A Century of Muslims in Canada

By Gaber, Tammy | Islamic Horizons, September/October 2017 | Go to article overview

A Century of Muslims in Canada


Gaber, Tammy, Islamic Horizons


IN A COUNTRY THAT JUST CELEBRATED its 150 years of existe nee as a nation state, the century-long presence of Muslims in Canada is significant. A small number of Muslims immigrants arrived from the Levant - present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine - during the late 1800s to establish new lives. By 1931 over 600 Muslims lived in Canada, half of them in the central area - particularly Alberta. These mercantile and farming families gathered in each others homes to pray and celebrate weddings and the Eids.

By the early part of the 20th century, there were enough Muslims in the provinces capital city of Edmonton to necessitate the construction of Canadas first mosque: the Al Rashid Mosque. Opened in 1938, the funds were raised by local Muslim, Christian and Jewish Canadians. The city donated the land.

This collaborative effort was telling of the type of the community space that the mosque would become. In addition to the usual community events, the Al Rashid was used for church group meetings, social and dub events of the larger non-Muslim community and various mixed events. In short, it acted as a community center.

These first Muslim immigrants shed their cultural baggage and pursued their faith by creating an inclusive space based on its principles. The mosques fate was threatened when the gifted land lease expired, a reality that caused it to move to another location. As the community continued to grow, there was talk of abandoning the mosque and building a larger one.

However, twelve members of the Canadian Council for Muslim Women took it upon themselves to raise the necessary funds from Canadian Muslims, Canadian Federal and local governments and various organizations to secure its continued existence. Thanks to their perseverance, the mosque was restored and, in 1992, relocated to its now-permanent home in the Fort Edmonton Park.

And so both goals were realized: The Edmonton community now uses the newer purpose-built facility, and the original Al Rashid mosque was recognized as a permanent part of Muslims' arrival and settlement in Canada, alongside other buildings of historic significance.

The importance of Al Rashid is exemplary within the Canadian context, for it not only represents the ideal of community engagement, but also a specific ideal toward which the country's Muslims continue to aspire. Over 140 purpose-built and buildings transformed into mosques now grace Canada.

I am currently documenting Canada's mosques. I began this project in 2015 with support from the Canadian Government, through the Social Science and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant (SSHRC IDG), and will wrap it up this October with an exhibition and symposium in collaboration with the with Canadian Council of Muslim Women and the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto.

My research has involved visiting over 80 Muslim places of worship across the country, over half of those recorded - from the mosques of British Columbia, all through central Canada (e.g., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), to Ontario (home of the most mosques), Quebec and on to the eastern provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. As well, I travelled up to the Arctic Circle and beyond to visit North America's most northern mosque - the Midnight Sun Mosque in Inuvik, the North West Territories, and to the Iqaluit Masjid on Baffin Island in Nunavut. Even if their numbers are small, Muslims have gathered, saved and raised funds and collaborated to create a space dedicated to worship and community.

In nearly all of these nascent communities one finds Muslims from various ethnic and sectarian backgrounds, all of who are nevertheless seeking common ground and community in their new environment. …

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