Thursday, January 20, 2011

Canada’s model mosque

Imagine a mosque that left gender segregation at its door, allowed women in leadership positions, and adapted to the culture of its host community. Then consider that Canada's first mosque, the Al-Rashid mosque in Edmonton, Alberta, did all these things and more over seven decades ago.

A bigger mosque on the prairie. Visitors to the history park in Edmonton, Canada often pause in front of a small, red brick building wondering about its identity. Its long and narrow rectangular shape and onion-like domes suggest that it might be an Eastern Orthodox church. While the minarets rising from either side of the front entrance and crescent moons atop the domes betray its Middle Eastern roots. Inside, there are no pews, only 70-year-old carpets, faded and worn thin at spots. It is Al-Rashid, Canada’s oldest mosque.

Built in 1938, it was relocated to Fort Edmonton Park, set up to preserve and celebrate the history and heritage of the city of Edmonton, after controversy over its credentials for a berth among the historical landmarks. Its age was an issue because it was relatively young vis-à-vis the other buildings there, but its unique architectural design and significance in Canadian religious history won it a place of distinction.
Mosques with exteriors looking like churches are found in other Canadian cities as well. These were originally churches or parish halls that Muslims purchased and renovated. Toronto’s Jami Mosque, for example, used to be a Presbyterian church. Unlike these church buildings remodelled to look like mosques, however, Al-Rashid is the only structure originally built as a mosque that resembles a church.

The design of a place of worship is the public expression of the identity and vision of the people who built it. Most of the mosques in Canada are typical of Middle Eastern and South Asian architecture, reflecting the regions of origin of a vast majority of Muslim Canadians.

But the Al-Rashid is unique. It blends in with the local landscape like its builders who celebrated similarities with mainstream society while recognising differences.

The first Muslim settlers on the Canadian prairies came from Syria and Lebanon with the opening up of Alberta and Saskatchewan for development at the turn of the last century. Excited by the promise of the new land, they wasted little time putting down roots. They embarked upon a new beginning in the new country, preserving the fundamentals of their faith and adopting what was good in the local tradition, as their ancestors had over the centuries when they migrated to new lands.

A mosque synthesising elements of the local culture with the essentials of their faith was only their first step towards forging a Canadian Muslim identity. Patriarchal practices that excluded women from a fulfilling role in the mosque were also discarded. In a rare move, six of the 32 founders of the Al-Rashid were women.
Inside the mosque, male and female worshippers shared the same space. Everyone worshipped in the main hall, with women standing behind the men, separated only by the distance between them. Gender did not determine who could enter the house of God from the front door.

None of this would have been possible without a vibrant religious leadership because the pulpit was, and is, the revered source of authority.

For more than half of its active life as a place of worship, the Al-Rashid was guided by two dynamic imams who were more accepting of change than a newly imported imam would have been, because their background had prepared them to relate 7th century teachings of Islam to the contemporary world of their congregation. Imam Nejib Ailley (Aly) grew up in Canada after immigrating as a teenager. While the second imam – Dr. Abd al-Ati – was imported from Egypt, he was not new to Canada, having previously spent three years in Montreal as a graduate student at McGill University.

The fellowship kindled by a respectful etiquette, meaningful sermons and dynamic leaders moulded scattered individuals into a well-knit community whose descendents have produced a stream of devoted public servants and caring citizens. The list of the Al-Rashid mosque’s alumni reads like a ”who’s who” of Muslim Canadians.

Elsewhere in the country, mosques continue to be embroiled in the same old issues of identity, women’s place in the mosque and the disconnect between imported imams and their Canadian congregations. Al-Rashid gave us a model to meet these challenges seven decades ago.

Daood Hamdani is the author of The Al-Rashid: Canada’s First Mosque. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.