Islamic Centre: Fort McMurray’s Muslims build bigger Mosque
Few newcomers to Wood Buffalo expect to see a Mosque in Fort McMurray, but it’s a significant reflection of the region’s cultural diversity and the fact that many schools in the Fort McMurray Public School District count students from as many as 60 countries sharing classrooms. From humble beginnings with a mere 40 families in 1992, the local Muslim community has grown to number more than 10 percent of the population in Fort McMurray and they need a bigger place to call home.
The Muslims’ existing Mosque, which is a meagre 1,500 square feet and located on Gordon Avenue in the downtown core is outgrown and the community is about to relocate to a much bigger property across the Grant MacEwan Bridge as construction begins on a new, large Islamic Centre.
Fort McMurray’s Mosque was once the northern-most Mosque in Canada, until the opening of the Islamic Centre in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, but according to Mohamad Aboushhadi, President of the Islamic Centre of Fort McMurray, this point of distinction is not important.
“We are happy it is growing,” Aboushhadi says about his community.
Markaz Ul Islam, the new Centre, is currently under construction in Dickensfield on a 9.5-acre plot of land and phase one of the four-phase, $30-40 million project is set to open in the spring of 2013.
Phase One of the project includes a multipurpose area and gymnasium, which will act as a prayer area for members of the congregation until the Mosque is completed in Phase Four. To date, the Muslim community has raised $5 million of their $30-40 million target and is still looking for donations for the remaining amount in order to complete the project. “Everyone has been supportive and generous and we hope they continue to be until the project is completed,” says Aboushhadi.
“And this will be a beautiful showcase for our community.”
As President of the Islamic Centre, Aboushhadi is responsible for fulfilling the religious needs of his community, a place to pray, and ensuring that there is a school. Aboushhadi and his family have been residents of Fort McMurray for the past 20 years and he says it has been a pleasure to watch the Muslim community grow, and to see how dedicated Muslims are to their community.
“They have taken part in building this community and they are very committed,” he explains. “Until all of the money is raised there is no set date for the completion of the project.
“Honestly, only God would know,” he continues. Fundraising began six years ago and, along with his executive committee, he has been involved every step of the way, from fundraising to hiring the architects and the construction crew.
They’ve been drumming up support by calling in public speakers and holding Ramadan celebrations.
“We have a lot of great speakers in our community,” he notes. Aboushhadi says that he is being contacted on a weekly basis by other areas looking for information on opening and expanding their own Islamic Centres, including other cities in Canada as well as cities in the United States.
“Our religion is one of the fastest-growing in the world,” he observes.
Once a year, the Islamic Centre holds an open house and residents are welcome to attend and ask questions. “We are more than happy to share our beliefs with others.” Aboushhadi says he feels it is important for people to understand that the Muslim religion is similar to other faiths.
“Muslims believe in Jesus and love Jesus and his mother Mary.”
Kiran Malik-Khan, Communications Specialist at Keyano College in Fort McMurray and Media Director of NorthWord Literary Magazine, says that the new Islamic Centre will benefit the Wood Buffalo Area as a whole and not just the Muslim Community.
“The Mosque is a welcoming place to everyone and it will be a beacon of hope for the community.”
Malik-Khan and her family have been residents of Fort McMurray for the past 11 years and she says it is a
place she is proud to call home. “I am surrounded by harmony and respect from everyone.” Malik-Khan wears a Hijab, the traditional headscarf that is worn by Muslim women.
“I wear my identity and I wear it with pride,” continues Malik-Khan, who was awarded the 2011 Civic Pride Award for Cultural Achievement and was named one of the top 40 under 40 by Connect Newspaper.
Malik-Khan says her charitable work is just part of being a Muslim. “We are of service to others. A true Muslim does not live for themselves; helping others is essential.” Renee Summers, Marketing Manager at Keyano College is supportive of the cultural diversity that distinguishes Wood Buffalo, including the
“I think it is a good idea,” Summers says about the move and construction of the larger centre.
“You want to see the community grow and a project like this just reflects how diverse our community is.” Other features of the new Islamic Centre include a banquet hall that can accommodate 1,000 people, a recreational complex with a swimming pool, an exercise facility with table tennis and pool tables, a large gym that will hold 2,000 people and two basketball courts.
The prayer area, or mosque, will be able to hold 2,000 people and the Islamic School for grades kindergarten to Grade 12 will be able to accommodate 500 students. For more information about the Islamic Centre, visit their website at http://markazulislam.com.