Plans for new Yellowknife mosque in place after theft

Rami Kassem and Rebecca Bruser
Rami Kassem and Rebecca Bruser.
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Architectural plans are now in place for a new mosque in Yellowknife, 18 months after the theft of more than $120,000 rocked the city’s Muslim community.

Former imam Mohamed Basha is serving a 33-month prison sentence for stealing the funds, much of which would have been put toward building the mosque. He was convicted in January 2014.

The Islamic Centre of Yellowknife says it has faced a long journey to rebuild trust in the community.

Now, as the centre launches a new fundraising drive, secretary Rebecca Bruser believes Yellowknife is finally ready to move on.

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“This process has been a sad one,” Bruser told Moose FM. “The theft put us back closer to square one, but we’re hoping that by next summer we will have enough money to start building.”

On Facebook: Islamic Centre of Yellowknife

The Islamic Centre needs to find a third of the cash necessary to build the mosque. The Winnipeg-based Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, which has helped similar projects in Inuvik, Iqaluit, and Thompson, Manitoba, will provide the remainder.

“We just finished architectural plans for the mosque,” said the centre’s vice-president, Rami Kassem. “We don’t have a detailed number [for the final cost] but we don’t have our one-third yet – we still have a long way to go.

“We had to gain that trust again from the community. We made so many changes: security, bank accounts, who can sign cheques, how many people can sign and everything.

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“The board in that period gave everything to one person and that was it. The guy screwed things up. He destroyed everything. It was unfortunate. But now we’re gaining back the trust.”

The latest fundraiser, timed to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan, initially aimed to generate $10,000 – but has already been extended to $20,000 following donations of $5,500 and $4,000 from two individuals.

Some of the money will offset the cost of bringing a religious scholar from Egypt to Yellowknife for Ramadan. The remainder will go toward the mosque, which is set to replace what Bruser calls a ‘dilapidated’ facility near the Yellowknife Racquet Club.

“We engaged an architect who understands the process of rebuilding a community again, and building trust,” she said. “He’s Muslim himself and is from Vancouver – he has designed a bunch of mosques all over Alberta and BC.

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“He actually engages the community in the design process. He gave us a few designs, he presented them, people gave feedback and the community feels an ownership process over the mosque.

“We invited Muslims and non-Muslims alike because it should be something that is aesthetically beautiful to everyone and fits all the needs of the community.

“There’s a lot more forward momentum now. We have to keep moving forward or people will start losing support and stop believing in the project. What you need to build trust is for people to believe in it and jump on board.”

Kassem added: “It’s not just a mosque, it’s a community centre – a centre for harmony between people. We can try to be strong enough to actually build our community and be a good example for every community in this country.”

He wants building work on the mosque to begin by next spring, though he acknowledges the target is ambitious.

“We’ll try our best,” he said. “We have one goal and we’re going to work very hard to make it happen.”

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