All that is left at the site of Yellowknife’s former Islamic centre on Franklin Ave. and 41 St. is a pile of rubble.
The aging building, which housed a place of worship and gathering for Yellowknife’s growing Muslim community, was torn down Tuesday. In its place will start the construction of a $2.2-million centre close to a decade in the making.
“It was a test of our patience, and many times people had reached out to me from our own community…and my response was always ‘we are working on it, very soon we will have good news’ and this was my response the last, almost eight years. And many times I had the same ups and downs with my own hopes and fears,” says chair of the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife Nazim Awan. “It was really, really surprising for us too, that for eight years there was no real progress but in the last 30-40 days we have almost moved mountains. What I feel, it is not a one day task, is not a 45-day task, it was many years of community hope, prayers and continuously donating.”
Funding for the centre comes from the local Muslim community – Awan estimates over $600,000 has been raised locally – and from the Winnipeg-based Zubaidah Tallab Foundation. The organization is providing the financial push as well as a dedicated construction team who have worked on mosques across the north, including Whitehorse and Iqaluit.
Construction is set to start mid-August and if all goes to schedule the centre will open in January. “This will be a proper, purpose-built mosque/masjid. It will have a very good area for women and children. Our focus will be that we offer complete educational services too, so on weekends we have more educational services for children and also outreach for people…who are not Muslim.”
Since 9/11 perceptions of Islam necessitate this type of education Awan remarks – the centre will be providing Islam 101-type workshops as well as open houses and other outreach efforts. As with any place of worship, Awan adds the mosque will be open to all. “Mosques are just like churches, they are open for anybody. Sometimes they need protection, sometimes they need food and sometimes they need information. Anytime we are open, they are welcome.”
The centre, especially the educational component, will be a big draw for families looking at moving North. “Especially people who are with families, for young children they need to engage the children, education is important. If they don’t go to an Islamic centre, they don’t learn basic concepts of their faith, then it is difficult for the children to understand and continuously engage,” Awan says. “Islamic centres are one sort of anchor, institutions which bring community together, especially the Muslim community.”
And Yellowknife’s Muslim community is a growing one. Awan estimates there are four to five hundred Muslims in Yellowknife, with a large influx of young professionals and their families arriving in the last two to three years.