It’s not every day you get to see a mosque floating down the Mackenzie River, but northerners were treated to just such a sight in 2010.
That’s when the Midnight Sun Mosque arrived in town after making an over 4,000-kilometre journey by road and water from Winnipeg to its current address at 29 Wolverine Road in Inuvik.
Ontario author and educator Shazia Afzal has paid tribute to the mosque’s incredible journey in a new children’s book Journey of the Midnight Sun, which was published in March.
“It gives hope that we can look beyond biases, live together happily and help each other,” she said.
Afzal’s story chronicles the mosque’s construction and voyage, which was made possible by the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, a Manitoba-based Islamic charity, members of the Muslim community in Inuvik and others.
The story begins with Inuvik’s growing Muslim population in need of a bigger space to pray in after many years of using a converted trailer, said Afzal.
Building the new mosque in Inuvik would have been too expensive, she explained, so the community had the mosque constructed in Winnipeg, placed on a trailer and then transported north – first by road to Hay River and then by barge down the Mackenzie River.
From bridge crossings and bumpy roads to construction delays, the mosque’s journey was fraught with challenges.
“Along the way there were so many hurdles,” said Afzal. “But what really touched me is that everyone along the road was helping.”
One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the journey came in Hay River where the mosque had to catch the last barge of the season before freeze-up, said Afzal.
It was running late but made it there in-the-nick-of-time, she said.
After first learning about the Midnight Sun Mosque, Afzal said she went home and researched all the information she could on the subject before deciding “this has to be a picture book for children.”
She found additional inspiration in the 2013 documentary, Arctic Mosque, “And what it shows about the Inuvik community,” she said. “It was beautiful, everyone knew each other and respected each other. Everyone was together.”
She especially liked the part where the community’s Muslims meet for Eid prayers and celebrations in a local church, as their converted trailer did not have enough space.
She called it a “beautiful” example of “people helping people solve problems without concern of age, or race or religion,” she said.
“It gives hope that we can look beyond biases, live together happily and help each other,” she continued.
Afzal gathered all the information about the project and put in a folder, she said, vowing to “someday” write a book about the historic undertaking.
“Of course, I didn’t know how to write books at the time,” she said. “I’m still learning now. Over the years I’ve been taking writing courses, working with editors and writing coaches and finally in 2019, I went back and I pulled out those papers again.”
It was time to write the story, she decided.
The manuscript was completed in 2019 before being illustrated by Toronto artist Aliya Ghare, said Afzal.
She hopes her book conveys, “The message of communities being together and working together.”
“This is a beautiful Canadian story about how everyone is welcome,” she continued. “Everyone is taken care of. Everyone is free to do what their religious obligations are.”
She herself has never been to the North, she said, but would have no problem living in the community, “now that I know there’s a mosque in Inuvik.”
“We can go in and pray and have a celebration there,” she said.