Sunday, December 23, 2012

Can We Pray Anywhere We Want?

What prompted this blog?

It’s this column, that complains about the lack of prayer rooms (Mescid) at my Alma Mater, Bosphorus University.

The author is among the new cohort of pious, vocal and dare-I-say liberal women journalists, who came under the spotlight after the headscarf protests in Turkish universities in 2007-8.

Full disclosure: I supported her and the free headscarf movement wholeheartedly at the time. I believe women should not be made to choose between their education and their religious beliefs. It’s ludicrous for the state to micromanage people’s clothing, especially when they’re mature adults!

But this time, I beg to disagree…
South Campus, BU

What’s the issue?

Bosphorus University has multiple campuses: South, North, Hisar, Ucaksavar and Kilyos Campuses. South is the oldest campus, but most departments, classrooms, the library, dorms, university bookstore, etc are up on the North campus. There is a small mosque right at the entrance of the North campus.

Students who observe the 5-times per day prayer rule of Islam, want a designated space in the South campus for this purpose.

The columnist above, who is also an Alumnus of Bosphorus university (Sociology), claims that this is an “ontological right”. Furthermore, she says 10 minutes between classes is not enough time to go up to the mosque on North campus. Therefore, the University has to accommodate this demand, and provide a prayer room at the South Campus.

Now, lets be frank:

The only times the students would need a prayer room during class times would be the noon & afternoon prayers, and possibly the evening (in winter times).

Depending on the time of the year, there are 2 to 5 hour windows for Muslims to complete each of these prayer duties.

Noon & afternoon prayers are not short. They have 4 parts, as opposed to 2 parts in the morning & 3 parts in the evening.

Even if there were a dedicated prayer room in the South, 10 minutes between classes is NOT sufficient time. You’ll need to run over there, walk up or down stairs (always stairs, NO ELEVATORS in South!), wash your hands-face-feet, get yourself back in order, line up, concentrate on the prayer, rush all the verses, salute, dress up & pack, and run over to the next class. Again, numerous stairs obstructing your way… In short, prayer-in-10-mins argument does not pass the reality check.

Aside from the unrealistic nature of a 10-minute prayer break, there is the issue of “ontological” rights to prayer.

I support a wide range of rights and causes, all the way from rights to express your native identity & language, religious duties, to rights of workers to a decent wage and parental rights to provide for their new-born babies without the fear of losing their jobs, to free expression of ideas, students’ right to protest peacefully, sexual rights, handicapped people’s access to services, etc, etc…

However, I would never be able to line up these rights hierarchically and say: “Hey, you know, a mother’s right to paid leave for 12 months is an ‘ontological’ right! I just gave birth to a baby! I need to take care of him/her. It’s about life & death, no? Give me my high order right and back off, you foolish advocates of lower level rights!”

Tell that to the workers and union leaders in Argentina, who were dumped into the Atlantic by the military regime, for fighting for a decent pay and decent living.

Tell that to the activists in gay movements, who are still brutally beaten up by law enforcement and ostracized by their societies in many parts of the world, for trying to live a life that is true to their personality.

Tell that to all the indigenous and minority populations, who have been fighting for decades if not centuries, to be accepted as who they are, with equal rights and dignity.

I don’t understand why people can be so utterly self-righteous, when it comes to religious rights. Why should religion be an ontological right, triumphing over all else? Why should one’s self-identity, motherhood, or demands for a decent wage in exchange for their hard labor would count LESS THAN religious rights?

Lets leave ontology for a minute, and go back to basic empirical facts:

South campus is prime real estate no matter how you look at it. The historic heart of the campus is protected by numerous zoning laws, most famous of being the Law for the Protection of Bosphorus View. Practically, this means the university cannot develop the area it sits on.

Kilyos Campus, BU
There are innumerable competing interests and demands on campus. The English prep school (YADYOK) for instance –that every student has to attend unless s/he passes an extremely hard proficiency exam- has NO SPACE to put classrooms. So it ships all its students across the city to the Kilyos campus, which is essentially a beach town along the Black Sea! These poor kids cannot see the marvelous campus they’re entitled to study for a whole year! All they have in the name of Bosphorus University is a long beach and cold winds from the mad Black Sea beating up their walls. Oh, and lots of humidity and mold

Second, office space is scarce in South. Multiple faculty members with Ivy League degrees –literally- share tiny offices cramped under sloping roofs lines.

Third, regular capacity cannot meet the demand. Under pressure from Turkey’s Higher Ed. Council (YOK) to increase enrollment, BU is having a hard time to seat and accommodate its ever-growing number of students. Hence, every bit of space, including under the stairs & old closets, are used for something, at times very creatively: toilets under the stairs, copy rooms & coffee rooms inside closets, etc… A dorm room in South Campus is the most precious thing a student can get in his/her entire college life! I had one, shared with 11 (in writing: eleven!) roommates. It was totally worth it, despite the awful metal bunk-beds, non-stop cacophony and insurmountable mess.
1st Girls Dormitory, South Campus, BU
My point: please stop demanding special treatment, and pretending that this is the most compelling case for space on South campus.

BU is the most liberal university in Turkey that not only welcomes students from all walks of life, but also helps them flourish. It is a rare gem, given the suffocating atmosphere in other universities across the country. 

Let us all be reasonable, and NOT beat the tree that bears good fruit.

The freedom loving, controversy-weary Academic Mommy

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