From a worn trailer to a promising new community centre, years of fundraising have finally yielded results: The city’s only mosque will be torn down and rebuilt.

The new building is expected to be 7,500 square feet, accommodating Islamic educational programming, a youth area and larger prayer areas for men and women. With paperwork filed, ground could be broken on the project as early as the end of the month and the conclusion of Ramadan.

With $150,000 in hand, it’s the end of a long road for the organization, which has seen two previous attempts to begin work on the project stall-out. The total costs of the construction project are expected to be between $2.25 to $2.5 million.

Dr. Hussain Guisti’s Winnipeg charity the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation is the key force behind the project, which also included money raised from local donations and support from other Canadian Muslim communities. The foundation has built mosques in Inuvik, Whitehorse, and Iqaluit.

After years of waiting, building the new site is like “flying,” according to Nazim Awan, chair of the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife, at the site on Monday.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

“I can’t explain that (feeling),” said Nazim Awan, chair of the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife. “I’m flying very high.”

“Now the day has come … and I’m very happy to say we have an Islamic centre that when you pass by it, you won’t have to ask what it is.”

The Islamic Centre of Yellowknife’s current home was built in 1967, according to its website. Upkeep is difficult: Cracks splinter its floor, walls and ceiling; water drips from rooftop leaks during seasonal melt and rainy days.

The website states that the new building will combine its mosque design with neighboring civic spirit, while providing room for parking.

An estimated 80 men attend Friday prayers, while a significantly higher number come to worship during Eid prayers, including women and children. Currently, the small prayer space for women fits about 15 to 20. The lobby can accommodate additional people, but only a few.

The current building provides the “minimum” of an Islamic centre, according to Awan. “We cannot do community events,” he said, explaining holding an open house would be difficult because visitors couldn’t be “welcomed respectfully.”

The current building on Franklin Avenue, is too small to fully accommodate the local Muslim community’s needs. It’s expected to be demolished so construction can begin in the coming weeks.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

“It’s important in Islamic culture, like others, that when you have a guest, you respect them,” he said. The current building lacks a proper sitting area, or an area where food and drink can be served, which limits the organization’s ability to host. There are also safety concerns for younger children, he added.

“People will be surprised and they will be amazed to see the masjid we have designed to build,” he said. “A really amazing addition to the local infrastructure, because Muslims are important citizens of Yellowknife.”

The organization purchased a neighboring lot in 2017 and plans to build the new centre on the combined space. After exterior construction is completed, internal work will continue into the winter months.

The building is projected to open early next year, with added arrangements to provide service while construction is underway. This recent progress comes despite a former imam defrauding the centre of $117,000 and being sentenced to serve 33 months in 2014.

Awan said the centre will be a welcome addition to the community.

“Muslims will have a home to worship and the community of Yellowknife will have a social, outreach and education centre where they can come and ask questions,” he said.

Programs in the building are planned to extend to non-Muslims, including lessons in Arabic.  He said education and building bridges would be a focus for the new centre.

“When somebody will meet us, I am certain their misconceptions about Muslims and Islam will go away,” he said. Meanwhile, support during the construction process is welcome, he added.

“We need your moral support, and if you want to be part of this project, feel free,” he said. “If you want to donate – we don’t ask, because Muslims will be asked to donate – but  our friends, if they want to offer something, we will accept (it) with thanks.”

 

 

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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