Studying an unfurled blueprint, Nazim Awan circles an unassuming construction site on the edge of Old Town.
Apart from some building materials that sit on the freshly-broken, snow-covered ground, the site is mostly bare, a blank canvas.
But not for long.
The site, located on Franklin Avenue near the Racquet Club, will be home to the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife’s new mosque — the only one of its kind in the city.
With excavation complete and a foam foundation now laid, Awan, chair of the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife, hopes to wrap up the long-awaited project by the end of June.
The mosque is being built on the same land where the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife’s first place of worship once stood. For years, many of the capital's 300 to 400 Muslim residents prayed and congregated together at a small, nondescript trailer. The mosque provided limited space and was ill-equipped to suit the growing needs of Yellowknife’s Muslim population.
“The structure itself was not inviting. It was discouraging,” said Awan during an interview with Yellowknifer at the construction site on Wednesday.
It wasn’t a place his children wanted to pray in.
The new mosque will stand in stark contrast, said Awan.
When people move to a new city, they try to connect with what’s culturally familiar, he said, adding one of the first thing Muslim newcomers do is look for a mosque.
But the trailer, demolished earlier this year, didn’t look like a mosque at all, said Awan, adding people would drive by without having a clue it was a place of worship.
The new centre will look – and feel – like a mosque, he told Yellowknifer.
"We won’t need to tell anybody,” said Awan.
He envisions the building as being a welcoming beacon for Muslims – a place to meet and worship – and a cultural bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims in the community – a place where customs and beliefs are exchanged and embraced.
“Mosques are not only for Muslims,” said Awan.
“It’s not just a place of worship. It’s a community centre. It’s a cultural hub for Muslim and non-Muslims alike because we will use this centre as a education centre, an outreach centre. We want to engage with our non-Muslim brothers and sisters,” he continued.
To make that happen, the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife has turned to fundraising initiatives and collaborative partnerships. The centre took in more than $200,000 in donations in June on top of the $150,000 it had already raised. The project’s price tag was originally pegged at $2.2 million, but thanks to partnerships, Awan sees the cost being lower when all is said and done.
The Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, a Winnipeg-based charity, is the lead partner in the construction of the mosque, with Dr. Hussain Guisti as general contractor. The project is supported by Islamic Society of North America-Canada (ISNA-Canada), of which the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife is part of.
The ongoing construction of the new mosque hasn’t been without its challenges.
Fundraising hasn’t been easy given Yellowknife’s small size, and coordinating with outside supporters has been time consuming, said Awan. On top of that, the mosque site itself, situated on a large amount of soft soil, has made some aspects of construction “daunting,” he added.
“But all the challenges, to me, they’re opportunities,” said Awan, who relies on his faith to overcome setbacks and disappointments.
By planning educational seminars and open houses once the mosque is complete, Awan hopes to overturn negative misconceptions about Islam – he cited unfair associations to extremism – and Muslim people, who, he said, play an integral role in forming the social fabric of the city.
“When you see a Muslim man with a beard of a Muslim woman with a hijab, they are not what you see and what you’ve been told. They are your local doctors, they are your local engineers, they are your cab drivers.”