Muslims are celebrating today the 75th anniversary of the mosque in Edmonton, the capital of the province of Alberta.
The celebration will start with a lunch that brings together nearly 400 guests, including Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, Calgary Mayor Na-heed Nenshi and members of the city’s Christian and Jewish communities.
Several events will also be hosted over the next few months to celebrate the milestone, culminating with a gala in November.
Built in 1938 to serve first Muslim immigrants, Al Rashid mosque is Canada’s first Muslim worship place.
“People were congregating in somebody’s home or a hall that they could utilize, until the purpose-built mosque was completed in 1938,” said Sine Chadi, whose ancestors came to Canada from Lebanon in 1895 and were involved in building the iconic mosque.
By the 1980s, Al Rashid mosque had fallen into disrepair and the city was contemplating demolition of the site.
But in 1991, it was decided to move the mosque to Fort Edmonton Park at a cost of $75,000.
About a year later on May 28, 1992 it was reopened in the park to accommodate the more than 20,000 Muslims living in Edmonton at that time.
Muslims hailed efforts of Edmonton officials and members of other religious communities in helping raise funds for the mosque.
“If it wasn’t for the mayor of Edmonton, it would have been impossible for us to start it,” Tarabain said.
Though new worship places have been built across the city, Al Rashid Mosque still remains the center of the Muslim community in Edmonton.
“The mosque was, and still is, a centre for the community,” Chadi said.
“People come in and hold events there, whatever it may be. It could be a funeral, a wedding, a speaker coming, or it could be for prayer.”
Tarabain, opines that Al Rashid mosque remains “the mother organization” for 80,000 Muslims in Edmonton.
“We have 15 worship places across the city, but everybody always comes back to Al Rashid Mosque for the big services,” Tarabain said.
The services Al Rashid Mosque offers have expanded over the years to include the Edmonton Islamic Academy, a $23-million facility that opened in 2006 to serve students enrolled in kindergarten to Grade 12.
Yet, Tarabain wants to restore the original community spirit that first defined the mosque.
“It was a hub, not just for Muslims but for the community. We used to have social dinners, and we want to bring that spirit back,” he said.
“The culture of the mosque to begin with was to work with other communities and be together.”
He also hopes the mosque will continue to play an important part in the lives of Edmontonians, as it has for the past 75 years.
“It’s the center of mine and my family’s life,” Tarabain said.
“The mosque is not just a place of worship. It’s a cultural place, to connect with other communities. It’s an identity. It’s feeling and being good as a Muslim and as a Canadian, and participating in society.”
Muslims make around 1.9 percent of Canada’s 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the north-American country.
A survey has showed the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian.