Openness and inclusiveness can be empowering.
This is the lesson from the early history of one of Toronto’s oldest Islamic Centers, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto.
The founding years, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, were marked by a striking diversity in the group of Muslims who came together to form the organization and by the openness of their consultations.
This coming together of Muslims in Toronto of various ethnicities, nationalities, professions, and religious orientations gave the group a certain strength that results from such interactions.
The willingness to interact, ‘to know each other’, and to engage in open deliberations for the collective good of the community propelled the organization to become a leading Center for Muslims in Canada.
The organization had humble beginnings.
On Sunday, 5th of May, 1968 a group of Muslims, who were congregating for weekly Sunday prayers at a hall in the city of Toronto, met in the apartment of Mr. Saeed Zafar.
The meeting commenced at 4 p.m. and included Dr. Ahmed Fuad Sahin, Dr, Syed Rahman, Dr. Fareed Nizami, Dr. Macci, Mr. Haseeb Khan, Mr. Naseem Bhat, Mr. Moinuddin, Mr. Moin A. Ansari, Mr. Chevic Izzat, Mr. Nasir Khurdy and Mr. G.A. Moledina.
The composition of the group of founding members, mainly professionals and businessmen, was representative of the small Muslim population of Toronto and South West Ontario in 1968.
The name chosen by the group for the new organization was the Muslim Foundation and, at that first meeting, the attendees concerned themselves with establishing the organization.
The meeting, which was chaired by Dr. Syed Rahman, proceeded to elect Dr. Fuad Sahin, a Turkish-born medical doctor and a resident of Niagara Falls, Ontario, as the President and Mr. Haseeb Khan as Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the new organization.
With the new Board and Chairman duly elected, the members went on to discuss membership procedures and fees, formation of committees and a financial report was presented.
Mr. Haseeb Khan reported that the new organization would start off with an operating fund of $443.66 collected by the group at prayer meetings and social events. The building fund had approximately $2,000 and the zakat fund stood at $30.
Mr. G. A. Moledina, a lawyer, was requested to register the organization and to seek its charitable status.
With the administrative matters out of the way, the members then engaged in a lively discussion surrounding the arrangements for celebration of Milad-un-Nabi on June 9th, 1968.
Booking of the hall, refreshments for the event and requesting a speaker from the one of the Muslim diplomatic missions in Ottawa were discussed. The decision was taken to make the celebration open to all and free of charge.
The first meeting of the Muslim Foundation concluded with a vote of thanks to Mr. Saeed Zafar for his hospitality in hosting the gathering at his residence and providing tea and other refreshments.
Special mention and thanks were given to Dr. Fareed Nizami for bringing along delicious ‘Dahi Waras.’
Thus began the journey of the organization that would grow to become one of the most vibrant centers for Muslims in the Greater Toronto Area and eventually assume a leading role in the Canadian Muslim scene.
Within a couple of years of this inaugural meeting, the Muslim Foundation would transform itself, changing its name to the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, purchase it first center at 182 Rhodes Avenue in East York and become a truly multicultural mosque and centre.
Future installments in this series will look at this transformation in the early years, the pioneering spirit of the early members and the journey that led to the establishment of the landmark Islamic Foundation Mosque and full-time school in north-east Scarborough.
(Muneeb Nasir is President of the Olive Tree Foundation, a public endowment foundation. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto in the early 1990s, on a number of committees in the organization from 1974 to 1995 and as Chairman of its Program Committee for many years).