Entering the airy atmosphere of the Spiritual Centre, she is the first to sit on the comfortable sofa, her possessions spread around her, and starts to reflect.
“I come here to feel calm and spiritual,” says Mulin Xie, an English for Academic Purposes student at Algonquin. “I walk around the college but this is my favourite place where I relax and sometimes attend rituals of different religions.”
She is not the only one.
“Students who come here promote tolerance and respect for one another,” says Shelley Neilson is the coordinator of Spiritual Centre. She sees discussions and sharing happening in the space and she feels astounded by the similarities and differences they reflect.
Here, there are activities and workshops open to all students. Muslims offer Jummah prayer in congregation, and Roman Catholic mass is preceded by Rosary Group. Catholic services are attended by the staff and students, and pastors from the Chinese community lead the group discussions.
There are counselling services offered by the chaplain, and an alpha program every night that encourages participants to reflect on knowing the world.
“We don’t have expectations from students. It is an open space for students irrespective of their religion,” Neilson says.
Hannah Miller, a social service worker student at Algonquin, is among them, and attends guided meditations. These are classes conducted by a Hindu monk, Rama Caltanya.
“I am always interested in learning about different faiths and practices,” she says. “Understanding about religions is worthwhile so I’m beginning to make time for it.”
Students of different religions commemorate their spirtual obligations once a week at the Centre.
“I like to talk with the chaplain because he always gives me an advice that changes my perspective of viewing things,” Xie says.
As for Majid Mohammad Ahmad, a project management student at Algonquin, he has come to the centre for prayers.
“It is problematic for me for not being able to pray Jummah on time because of my ongoing classes,” he says. “I have to pray individually afterwards.”
“It’s a very interesting place here,” says Banar Setya, a student in English for Academic Purposes at Algonquin. “I pray Jummah at the centre. It is a great opportunity to be able to pray here.”
All of these students from different faiths are able to express their spirituality at different times of the day — in the same room. When there is a workshop of one religious group scheduled here, the other is respectful enough to offer them space. Muslims have to use this room often for their five times prayers in a day, but the other activities are scheduled in the afternoon.
The open welcome area invites students who pass by. It is used for informal meetings, discussion groups, reading and relaxing, and for activities like knitting.
“When you start to knit, it is sort of meditation and a social bonding,” Neilson says. “You don’t have to think about your assignments. You get rid of the stressful thoughts. If you’re under pressure, you get a break from that.”
Hakim Siyad, a student in the tourism travel services program, always makes time for prayers.
“I do pray here and study here for exams. It is an open space where I don’t get disturbed. I can work here without being interrupted.”
Ali Al Joufy, an English as a second language student at Algonquin, tries to make time for prayers daily but sometimes it is difficult to maintain a balance when a period is going on.
“I can’t pray five times, but I manage to make time, during a class, to pray. Sometimes it is difficult, but I try my best,” he says.
Fakeha Abdullah, a graphic design student, missed the Jummah prayer and prayed it when her class was over. She comes here to pray daily.
“Sometimes it is difficult to pray all the five prayers but I believe that as long as one can leave the classroom, he/she can pray, but it depends on a person,” Abdullah says.
Neilson believes that it is a big advantage to be in a space where students are exposed to different beliefs and learn to respect various beliefs. She views the Spiritual Centre as part of the main resources for students.