Historic site helps tell the story of
Muslims in Canada, Written by Joel Trono-Doerksen
Itís a humble and
sparsely furnished building that may not have the grandeur of the great
mosques of Damascus, Syria, Cairo, Egypt, or Istanbul, Turkey.
But, for Canadian Muslims, Edmontonís original Al Rashid Mosque, which
was replaced by a new Al Rashid Mosque in 1982, marks a monumental
chapter in a story dating back more than a century. It was Canadaís
first mosque, and its story continues to be told.
My wife Kubra and I visited the original Al Rashid Mosque on a hot June
day in 2014, and it was an opportunity not only to see the historic
building that first opened its doors in 1938 but also to learn about the
history of Muslims in Canada.
I learned the first Canadian census was taken in 1871, and it showed
that there were thirteen known Muslims living in Canada. The first
Muslims to arrive in Canada in large groups came mostly from what are
now Lebanon and Syria in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth
Upon entering the 148-square-metre mosque, which sits in the Fort
Edmonton Park tourist attraction, I was immediately curious to know why
Canadaís first mosque was built in a prairie city in Alberta that, at
the time, was home to fewer than ninety thousand residents.
Before visiting the mosque I read the book Canadaís First Mosque: The Al
Rashid, by Richard Asmet Awid. Christian Arabs who immigrated during the
same period had already established a Christian community in eastern
Canada. Muslims, on the other hand, had no established community in the
east and mainly opted to go west, the book explains.
In the early 1930s in Edmonton, Mayor John Fry was approached by a group
of Muslims seeking a donation of a plot of land on which a mosque could
be built for the regionís growing Muslim community. The cityís Muslims
felt that a mosque would be more than just a place of worship ó it would
become the centre of their burgeoning community. Their lobbying efforts
were successful, and the building was opened in 1938.
Thanks to the presence of the mosque, Edmontonís Muslim community
continued to grow, as many Muslim families were drawn to the city. Over
the years, the community flourished, rising to more than sixteen
thousand people by the early 1980s.
To accommodate the increase in numbers, a new and larger building was
needed. In 1982, the new Al Rashid Mosque opened its doors.
The original mosque, built on Edmonton city property, was slated for
demolition in the early 1990s. But, thanks to lobbying by the Muslim
community, the building was saved. It was moved to Fort Edmonton Park in
1992. A visit to Fort Edmonton Park was also an opportunity to immerse
ourselves in the history of Edmonton.
The park has become one of the cityís most popular tourist attractions
and features a number of historical buildings representing four distinct
time periods that explore Edmontonís development from a fur-trading post
in the northwest to the metropolitan centre it is today.
Kubra and I met Richard Asmet Awid, the author of Canadaís First Mosque
during our 2014 visit. He gave us a tour and told us about the history
of the structure and of the first Muslims to immigrate to Canada.
He explained that many Muslims changed their names upon arriving in the
country in the hopes of more easily integrating in to Canadian society.
And so, some went from Ahmed to Frank, or Ismail to Sam, all in an
effort to better fit in to a society that, otherwise, may not have
Today, the Edmonton Muslim community consists of more than sixty
thousand residents from at least sixty-two different ethnic backgrounds.
As I sat and prayed on the decades-old carpet in the decades-old
building, I thought not only about the early history of Canadian Muslims
but also about the astounding growth of the Muslim community across
Canada. From thirteen Muslims in 1871 to more than one million today is
an amazing story ó one whose humble beginnings can be traced directly
back to Edmontonís little mosque on the prairie.
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