students walking toward sunlight in trees
July 27, 2017
4 mins read

Spirituality 101: Figuring out faith at UBC

The summer before my first year at UBC, I read everything written about what to expect as someone new to UBC. I was told that my first year at UBC was going to be full of new experiences that would be exciting, inspiring, confusing, and sometimes, uncomfortable.

And...it’s true, my first year was a rollercoaster. I wasn’t prepared for constantly having to choose between trying new things and holding on to the familiar. You see, I grew up in a Muslim family in Pakistan. So, one of the things I felt the need to hold on to was my religion in its various manifestations (e.g. dressing a certain way, eating certain foods, interacting with my peers and professors in certain ways).

Flashback to my first week at UBC:

I’ve just come back from class, and it’s dinner time. I put my hijab[1] on, walk over to the Totem Park dining hall, grab a tray and then just stand next to the doorway. To the passersby— if they noticed me at all — I might have looked like I was waiting for someone. When, in fact, I was in the middle of having a conversation with myself about the necessity of eating halal[2]:

"It’s 6PM already… I wonder if any of my floor mates are still around? Why do they eat dinner at 5? Who does that? Salad or sandwich? Do people at the sandwich bar use the same equipment to make the veggie and non-veggie sandwiches? Do they change their gloves after making a ham sandwich? If not, should I eat a sandwich anyway or would that be wrong? Are those mashed potatoes only served with the pork? Let’s observe others… and now I’m just staring at people. You know what? Baby carrots and cucumbers it is!" 

In case you’re wondering, I did not end up eating baby carrots and cucumbers all year. However, this was just the first of many conversations I had with myself over the course of first year regarding matters of faith.

Regardless of who you are and where you are coming from, you might find yourself in similar situations. Maybe you grew up in a religious family, but decide that religion needs to take a backseat in life. Maybe you can’t wait to abandon faith in pursuit of new experiences. Maybe you think you understand your beliefs, but find yourself re-negotiating the role of faith in your life. Or maybe you don’t follow a faith at all, but feel drawn to something because of an event you attended or just because that cute person in your lecture is religious. Anything can happen!

With this in mind, I have put together a brief guide to figuring out faith and spirituality at UBC.

UBC’s policies

In addition to UBC’s Respectful Environment Statement, which sets the expectations for creating a working, learning, and living environment where respect, civility, diversity, opportunity, and inclusion are valued, the university’s policy on religious holidays recognizes students’ right to academic concession when an exam or class conflicts with a holy day. With two weeks’ notice of a student’s intention to miss a class or an exam, instructors provide opportunity for such students to make up work or examinations missed without penalty.

Student clubs

If you’re looking to connect with other students in your faith-based or spiritual community, there are a number of student-run clubs to help you find community and engage in religious practices. 

Campus Chaplains

Campus chaplains help members of the community to engage with their spirituality and faith, find friendship and community, and create opportunities for intercultural dialogue. Most chaplains offer one-on-one support and counselling, work with student groups, and collaborate with each other on special programming when needed. Currently, the Multi-faith Chaplains Association includes Bahá’i, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, and Muslim representation.

Spiritual spaces on campus

There are a number of spaces around campus for practicing your faith including:

  • Multi-faith room – Room 2357, Brock Hall Annex
  • Hillel House – 6145 Student Union Boulevard
  • Chabad Jewish Student Centre – 1867 Acadia Road
  • Totem ballroom – The Muslim Students Association organizes weekly Friday prayers in Totem Park residence
  • University Chapel – 5375 University Blvd
  • St. Anselm’s Anglican Church – 5210 University Boulevard
  • Presbyterian Church – 6040 Iona Drive

Note: If you can’t find a space dedicated to your faith/spiritual tradition, getting in touch with the relevant student club would be a good idea, as they often book spaces as needed for events and programming.

Dietary requirements

Many faiths have dietary requirements, which can sometimes make meal times tricky to navigate. Here are some options that may help:

Vegetarian

  • All campus cafés
  • Residence dining halls – Totem Park, Place Vanier, Orchard Commons
  • Most food outlets in the AMS Nest

Kosher

Halal

  • Residence dining halls: Totem Park, Place Vanier, and Orchard Commons
  • Buchanan A: Stir-it Up Café
  • University Village basement food court: Donair Town

I hope this brief overview of some campus resources and services will help you find your bearings when you first arrive at UBC. Of course, you will have to figure out more than just what to eat and where to pray. As I start my fifth year at UBC, I have more questions about the role of faith in my life than I have answers. I’ve had to reflect on pretty much every aspect of my faith. Often this reflection is prompted by questions from peers and colleagues. Here’s a small sample: Why do you pray on a mat? Why do you face Makkah when praying? Why do you cover your head? Some of these questions are simple enough to think about and answer; others lead to sleepless nights. I don’t know what course your journey at UBC will take. However, if you do find yourself figuring out faith, you can be sure that you won’t be alone. And when you do face tough questions about faith, I hope that those questions will help you engage more meaningfully and critically with your beliefs.


[1] Head covering worn by Muslim women.

[2] Many Muslims eat only halal food. It includes all vegetarian foods and most types of seafood. Pork and alcohol are not halal. All other types of commonly consumed meats are in a bit of a grey zone. Many people eat chicken, lamb, mutton, and beef. Many others think that these meats are only considered halal when animals are raised and slaughtered using specific guidelines. Read more here.