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.