Plea for prayer space at Steve Biko hospital

Pretoria – The Muslim community in Pretoria wants authorities to force the Steve Biko Academic Hospital to provide them with prayer facilities.

They told the Pretoria News on Sunday they were tired of praying in corners and other secluded spots they could find at the hospital.

The community wants the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural Religious and Linguistic Communities – or CRL Rights Commission – to intervene in the matter.

Social activist Yusuf Abramjee said the pleas of the Muslim community to be afforded praying pace at the hospital had been ignored by the Gauteng Department of Health and hospital management for the past three years.

Abramjee lodged the complaint with the CRL Rights Commission on behalf of the Muslim community at the weekend, claiming all avenues had been exhausted.

He said Muslim doctors, staff and patients had for many years been asking for the “smallest space” to be provided where they would be able to pray.

Abramjee said Muslims were aware of the extreme strain the budget and resources of the provincial Department of Health were under.

“For that reason, the community offered to furnish and maintain any space the hospital can make available for them to use as prayer space,” he said.

“All the Muslim community has been begging for is a bit of space for them to be able to exercise their religious beliefs as the constitution clearly allows for freedom of religion.”

Abramjee claimed that despite repeated attempts to engage the department, hospital and Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, their pleas were simply turned down.

“I had a text conversation with the MEC and she made it clear in the response that the issue was not a priority.

“I then said I would take the matter to the CRL Rights Commission and she said she would not be threatened,” he alleged.

Abramjee said there were mosques in private and public hospitals elsewhere in the country and other sections of Gauteng, but none in Pretoria, at least to his knowledge.

There was no reason for the Gauteng government to deprive the Muslim community of their right to practise their beliefs, which were important to them, he said.

“For Gauteng not to make such a facility available in Pretoria is discriminatory and our rights are being infringed,” Abramjee said.

“Steve Biko Hospital is a public facility and we appeal to the commission to probe the matter and order the department to make such a facility available immediately.”

Moulana Abubakir Chouglay, of The Garden Hospital Social Services Pretoria NGO, said the issue was important to the Muslim community as they needed to pray five times a day.

Similarly, they also required ablution services as they had to wash before praying.

Chouglay said Muslims who visited the hospital or worked there had resorted to trying to find secluded corners within the hospital to pray, and this was very inconvenient.

“We’ve been inundated with complaints and requests, but what is most worrisome is that the Christian community has huge church space allocated to them at the hospital that is hardly in use,” he said.

“The building allocated to the Christian community is large enough to be divided to provide space for other religious beliefs.

“All we are asking for is a bit of space to practise our own religion.”

Moulana Ebrahim Bham, secretary-general of the Jamiatul Ulama, the SA Council of Muslim Theologians, said they too supported the campaign for praying space at Steve Biko hospital.

Bham said it was important for Muslims to be provided space as prayer facilities existed in similar public institutions everywhere else.

CRL Rights Commission spokesperson Mpiyakhe Mkholo said their office operated during weekdays and thus they had yet to view the complaint as it was submitted at the weekend.

Mkholo, however, said as was standard practice, the complaint would be looked into and the appropriate action subsequently taken.

Provincial Department of Health spokesperson Lesemang Matuka said they were unable to comment on the matter as Ramokgopa had party political commitments for most of the weekend.

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