Canadian Federation of Students releases report on needs of Muslim students

The Canadian Federation of Students released a report examining college and university responsiveness to Muslim students today. The Federation’s Task Force on the Needs of Muslim Students compiled the report based on participation of nearly 1,000 Muslim students at 17 on-campus hearings over a seven month period.

“The goal was to develop a better understanding of the needs of Muslim students and to determine how well Ontario universities and colleges are addressing those needs,” said Jesse Greener, Ontario Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. “It’s clear that every day Muslim students face both overt and subtle forms of Islamophobic discrimination on Ontario campuses.”

Islamophobia, as defined in the Ontario Human Rights Commission, is the use of stereotypes, biased or hostile acts towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. The Ontario Human Rights Code sets out standards of religious accommodation for the beliefs and practices of racialised individuals or groups within workplaces and learning environments.

“A general ‘failure to accommodate’ was the most frequently identified problem by Muslim students in many facets of campus life,” said Ausma Malik, Task Force member and student at the University of Toronto. “From a lack of appropriate foods on campus and inadequate prayer space to inflexible academic policies that are often at odds with religious obligations, Ontario’s Muslim students often face a fundamentally different learning environment than other students.”

High tuition fees and the overwhelmingly loan-based student financial aid system are particularly problematic for Muslim students. “Interest-bearing loans are forbidden in Islam, which means that provincial and federal government loans are simply off-limits for many practicing Muslims,” said Mohamed Sheibani, Task Force member and the President of the Muslim Students’ Association National of the U.S. and Canada. “The Task Force is asking whether an inadequate system of need-based grants contravenes the spirit and intent of the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

The report, which is the first of its kind in North America, recommends improved responsiveness to the growing number of Muslim students and urges that similar accommodations offered to other students be provided.

“Students were encouraged by the interest in the work of the Task Force shown by Chief Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall,” said Greener. “Responsibility lies with institutional decision-makers and government to follow and enforce the Human Rights Code. We expect that there will be a review of at least the most obvious discriminatory practices and that serious consideration will be given to the recommendations made in this report by government officials, college and university administrators, faculty and staff, as well as students.”

The Canadian Federation of Students is comprised of more than 500,000 students across Canada, and 300,000 students in Ontario. The Federation’s campaign “No Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, Racism” is widely used on college and university campuses across Ontario.

Canadian Federation of Students press release, 21 March 2007

Download the report here.