home or at a nearby mosque if it became too difficult.
      And the fact that they are required to pray doesn’t mean Christians cannot have chapels. IMO, Muslim universities can have prayer rooms, Christian universities can have chapels, secular institutions shouldn’t have either or both.

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    • Like he just said you have absolutely no rights for a prayer room since you are actually coming to study, this applies on all UNIVERSITIES. Plus i’d like to see your reaction when a christian will draw the cross in a muslim university…

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  3. It actually amazes me that such an issue is still being discussed. The other amazing things is that I just was reading a post in your blog on Racism! I think that Racial prejudice is no different than Religious prejudice!

    First of all, I’m a Muslim, and although I’m Lebanese, but I’m married to one. The issue that concerns me most is that people will always tend to use this argument: “what if we do the same thing to them? they will definitely do the same thing that we did”!
    Unlike my brother Christians, Muslims have an obligation to pray five times a day, while it’s not an easy task, part of being a Muslim dictates that, and considering the time that any person would spend at the University , I would expect that they would at least have to perform 2 or 3 of their prayers while at the university. And unlike Christians, this is a crucial part of their day, we cannot as Muslims do it at any other time, and by not giving them any space, you are either telling them that they should not pray, or that they should leave the university, which I can understand that you are implying, but neither any of these option should be even thought of when speaking about religious freedoms in a 21st century modern country; a country that it’s people boast about how much are they tolerant of the other!
    My argument is not about why should they allow them, my argument is against trying to allow our prejudices to interfere with our values, and christian values are among those that are at stake by taking this position! allowing those people to have a space to pray would have made it easier on every one, and drawing the comparisons between both sides will only help to deepen the fear and hate among these people.
    The strange thing is, I live in the US, in one of the bible belt states, but I ,as a Muslim, have never faced any difficulties finding a place to pray with other Muslims, and I’m not talking about State universities only, I’m talking about Catholic universities too.

    Please people, open your minds, I was aware that I was reading a Christian blog but , after following this blog for a while, I was expecting to deal with a broader mind.

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    • You know what, I had this be read by many of my Muslim friends before even posting it to see if it’s racist or offensive. None of them saw it that way. So let me begin my reply.
      There’s a drastic difference between the racism I was discussing before and what you think is present here. I’m not saying here that Muslims suck or that they are horrible. I’m not demeaning them. I’m not saying they’re not allowed to be Muslims. I’m not being prejudiced against them.

      1) The Antonine University used to be a convent before it was turned into a university. The university is under the jurisdiction of the Maronite Church. When students of various faiths apply, they are more than knowing what they’re getting into. The university has been around for decades. This is the FIRST time such a thing happens. Check above comments, it’s apparently political.

      2) Muslims praying 5 times a day is an obligation, as I’ve pointed out in a previous comment. But those Muslims who want to pray 5 times a day can basically do them all once per day at the end of the day. Yes, I have Muslim friends from both the Sunni and Shia sects who do this. They do not let their religious needs interfere with their educational life. It is that simple. When a Muslim person is going to a Christian university, they need to at least expect not to be able to pray 5 times a day and not take it to heart.

      3) We’re not allowing prejudices to interfere with values. The simple fact remains that you saying Christians don’t really need to pray is a prejudice. Who gives you the right to determine whether Muslims get a prayer room because they are required to have one and Christians don’t get a chapel because they don’t really need it?

      4) In a country like Lebanon where you have a multitude of universities all basically close to each other, the choice for universities is immense. A student going to a certain uni and not the other is choosing it based on the courses and majors it offers, not anything else. And it shouldn’t be about anything else. You want to pray 5 times a day, how about you choose a uni that facilitates it? You don’t care about praying 5 times a day, you can go to a uni that doesn’t have a prayer room. Going to a university and trying to impose your own ideas on it is not acceptable.

      5) There’s a drastic difference between being tolerant and being blindly permissive. It simply does NOT make sense to have a Muslim prayer room in a convent. Does it make sense to have a Chapel in a Mosque?

      6) You may not be Lebanese but the situation here is actually much better than any other neighboring countries in the region by far. At least Christians are allowed to have churches and build universities without hearing anything in return. And yes, I may be Christian and this blog might be somewhat considered a Christian blog, but that doesn’t mean I don’t talk about things honestly, regardless of what religion is being discussed.

      Finally let me conclude with this. A Shia friend of mine who read this post replied: It’s not offensive at all and you are 100% right. I went to a Catholic school, with nuns, fully knowing I will be taking catechesis. I did not object because that is the curriculum and that was the best education I can get. I knew what I was getting myself into.

      Perhaps those students should have been more aware?

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      • Elie, I would have to say that I thank you for not getting upset or over zealous when you replied to me, I honestly don’t like to reply to post cause it ends up in a mess with no end in sight. Here are my comments ,not replies, to the points you made:
        1) I would agree that much of it is political, but if you would have discussed it from this point of view, then I would have completely understood it, however, you didn’t do so. The post was not about a political move, it was about a religious act that requires a physical space!
        2) Here’s the thing, just because some Muslims pray by the end of the day doesn’t mean that its right, and I would suspect that those are the same Muslims who told you that this post doesn’t contain any prejudice. Muslims “MUST” pray these prayers at certain times and not at the end of the day, and doing that doesn’t in any way interfere with their education, why would you keep on drawing this contrast!; you don’t have to either practice your religion OR educate your self! It’s just not right. And I hope we can get to point where you can understand my concern about this point in particular.
        3) Well, as I said , I live in a christen country, and I came to understand that your religious obligations involve attending mass on Sunday and communion on certain days of the year like Good Friday or Easter. So, I’m not bringing any prejudices, I’m just pointing “again’ that you should not make a comparison between “obligations” and “practices’ in any religion. I would have understood it if it was about any other Muslim practice, but as you see, prayers are an “obligation” that requires a physical space. I’m unaware of any Christian “obligation” that requires such a place during the day; please tell me if you know any, I would like to be informed about it?
        4) I agree with what you said most students who go to a certain university base their decision on the majors and courses offered, and not on the religion of that university. So, my point is, when it comes to education, it should never be a religious choice, otherwise it won’t be education any more, it should be based on the type of education pursued, and I would suspect that no university is allowed to make education exclusive to any certain sect as this would ruin the whole cause of it!

        5) Well, I beg to differ in this point, again, when I do my daily prayers, I would go to Chapel and I would pray there, under the image of Christ and with a cross on the table, and we were “gracefully” allowed to do so because we didn’t have any other place to go to. What bothers me most is that his happened in a country where Muslims are a minority; I can’t see why it can’t happen in a place like Lebanon!
        Another thing is that for the past 3 years we were holding our Friday prayers at a Methodist church while our Mosque was being built. And they would invite us for Iftar during Ramadan as a sign of good faith, and they thought of it as their duty as good Christians, I’m not sure about this, but is there anything in Maronite teachings that wouldn’t allow such an act? And again, it would really bother me to see such acts here in the US and not in Lebanon, it really does.

        6) Man, if I would have a Dollar for every time a Lebanese guy would tell the same thing, Keep in mind that I’m married to one, but it’s the same phrase: Lebanon in better than any in this, and Lebanon is better than any in that! I won’t go and try to defend my country’s (Jordan) religious freedoms, but I didn’t ever hear of Christians not being allowed to build a church here, trust me we have many churches and many different congregations. As I said I won’t talk a lot because I don’t think I have all the information, but I do have Christian friends and they’re fairly comfortable living there. The thing I’m discussing is the fact that this overwhelming sense that “we do things better than any” is the thing that is actually impairing this conversation

        Finally, let me remind you of a cut from the video you posted: Racist things Lebanese say, when one of the (Lebanese) guys complains that (Foreign) people are allowed to use the (Lebanese) ( transportations). Can you figure out what words should be swapped with the ones in brackets to fit our current conversation?

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  4. As a Maronite, I am taking it as a compliment that Muslims choose Antoine over other universities.

    In any case, Antoine is a private institution (akin to walking into someone’s home). If you don’t like their set rules, don’t enrol.

    Would be the same as the university having a rule “no to a cheat room that allows you to cheat in exams” and then people getting all angry that they are not allowed a “cheat room”.

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    • I agree. There is no room for pragmatism. There’s no need for pragmatism when it comes to this. It’s either black or white. This is a Christian, Maronite institution. It’s a private university. It has its own rules which conform with the law. If students don’t like them, then simply do not enroll.

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  5. If they don’t like the system, then transfer. We are not allowed to have churches in Saudi Arabia. Our women have to be veiled up when they go to KSA or Iran.
    The least we can do is keep our universities which were previously a CONVENT as they are. They want to pray? Go to a nearby Mosque. Mech hal2ad bedda!

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  6. Pingback: Muslim Prayers At USJ « A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

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