Nunavut’s first mosque under construction in Iqaluit
Published Wednesday, July 22, 2015 3:33PM EDT
About 30 metres off the edge of Iqaluit’s Road to Nowhere, construction is underway on the territory’s first mosque.
Right now, the structure is barebones – just four walls and part of a roof, propped up by stilts on the rocky landscape.
But by the end of the year, organizers hope the space will be ready to begin hosting Friday prayer sessions for the 100 or so Muslims living in the city.
Workers work on the construction of a mosque in Iqaluit. (Islamic Society of Nunavut)
Inside the structure that will one day be Nunavut’s first mosque. (Islamic Society of Nunavut)
It’s been a project more than five years in the making.
The idea for the mosque began when Syed Asif Ali, an engineer born in Pakistan living in Toronto, was offered a job inspecting boilers in Iqaluit.
Syed was wary of moving to the city, which had a population of 6,700 at the time of the last census, and asked his wife for her opinion. When he told her Iqaluit didn’t even have a mosque, she suggested that, maybe, he was meant to go and build one there.
“I was never fascinated to make a mosque,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “But the very concept of serving the community stuck in mind.”
Syed took the job and moved up north. Between checking up on the territory’s boilers, Syed helped establish the Islamic Society of Nunavut in 2009. Together, he and the society began the complicated process of building a mosque.
The logistics have been challenging, he said.
Living so far north, most building supplies need to be flown in, or brought up on one of three ships that visit each year. The society also had to find a suitable location for the mosque and secure a building permit.
Then there was the task of finding the money to make the plan a reality.
The society teamed up with the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, a Winnipeg group that previously shipped a pre-fabricated mosque to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. They also appealed for donations from supporters around the world.
Donations pour in
This past month, as Muslims celebrated Ramadan, Iqaluit’s Muslim community reached a significant fundraising goal. With the help of Shyakh Abdullah Hakim Quick, a Toronto-based Islamic scholar, the society crowdfunded $100,000, enough to install perhaps the most important part of an arctic mosque: the heating.
For Syed, the outpouring of support was touching.
“I have seen people donating $3,000; I have seen people donating five dollars,” he said. “It was moving that everybody who has any capacity, small or big, wants to share for the good cause.”
Muslims around the world gave money for the mosque, but Syed said he was also amazed by the support from outside the Muslim community.
“There were so many times I was moved, especially when my friends, those who are Christian, they were coming forward, and saying ‘We want to help you,’ ” he said.
According to Syed, there are almost ten times as many Muslims in Iqaluit today as there were six or seven years ago, and the community is growing. Muslims from as far as Libya, Pakistan, and Morocco have moved to Iqaluit, and some locals have married into the faith and converted, he said.
To help foster the growth, the Islamic society plans to use the mosque for workshops and classes. It also hopes to provide services for non-Muslims. One priority, for example, is establishing a foodbank, to alleviate hunger in a place where food costs soar.
Since starting the mosque project, Syed has moved to Regina, but he continues to head the Islamic Society of Nunavut from there. He looks back fondly at his time up north.
Beyond the long summer days and the lack of trees, Syed said it is the sense of community in Iqaluit that sets it apart from anywhere else in the world.
“It’s not ‘This is Muslim’ or ‘This is Christian,’ no, this is just one community,” he said. “We come forward to help each other. This is something that is very different than in the south.”