The Al-Rashid Mosque is a symbol of Canadian Muslim identity. It is the oldest Muslim place of worship in Canada. It also marks the beginning of Muslim community life in our country.
In spite of its historical significance little has been written about the Al-Rashid Mosque and its role in shaping the lives of the early Muslim settlers on the Canadian prairies. Therefore, it did not come as a surprise to me when many young Muslims, including university students and new graduates I spoke with in Ottawa in connection with this project, could only vaguely tell the whereabouts of this mosque and some had not even heard about it. Indeed the seventieth anniversary of the Al-Rashid Mosque in 2008 passed without a murmur in mosques, Muslim community and the media outside of Alberta.
The story of the Al-Rashid Mosque is not only its history as a place of worship. The Al-Rashid Mosque was also the early Muslim settlers’ response to their social and cultural needs. As such, the history of the Al-Rashid Mosque offers a comprehensive understanding of the religion, social, economic and cultural conditions of the time. Hopefully, experts will explore each of these themes in depth in the future.
The objective of this monograph is more modest: it tries to provide an overview of this rich and varied landscape. It describes the upheavals in the life of this iconic mosque – interruptions during its construction due to lack of money, its displacement caused by economic prosperity, its dangerous drift towards demolition as the community outgrew it, and finally its recognition as a contributor to the history and heritage of Edmonton and Canada.
It is a narrative of the struggles and adjustments within the community as well as the community’s interactions with the broader society – captured in the debate preceding the construction of this mosque, in the first encounter of this new community with its elected representatives, in guiding an architect who had never seen a mosque, and in learning how to lobby politicians and interact with the media.
As little has been written about the Al-Rashid Mosque, most of the material for this project was collected from archives, minutes of meetings and annual conferences, newsletters, and memoirs of Edmonton Muslims, as recorded by the Edmonton Public Library in the series “A City Called Home”.
I also had the privilege of engaging in conversations with some of the most knowledgeable people on this subject. My questions were patiently answered by Razia Jaffer, who was President of the Edmonton Chapter of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) which saved the mosque from demolition and preserved it. I had several conversations with Soraya Zaki Hafez, who was an active member of the CCMW Edmonton chapter and later its president, and her husband Richard Asmet Awid who has written about the early Arab and Muslim settlers.
Razia Jaffer, Soraya Zaki and Karen Hamdon, the co-chair of the Mosque Preservation Committee, have all kindly read an earlier draft of this paper and pointed out areas of further research. The final manuscript has greatly benefited from a through review and comments by Fauzya Talib.
Eman Ahmed, Projects Coordinator, CCMW, looked after all aspects of the layout and design of this monograph with her usual efficiency and cheerfulness, accommodating last minute changes to the manuscript.
Finally, this project would not have been possible without the support of Alia Hogben, the energetic and helpful Executive Director of the CCMW. She not only encourages me to pursue it, but also arranged funding for research.
Daood Hamdani (June 2010 – Ottawa, Canada)
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