Saskatoon airport turns down taxi drivers’ request for prayer room

Published: March 3, 2014

Cab drivers Mahmood Shafqat (right) and Muhammad Ashraf would like to see a prayer area at the Saskatoon airport. Taken on February 28, 2014 in Saskatoon. RICHARD MARJAN/STARPHOENIX

CHARLES HAMILTON
THE STAR PHOENIX

Mahmood Shafqat wants Saskatoon’s John G. Diefenbaker International Airport to open a multi-faith room so he can have a place to worship while on the job.

“Every international airport has a multi-faith room, or multi-religion. It is one place,” Shafqat said. “You are Christian you can go there. Someone is Hindu, he can pray. Someone who is Muslim, he can pray there.”

A cab driver, Shafqat makes countless trips to the airport every day. Sometimes security guards open a room for him to pray. But he says airport officials should set up a small room that would accommodate travellers and employees alike.

The rooms are ubiquitous at major international airports. Most often they are non-denominational, multi-faith rooms that are open to every kind of religious worship.

Shafqat practises Islam and says he prays five times a day, sometimes at the airport while is waiting for passengers.

“It looks awkward if I am standing in the corner and praying,” he said.

Stephen Maybury, president and CEO of the Saskatoon Airport Authority, says despite a recent string of renovations at the airport, there is simply no room for a multi-faith space.

“In terms of our facilities we have not considered that and not designated any space. We are trying to optimize space here,” Maybury said.

While he is aware that bigger airports provide a space for people to worship, he says Saskatoon’s airport is not the same kind of airport. There are very few lengthy layovers in Saskatoon and unlike other airports, the facility is not a place where international travellers spend a lot of time, he said.

“When you get to the larger airports, they change their model so it’s a hub. People are spending the night. We are not a connection hub for international flights,” he said. Shafqat isn’t giving up on the idea. He and a small group of taxi drivers dropped off a petition to the airport authority and Shafqat has written a letter to city council. Without support from the authority, however, it is unlikely the room would be built or set aside any time soon.

cthamilton@thestarphoenix.com

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